By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Eminent Authors of the Nineteenth Century - Literary Portraits
Author: Brandes, Georg
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Eminent Authors of the Nineteenth Century - Literary Portraits" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

(Images generously made available by the Hathi Trust.)













[Illustration: Georg Brandes]


This volume is published by special arrangement with the author. At my
request Dr. Georg Brandes has designated me as his American translator
and takes a personal interest in the enterprise.

To Auber Forestier, who kindly aided me in translating the stories of
Björnstjerne Björnson, I have to express my cordial thanks for valuable
assistance in the preparation of this translation.

                                                    RASMUS B. ANDERSON.

         July, 1886.


It is a well-known fact that at the beginning of this century several
prominent Danes endeavored to acquire citizenship in German literature.
Since then the effort has not been repeated by any Danish author. To
say nothing of the political variance between Germany and Denmark,
these examples are far from alluring on the one hand, and on the
other hand they furnish no criterion of the Danish mind. The great
remodeler of the Danish language, Oehlenschläger, placed his works
before the German public in German so wholly lacking in all charm,
that he only gained the rank of a third-class poet in Germany. The
success, however, which lower grades of genius, such as Baggesen and
Steffens, have attained, was the result, in the first case, of a
veritable chameleon-like nature and a talent for language that was
unique of its kind, and in the second, of a complete renunciation of
the mother-tongue.

The author of this volume, who is far from being a chameleon, and who
has by no means given up his native tongue, who stands, indeed, in the
midst of the literary movement which has for some time agitated the
Scandinavian countries, knows very well that a human being can only
wield a powerful influence in the country where he was born, where
he was educated by and for prevailing circumstances. In the present
volume, as in other writings, his design has simply been to write in
the German language for Europe; in other words, to treat his materials
differently than he would have treated them for a purely Scandinavian
public. He owes a heavy debt to the poetry, the philosophy, and the
systematic æsthetics of Germany; but feeling himself called to be
the critic, not the pupil, of the history of German literature, he
cherishes the hope that he may be able to repay at least a small
portion of his debt to Germany.

The nine essays of which this book consists, and of which even those
that have already appeared in periodicals, have been thoroughly
revised, are not to be regarded as "Chips from the Workshop" of a
critic; they are carefully treated literary portraits, united by a
spiritual tie. Men have sat for them, with whom the author, with one
exception (Esaias Tegnér), has been personally acquainted, or of whom
he has at least had a close view. To be sure, the same satisfactory
survey cannot always be taken of a living present as of a completed
past epoch; but perhaps a picture of the present as a whole may be
furnished, the general physiognomy may be arrived at, by characterizing
as faithfully and vividly as possible, some of its typical forms.

The mode of treatment in these essays is greatly diversified. In some
of them the individuality of the author portrayed is represented as
exhaustively as possible; in others, an attempt has simply been made to
present the man in actual person before the eyes of the reader; some
are purely psychological; others offer a fragment of æsthetics; others,
again, are eminently biographical and historical. In all of them the
characteristics of the individual are so chosen as to bring out the
most important features of the author's life and works.

Even the personalities described are of a very heterogeneous nature.
They belong to not less than six nationalities. Common to all of them,
however, there is a something which is more easily felt than defined;
they are modern authors. By this I do not mean that they all, without
exception, with full consciousness, and with their whole hearts, have
paid homage to the "modern" in art and in thought, but merely that
they, even though in a very unequal degree,--which heightens the charm
to the observer,--represent the modern style of mind.

                                                         GEORG BRANDES.


        PAUL HEYSE

[Illustration: PAUL HEYSE.]




"How does it happen," I asked recently of a distinguished
portrait-painter, "that you, who formerly have made successful efforts
in several other branches of art, have at last confined yourself wholly
to portrait-painting?"

"I think it is because it has given me the most pleasure," replied he,
"to study and to perpetuate an object which has never existed before,
and will never appear again."

With these words he seemed to me strikingly to designate the interest
which attracts a person to distinct individuality, that of the inner as
well as that of the outer being. To the critic, too, the individual is
an especially alluring object; to him, too, the execution of a portrait
is a singularly fascinating occupation. Unfortunately, his means of
communication are deplorably far behind those of the painter. What
can be more difficult and more fruitless than the attempt to express
in words that which is purely individual--that which in accordance
with its very nature must mock at every effort of reproduction? Is not
personality, in its uninterrupted flow, the true _perpetuum mobile_,
which does not admit of being constructed?

And yet these insolvable problems ever charm and attract anew. After
we have gradually become familiar with an author, have come to feel
ourselves perfectly at home in his writings, to perceive dimly that
certain of their characteristics dominate others, and then happen to
be by nature of a critical turn of mind, we can find no peace until
we have rendered ourselves an account of our impressions, and made
clear the indistinct image of the character of another _ego_ that has
arisen within our own soul. We hear or read criticisms on an author
and find them absurd. Why are they absurd? Other statements seem to us
but half true. What is lacking to make them wholly true? A new work of
importance from his pen appears. How far have the earlier works been a
preparation for it? We almost become curious to learn how we ourselves
would characterize his talent--and we satisfy our curiosity.


Whoever casts a glance on the long row of closely printed volumes
which form Paul Heyse's complete works, and remembers that the author
was born in the year 1830, will first of all be apt to exclaim,
"What industry!" Involuntarily he will trace back this astonishing
productiveness to a will power of rare endurance. None the less,
however, does it owe its origin to a singularly fortunate nature. This
nature possessed within itself so luxuriant a fruitfulness that it
has yielded its harvest without the least effort of the will, without
any undue exertion; it has yielded a harvest of such variety that we
might believe it to be fostered according to a defined plan and with a
painstaking will; nevertheless, it has obviously been permitted to act
with thorough independence. To allow nature to rule, to follow one's
own pleasure or bent (sich gehen zu lassen[1]), has been from the
outset, as we soon come to feel, Heyse's motto, and so it happens that
with qualities which usually lead to a wandering, scanty, fragmentary
productiveness, he has completed and perfected each undertaking, having
written lyric and epic poems, one grand epos (Thekla), a dozen dramas,
more than fifty "novellen," and two large romances. He began early;
while yet a student, he entered on his literary career. Free from care
as a pedestrian tourist who gayly whistles as he strolls along, never
hurrying, pausing to drink at every spring, lingering before the bushes
by the wayside, and plucking flowers as well as berries, resting in the
shade, and wandering along in the shade, he has gradually trodden a
pathway of such extent that we could only expect to see it traversed by
one who maintained a breathless march, with eyes fixed unwaveringly on
the goal.

The voice followed by Heyse as an author is unquestionably the voice
of instinct. North German though he is, nothing is farther removed
from him than cool deliberation and premeditation. Born in Berlin,
he nevertheless takes root in Munich, and finds in the ardent South
German race and in the throbbing South German life the surroundings
most congenial to his temperament; at home in South Germany, he yet
feels constantly drawn to Italy, as the land where the human plant has
attained a more beautiful and luxuriant growth than elsewhere, one
that is less disturbed by reflex action, and where the voice of the
blood speaks most distinctly, most powerfully. This voice is the siren
voice which allures Heyse. Nature! Nature! keeps ringing in his ear.
Germany has authors who appear almost wholly devoid of inspiration, and
who have only been made what they are by a vigorous North German will
(as Karl Gutzkow, for instance); others (as Fanny Lewald) whose works
bear the impress of an active North German intellect. Neither through
volition nor deliberation does Heyse create and fashion his works, but
simply by heeding the inner impulse.

Many an author is tempted to impart to his reader an idea of himself
differing somewhat from the correct one. He takes pleasure in
representing himself as that which he _would like_ to be,--in former
times, as being endowed either with keener sensibilities or deeper
melancholy than he ever possessed, in our day as being now more
experienced, now colder or harsher, than he really is. More than one
distinguished author, as Mérimée, or Lecomte de Lisle, has so shrunk
from manifesting his emotions that he has succeeded, on the other hand,
in exhibiting an appearance of lack of feeling by no means natural to
him. Such people make it a point of honor not to breathe freely and
easily until they have crossed the snow-line where the human element
in our natures ends, and their contempt for those who lay claim to the
sympathy of the multitude on the plane below leads them to yield to
the temptation to force their way up to a height whither pride, not
instinct, bids them ascend. For Heyse this temptation does not exist.
He has never for a moment been able or willing to write himself into
either greater warmth or coldness than he actually felt. He has never
professed to be writing with his heart's blood when he was fashioning
calmly as an artist, and he has patiently submitted when the critics
censured him for lack of warmth. On the other hand, he has never
been able to report, as so many of the most eminent French authors
have done, a horrible or revolting occurrence with the same stoic
tranquillity, and in the same tone that would be suitable in stating
where a man of the world purchases his cigars, or where the best
champagne could be obtained. He aims neither at the ardent style of
passionate temperaments, nor at the self-control of the worldling. In
comparison with Swinburne he seems rather cold, and in comparison with
Flaubert naïve. But the narrow path in which he wanders is precisely
that which is pointed out to him by the instinct of his innermost
being, by the purely individual and yet so complicated being which is
the result of his nature.


The power which an individual obeys as an artist, necessarily becomes
the power which in his works is exalted to the place of honor. That is
the reason why Heyse as an author glorifies nature. Not what a human
being thinks or desires, but what he is by nature interests Heyse in
him. The highest duty in his eyes is to honor nature and heed her
voice. Sin against nature is the true sin. Give her free scope, and let
her act her own pleasure.

There are, therefore, not many authors who are such marked fatalists as
Heyse. In free will, according to the traditional sense of the word,
he does not believe, and is evidently quite as sceptically opposed to
Kant's categorical imperative as his Edwin or his Felix.[2] But if he
does not believe in innate ideas, he does believe in innate instinct,
and this instinct is sacred to him. In his "novellen" he has described
how unhappy the soul feels when this instinct is either disturbed or
rendered uncertain. In his "Kenne Dich Selbst" (Know Thyself) it is
intelligence, in his "Reise nach dem Glück" (Journey after Happiness)
it is morality that is the disturber of the peace.

In the first of these "novellen" Heyse has represented the anguish
which proceeds from a too early or a premeditated invasion on the
instinctive life of the soul. "That beautiful stupor of youth, that
dreamy, unconscious plenitude of the powers, the pure faculty of
enjoyment of the yet unexhausted senses, was lost to young Franz
through his premature struggle for self-consciousness."[2] He here
portrays the sleeplessness of the mind, which is as dangerous for the
health of the soul as actual sleeplessness is for the welfare of the
body, and shows how one in whom the reflex faculty is maimed "loses
that mysterious, obscure substance which is the very pith and marrow of
our personality."

In "Die Reise nach dem Glück" it is conventional morality, which by
supplanting instinct has shattered the soul. A young girl, having
conquered her own natural impulses from motives of inculcated morality,
has banished her lover from her presence late at night, and thereby
become the innocent cause of his death. The remembrance of this
misfortune haunts her constantly. "If one's own heart does not point
out the way, one is sure to go astray. Once before in my life I was
made wretched because I refused to hearken to my heart, let it cry as
loudly as it would. Now I will pay heed if it but whispers to me, and I
will have ear for nothing else."[3]

In instinct the entire nature is present. Now if the inner devastation
which results where instinct has lost its guiding power, be in Heyse's
eyes the most profound of all misfortunes, to the characters he
delights most in delineating, the consciousness of life presents the
exact opposite; that is, the most profound sense of happiness in the
enjoyment of the totality and harmony of their natures. Heyse, as a
matter of course, is far removed from considering self-introspection
as a principle inimical to the healthy sense of life. His own views
appear to be about the same as those expressed by the invalid in
"Kenne Dich Selbst" in the words: just as agreeable as it may be for
him to awaken in the night, to consider and to know that he is able to
sleep still longer, just so glorious it appears to him to arouse from
his dreamy state of happiness, to collect his thoughts, to reflect,
and then, as it were, to turn over on the other side and indulge in
further enjoyment. At all events, in his romance "Kinder der Welt"
(Children of the World), he has permitted Balder, the most ideally
fashioned character in the book, to carry out this last thought in a
still more significant way. Melancholy views have just been expressed,
speculations regarding the sun which shines indifferently on the
just and on the unjust, and looks down upon more wretchedness than
happiness, and about the infinite, ever-recurring miseries of life, and
more to like effect. Franzel, the young socialist printer, has been
expatiating upon the opinion that one who had truly considered the
lot of humanity, could never find rest or peace, and in his distress
has called life a lie when Balder attempts to show him that a life
in which repose was possible, would no longer deserve the name. And
then Balder explains to Franzel in what the enjoyment of life for him
consists; namely, in "experiencing past and future in one." With the
utmost originality he declares that he could have no enjoyment if
his experiences were incomplete, and that in his silent moments of
contemplation all the scattered elements of his being were united in
one harmonious whole. "Whenever I have wished to do so, that is to
say, as often as I have desired to make for myself a genuine holiday
of life and to enjoy to the utmost my little existence, I have, as it
were, conjured up all the periods of my life at once: my laughing,
sportive childhood, when I was yet strong and well, then the first
glow of thought and feeling, the first pangs of youth, the foreboding
of what a full, healthy, mature life must be, and at the same time the
renunciation which usually becomes a habit only to very old people."
To such a conception of life, human existence is not divided into
moments, which vanish, leaving us to bemoan their disappearance, nor
is it broken into fragments in the service of reciprocally contending
impulses and thoughts; to one who possesses the faculty of casting out
an anchor at any moment, of realizing the totality and reality of one's
own being, life cannot lacerate like a bad dream. "Do you not think,"
says Balder, "that he who can generate within himself at any moment,
if he but choose, such a fulness of the sense of existence, must
consider it empty talk when people say, it were better never to have
been born?"[4] It must be remembered that it is a cripple whose days
are numbered, who utters these words; and a cripple, moreover, whom
the poet has evidently modelled after the image of the so differently
thinking Leopardi. The peculiar kind of epicurean philosophy expressed
by them, and which, through a synthetic reflection, gathers together
all time in the eternal present, is in reality the poet's conclusive
conception of life. It is the hearkening of harmoniously planned
nature to her own harmonies. The infinite gods make all their gifts to
their favorites complete, all the infinite joys and all the infinite
sorrows. This life-philosophy admits into its inner harmony even the
discord of infinite pain, and succeeds in finding for it a satisfactory
solution. Here is the point wherein Heyse most sharply differs from
Turgenief and the other great modern pessimists of poetry. He makes
bold to impute to his favorite characters even the most unlovely and
shocking errors, in order that he may restore to them, after divers
trials and afflictions, their inner peace. The young baron in the
romance, "Im Paradiese" (In Paradise), is an instance of this. A sin
against his better self weighs upon his conscience. He has lost that
inner harmony with his own emotional nature, "on which everything
depends." It becomes manifest in the course of the book that through
this failing, he has, besides, transgressed against his best friend.
Nevertheless, through all the mistakes and misfortunes, which are the
inevitable result, he finds himself again. The harmony of nature was
but temporarily set aside; not, as he had feared, hopelessly destroyed.

Instinct is directly the voice of the blood. Hence it comes that
Heyse's characters are deeply rooted in family and race. Like the
law of Moses, they seem to teach that the soul is in the blood. They
follow the voice of the blood, and to it they appeal. The undeveloped
ones among them are the vigorous expression of the type of a race;
the developed ones know their own nature and respect it; they accept
it as it is with the feeling that it cannot be altered; they are
as thoroughly guided by the instinct of their natures as are the
characters of Balzac by selfishness. In order to render clear my
meaning, let me quote a few passages from the "Kinder der Welt."
When Edwin falls passionately in love with Toinette, his brother
Balder, unknown to him, goes to her to implore her not to reject his
brother, through caprice or frivolity, and throw herself away on a
stranger. Her answer to his appeal is that she has but just learned
and comprehended wherefore it is that in her whole life she has never
been able to gain happiness. She has been informed of the secret of
her origin, namely, that her unhappy mother had been betrayed into
her father's power through force, and from this fact she draws the
certainty that it is impossible for her to love. "My friend," says
she, "I feel sure you mean well by me, you and your brother, but it
would be criminal in me to persuade myself that you could help me now
that everything is so clear to me, and that I am convinced that my
destiny irrevocably _lies in the blood_." (The words are emphasized in
the text.) This is in her eyes the last irrefutable argument. In all
the characters of the book this respect for nature, almost bordering
on superstition, is prominent. As it is with Toinette, so it is in
the case of her opposite pole Lea. They are contrasts in every point;
in this one particular alone they accord. After Lea, who has become
the wife of Edwin, has learned how much power the memory of Toinette
still exercises over his heart, and is overpowered with grief at the
discovery, she is one day reading a book by Edwin, and for a time
consoling herself by considering how much she understands of his
writings that would be above the comprehension of another woman, when
suddenly she flings away the book, for the thought rushes through her
brain "how powerless is all comprehension of _minds_ in comparison with
the blind, irrational elemental attraction of _natures_ which enslaves
all freedom and infatuates the wisest." She is a woman apparently of
a purely intellectual mould. A lively, ardent desire for knowledge
and for clearness of mental vision has led her to Edwin; he gave her
instructions in--philosophy. One would therefore suppose that she,
on her part, would at this crisis have attempted to combat the magic
power of the blood by an appeal to the intellectual forces which have
for so long united her with Edwin. On the contrary. Far from being
characterized as all mind and soul, she is beyond all else a _nature_.
She has always loved Edwin passionately, but she has feared that his
love, less ardent than her own, would be made to recoil by outbursts
of her passion, and yet she--the philosopher--has said to herself, in
her loneliness: "Love is folly--blissful madness--laughter and weeping
without sense or meaning. Thus I have always loved him until reason was
lost and forgotten." Now that the happiness of her wedded life is at
stake, she breaks out into the words: "If he perceives that the blood
of my mother flows in my veins,--hot Old Testament blood,--perhaps he
will discover that he made a grievous mistake when he thought that
he could form with such a being 'a marriage of reason.' Perhaps the
day may come when I dare tell him everything, because he himself is
no longer satisfied with a modest life-happiness, because he has come
to demand something prouder, more unrestrained, more overwhelmingly
profuse--and then I can say to him, 'You need not seek far; still
waters are deep.'"[5] Everything is here characteristic, the tracing
back to origin and race, as well as the protest of this ardent,
passionate nature against the disguise of spontaneous passion as a
reasonable sacrifice. Only those who are familiar with this fundamental
trait of Heyse will have true comprehension of and interest in one of
his dramas which might otherwise be considered his weakest, and which
in many respects appears to me not wholly worthy of him; I mean "Die
Göttin der Vernunft" (The Goddess of Reason). Is it not extremely
singular that Heyse, with the whole gigantic French Revolution to
choose from, should single out this theme of all others and treat it in
precisely the way he has done? Many a poet in the selection of such a
subject would have in view an organ for the pathos of the revolution,
or would allow the purely ideal inspiration of the goddess of reason
in the historic crisis to ennoble a past which, though frivolous and
undignified, has nevertheless tragically avenged itself. Such a poet
as Hamerling could no doubt make something appropriate out of the
theme. Heyse, true to his temperament, paused awestruck before this
apparition: a woman, a bit of nature, with feminine instincts and
feminine passion, is proclaimed to be reason, the goddess of reason,
that is to say, the dry, rigid, dead, rationalistic reason of the
eighteenth century! Thereupon Heyse creates a fictitious woman who
by virtue of the depth of her nature (upon the whole, far in advance
of her time) is overpowered by the feeling that vast, all-embracing
life does not admit of being traced back to any scholastic formula,
a woman who loves and fears, suffers and hopes, who trembles for the
life of her father and that of her lover, who in her anguish lest her
lover should misunderstand her, falls into a state of despondency,
who as a genuine child of her author has said: "To me the highest aim
is to do nothing which causes me to be at variance with myself," and
then permits this woman--her every fibre quivering with passion, in
a frenzy of personal despair, without a thought of the universal and
the abstract, of the Republic or of intellectual freedom, and while
her father is being murdered before the church door--to be driven to
proclaim from the altar the new gospel of reason, which she herself has
once mockingly designated the world's law that two times two make four.
This drama appears to me of far greater value as a contribution to the
psychology of its author than from a poetic point of view.

Nevertheless, it would be an injustice to Heyse to infer from what
has hitherto been made prominent, that he recognizes nothing higher
than elemental nature and its impulses. By the word instinct is meant
something wholly different from _isolated_ impulses. Instinct is the
inner need of being true to one's self. Therefore, it is that Heyse
can consistently permit an independent sympathy to triumph over the
ties of blood, and even over the closest bonds of relationship. In
the novel "Der verlorene Sohn" (The Lost Son), a mother conceals, and
tends unawares the innocent murderer of her son, and after he, through
his amiability, has won the heart of the mother as well as that of the
daughter, the poet makes him lead home the daughter as his bride. "The
lost son" had been killed in honorable self-defence in the midst of
great peril, and his opponent did not even know his name. Even when
the mother learns the particulars concerning the death of her son, she
places no hindrances on account of them in the way of the marriage, but
bears alone, and without confiding her secret to a living mortal, the
misfortune that has befallen her. Here, then, with the full accord of
her character, a purely spiritual tie enters into the place of the ties
of blood; the mother adopts as a son him through whose hand her own
son has fallen; but in so doing she acts in harmony with the depths of
her nature, and preserves her soul intact. It is the same in all cases
where Heyse allows the personality, through considerations of duty, to
repress a genuine passion, a deep love. Wherever this takes place (as
in the drama "Marie Moroni," in the novelette "Die Pfadfinderin"--The
Path-finder--or in the romance "Die Kinder der Welt") it is in order
to maintain loyalty to self, in order not to forfeit the unity and
healthfulness of the individual being, and duty may be seen to flow
freely forth from the well-springs of one's own nature, inasmuch as the
command not to be at variance with self is esteemed the highest law of
duty. So far is Heyse removed from conceiving nature to be inimical to
spirituality and duty.

In his eyes nature is all-embracing; everything that lies within the
range of our possibilities, all that we perform or achieve, so far as
it be of any value, bears infallibly her stamp, and over all which
is not within our power, over our entire hereditary destiny, she
rules directly, immediately, all-powerfully, and absolutely. Even the
most unfortunate character which Heyse has portrayed, however badly
fate may have dealt with him, finds consolation in the fact that he
is a child of nature; that is to say, that he has not been shorn of
his birthright. "If the elements of my being, which exclude me from
happiness, have met and become intermingled through a great blind
dispensation of the universe, and if I be doomed to ruin because of
this combination, it is an unpleasant, but by no means an unendurable
thought. On the other hand, a Heavenly Father, who _de cœur léger_, or
perchance through pedagogic wisdom, would permit me, poor creature, to
drift about so sorrowfully between heaven and earth, in order to accord
me later a recompense throughout eternity, for my wasted time--no, dear
friend, all the royal or unroyal theology in the world cannot make that
seem plausible to me."[6]

Thus with Heyse, even he whose life has been the most aggravating
failure, takes his refuge in the conception of nature as the last
consoling thought; and thus he himself, in the most painful moments
of his life, takes refuge therein, and to this the marvellous poems
"Marianne" and "Ernst," the most profound and most touching of all his
writings, have remained as witnesses. Nature is his starting-point and
his final goal, the source of his poetry and its last word, his one and
all, his consolation, his creed.


What he honors, worships, and represents, expressed in a general way,
is, therefore, nature. Now as he follows his own nature, it is his
own nature which he represents, and its fundamental trait is to be
elementally harmonious. Such a designation is very broad and vague. In
its indefiniteness it may make Heyse seem, at first, like a follower
of Goethe, and would be equally appropriate for the great master
himself. This harmony, more closely defined, is not a world-embracing
one, however; it is one that is comparatively narrow, it is an
aristocratic harmony. There is much which it excludes, much which it
fails to conciliate, does not, indeed, come into contact with. Not as
a naturalist, but as a worshipper of beauty does Heyse contemplate
the motley doings of life. It is plainly manifest that he fails to
comprehend how an artist can take pleasure in depicting forms that in
real life he would close his doors upon; in fact, he has himself, with
great frankness, declared that he has never been able to draw a figure
devoid of some lovable trait, or a female character, in whom he was
not, to a certain degree, in love.[7] That is the reason why his entire
gallery of human forms, with but few exceptions (such as Lorinser or
Jansen's wife), consists of homogeneous characters. They have not only
lineage, but noble lineage, that is, innate nobility. The quality they
have in common is what Heyse himself calls _nobility_ (_vornehmheit_).
How does he understand this word? Nobility in all his characters is
the inherent incapacity to commit any low or base deed; in the child
of nature this is regulated by the simple goodness and healthfulness
of the soul; in the person of culture, by the conscious sense of
his human worth, mingled with the conviction of the privileges of a
full, vigorous, human life, which bears within itself its norm and its
tribunal, and rather dreads incompleteness than error. Heyse himself
once defined his favorite terminus. In Salamander we read:[8]--

    "I never yet of virtue or of failing
    Have been ashamed, nor proudly did adorn
    Myself with one, nor thought my sins of veiling.

    "Beyond all else betwixt the nobly born
    And vulgar herd, this marks the separation,--
    The cowards whose hypocrisy we scorn.

    "Him call I noble, who, with moderation,
    Carves his own honor, and but little heeds
    His neighbors' slander or their approbation."

And in almost similar words Toinette, once so blinded by aristocratic
display, expresses the following fundamental thought: "There is
but _one_ genuine nobility: to remain true to one's self. Ordinary
mortals are guided by what people say, and beg others for information
regarding how they themselves should be. He who bears within himself
the true rank, lives and dies through his own grace, and is, therefore,
sovereign."[9] Genuine nobility is the stamp borne by the entire race
of beings that has sprung from this poet's brain. They all possess it
from the peasant to the philosopher, and from the fisher-maiden to the
countess. The simple barmaid in "Der Reise nach dem Glück" expresses a
conception of life fully coinciding with what has just been stated;[10]
and any one who will take the pains to turn over the leaves of
Heyse's works will discover that the little word "vornehm" (noble), or
an equivalent, is always one of the first the author brings forward
as soon as he makes any attempt to characterize or to extol. It is
sufficient to examine a single volume of his "novellen" to see how the
word "vornehm" is applied to the external appearance, look and bearing:
in "Mutter und Kind" (Mother and Child); in "Am todten See" (On the
Dead Lake); in "Ein Abenteuer" (An Adventure).[11] Or in order to be
convinced of the thrilling significance of this characteristic, it is
only needful to glance through Heyse's two romances. In his "Kinder
der Welt" all the personages that appeal to the sympathies of the
reader, respectively call each other noble spirits: Franzelius styles
Edwin and Balder "the true aristocrats of humanity"; Edwin in his most
extravagant transports of passion can find no more exalted praise for
Toinette and Lea than that they bear the impress of nobility, and
when Toinette, after her interview with Lea, acknowledges the latter
to be the worthy wife of Edwin, it is the same expression which as a
matter of course presents itself to her; in her letter, she designates
Lea "Edwin's _noble_, wise, and most charming life companion."[12]
And in the romance "Im Paradiese," the first draught of which we
doubtless possess in the versified fragment "Schlechte Gesellschaft"
(Bad Society), the so-called "bad" coterie of artists is represented
throughout as the truly good and noble, in contrast with the so-called
aristocratic society.[13] Not one of the artists is an aristocrat,
in the ordinary acceptation of the word. Their origin, like that
of the heroes in "Kinder der Welt," is extremely insignificant. But
their nobility lies in the blood; they belong to the chosen ones of
the earth, who act wisely and rightly, not from a sense of duty, or
through the wearisome conquering of evil propensities, but because of
their natures. What Toinette somewhere calls "the honest intention
to put humanity to no shame," is represented, too, in the romance
"Im Paradiese" as the natural nobility, in contradistinction to that
_noblesse_ which is based upon artificial principles.

Few poets, therefore, have portrayed such a series of characters
without guile and without vulgarity as Heyse. No one has had more
perfect faith in humanity. The most substantial proof of how urgent is
his need of rendering prominent upon every occasion the genuine metal
in human nature, is afforded by the fact that whenever a change in the
character of any of his _dramatis personæ_ does prepare a surprise
for the reader or the spectator, it is always in the way of exceeding
the expectations and showing the personality to be far better and
more admirable, far more noble-minded, than any one had supposed. In
almost all other poets the disappointment is of an opposite character.
In Heyse's "novellen," as, for instance, in "Barbarossa" or "Die
Pfadfinderin" (The Female Pathfinder), the reconciliation is effected
by permitting the bad character to repent, and since the germ of the
nature of the person in question was originally good, and although
possessing many irritable and evil qualities, he yet had no really
vicious blood in his composition, there comes about a sort of treaty of
peace between him and the reader to the astonishment of the latter. Far
more significantly, however, than in his "novellen" this characteristic
optimism comes out in Heyse's dramas. They unquestionably owe to it
their best and most effective, perhaps their most decidedly dramatic,
scenes. Let me cite a few examples. In "Charlotte Elizabeth" the
Chevalier de Lorraine has availed himself of all manner of unworthy
means in his efforts to undo the heroine and banish from France the
chief male character of the piece, the German ambassador, Count Wied.
Challenged by the count, the chevalier is severely wounded; and when
the count, caught in the meshes of political intrigue, is sent to
the Bastille, the chevalier appears in the fifth act in the audience
chamber of the king. What can he want? To present still more damaging
charges against the count? To continue his dishonorable conduct which
has already been productive of so much misfortune to his opponent, and
of a wound to himself? Will he have revenge? Does he mean to avail
himself to the utmost of the position? No; he comes to make the solemn
declaration that the count has acted like a true nobleman, and that he
himself is to blame for the duel. He even desires to be himself sent to
the Bastille in order that his opponent may not think that he, wholly
losing sight of honor, has reported a false cause of the duel; in other
words: even in this corrupt courtier there lives a sense of honor as
the residue of the ancient French spirit of chivalry, taking the place,
to a certain degree, of conscience, and compelling him, at the decisive
moment, to rise from his couch of pain in order to interpose in behalf
of the enemy whom he has pursued with savage thirst for revenge and
without any regard of consequences.

In the beautiful and national play "Hans Lange," there is a scene
which, when performed on the stage, holds the spectator in breathless
suspense, and whose close always elicits tears from many eyes; it is
the scene where the life of the young squire is at stake. He is lost
if the horsemen surmise that it is he who, disguised as the son of the
Jew, is lying on the bench. Then the head servant Henning is ushered
in by a party of horsemen, who have heard him muttering in the stable
that he knew very well how to solve the difficulty for them. Henning
has been supplanted by the young squire; before the latter came to
Lanzke, Henning was like a child of the house; now he has become less
than a stepchild, and he has always owed a grudge to the man who has
been thus preferred before him. With the most artistic skill, the scene
is now so conducted that Henning, in spite of the entreaties and curses
of those who are initiated into the secret, gives the surrounding group
clearly to understand that he means to be revenged on the young squire,
that he knows where he is, and that no power in the world will restrain
him from betraying his enemy,--until he has heaped coals of fire on the
head of the other; and then, contenting himself with the fright he has
caused, finally speaks out plainly, in order to put the pursuers, who
by this time, of course, blindly trust him, on the wrong scent.

And, finally, of precisely the same nature is the decisive and most
beautiful scene in the patriotic drama "Colberg." A council of war is
being held, and even the burghers are called upon to take part in it,
for the importance of the crisis makes it desirable that every voice
should be heard. All hope for the beleagured city seems to be gone.
The French general has issued a proclamation, summoning Gneisenau to
honorable capitulation. The entire corps of officers resolve forthwith
that there can be no question of a surrender of the citadel, and
Gneisenau thereupon lays before the citizens the proposal to entreat
the enemy to grant them a truce in order that the burghers, their
wives, and children, may leave the city, which is exposed to all
possible horrors. Then the pedantic old pedagogue Zipfel, a genuine,
old-fashioned German philologist, rises to act as spokesman for the
burghers. With many circumlocutions, with Latin form of speech, he
spins out his remarks, amid the impatience of all. He is interrupted;
he is given to understand how very well known it is that he is only
aiming at leaving the dangerous defence of the city to the commandant
and the troops. Finally, he succeeds in making clear the object he had
in view in his long narration about the great Persian war, and Leonidas
with his Spartans; it was to give force to the opinion that it behooved
them one and all to remain and die at their posts. This scene Heyse has
written _con amore_. It embraces, so to say, his entire system. For
nowhere does his good faith in humanity so triumph as in cases where,
in the old fogy, he can reveal the hero, and, in the poor pedant, show
the man of inflexible will, which no other has discovered him to be
than the poet who so well knows that every one of his creations bears
within the depths of its soul an indelible stamp of nobility.


Those authors who, as Spielhagen, for instance, most frequently linger
over the conflicts of consciousness and of the will, and are fondest
of depicting great social and political conflicts, will as a matter
of course have better success in portraying men than women. Such a
male character as Leo, in the romance "In Reih und Glied" (In Rank and
File), would seek in vain for its equal, but a female character of
the same excellence Spielhagen has not drawn. Any one, on the other
hand, whose spirit seeks the nobility and grace of the absolutely
natural, of visible and spiritual beauty, will as a matter of course
give the preference to women, and draw them better than men. Herein
Heyse resembles his master, Goethe. In almost all of his productions
the female characters are placed in the foreground, and the male forms
serve mainly to render them prominent, or to develop them. As woman's
nature unfolds its secret being, and shoots forth its fairest bloom in
love, since in love, nature as nature, through a thousand illusions,
becomes ennobled and spiritualized, so Heyse glorifies in an eminent
way the love of woman. He renders homage to love, and he renders
homage to woman; nevertheless, it is his greatest delight to represent
these two great powers in conflict one with the other. For when love
gains the victory, when it appears as the power to whose mandates
the feminine heart may not bid defiance, it sparkles with radiance,
vanquishing resistance, as though possessed of omnipotent might, and
producing the effect that every woman under its influence, in defiance
against it, in conflict with it, animated by it, rouses in all the
pride of her sex, and is invested by love with that aristocratic
beauty, which no one represents better than Heyse.

Inherent maidenly pride is to Heyse the most beautiful thing in nature.
An entire group of his "novellen" might bear the title "Mädchenstolz"
(Maidenly Pride) Kierkegaard somewhere calls the essence of woman "a
surrender, whose form is resistance." This is an utterance as from
Heyse's own heart, and it is this resistance which, as a token of the
noble-born nature, interests and charms him. It is that eternally
impenetrable stronghold in the feminine disposition which captivates
him, the sphinx-like element of her nature, whose riddle he feels ever
impelled to solve. The sweet kernel is doubly sweet in its hard shell,
the fiery champagne doubly flaming in its surroundings of ice. The
feminine natures which Heyse depicts (from L'Arrabbiata to Julie and
Irene in his "Im Paradiese") are enveloped in a coat of ice-mail, which
conceals, repels, misleads, breaks, and melts away. Woman asserts her
nobility by refusing, as long as possible, to give her _ego_ out of her
own keeping,--by guarding and cherishing the treasure of her love.
She maintains her nobility by placing her _ego_ exclusively in the
hands of one single person, and offering resistance to all the rest of
the world. She is subject to no blind force. But once let her maidenly
pride be broken, and conquered, she finds herself again on the opposite
side of the gulf, and yields freely, I might almost say as freely as
nature. A seduction never occurs among Heyse's creations; if such a
thing be alluded to a single time, as a past event, as in "Mutter und
Kind" (Mother and Child), it only serves to place in the sharpest
possible light proud self-assertion and equally proud conscious

This self-assertion, this power of resistance (Rabbia), is portrayed
by Heyse with manifold variations: Atalanta, in the drama "Meleager,"
possesses the entire untamed wildness of the Amazon type; she prefers
life and sport amid the freedom of nature--the race, feats of skill
with the lance, and the occupation of the wildwood--to effeminate
luxury and flattering caresses; she would rather wear the crown of
victory than the bridal wreath. In Syritha we see the first coyness,
which, roused by marriage, flees; in "L'Arrabbiata," maidenly pride,
which feels how close to the timid request, in the soul of man, lies
coarse desire; in the maiden of Treppi, we have the instinctive refusal
of maidenhood; in Marianne ("Mutter und Kind"), womanly pride which
increases twofold in the so-called fallen woman, under her sense
of unmerited shame; in Madeleine ("Die Reise nach dem Glück"), the
sense of duty opposed to the conceptions of morality inculcated from
childhood; in Lore ("Lorenz und Lore"), the feeling of shame of a young
girl, from whose lips a confession of her love has escaped in the
presence of death; in Lottka, the melancholy reserve caused by a sense
of inherited degradation; in fair Kätchen, the indignant despair of
a young girl at finding herself attractive to every one, which makes
her wish all her admirers and her own beauty far away; in Lea, the
aversion of a highly developed and reserved woman to allowing any one
to have a suspicion of her weakness; in Toinette, the abhorrence of an
ice-bound heart to feigning a passion it does not yet feel; in Irene,
the strict conventionality of a little princess; in Julie, the coldness
of a Cordelia nature--until the supreme moment arrives when all these
bonds are burst, when all these hearts are kindled, when the man-hatred
of the Amazon, and the coyness of the young maiden, and the modesty of
dawning womanhood, and the pride of the wife, and the sense of duty of
those who have been strictly brought up, and the melancholy of those
who have been humbled, and the mantle of the snow-queen, all, all flame
up, like wood on one mighty funeral pyre, and ascend in sweet incense
on the altar of the god of love.

For not in resistance, which is only the form and the cloak, but in
self-surrender, does Heyse see the essence of womanhood and woman's
true nature; and adorer of nature as he is, he does honor to Eros as
the irresistible one who breaks through all barriers. Woman never
regrets having subjected herself to his power, but she may repent her
defiance. Bettina, somewhere in her letters, makes about the following
remark, "The strawberries I plucked I have forgotten; but those I left
untouched are still branded on my soul." Heyse has made more than one
variation on this theme; after the maiden of Treppi has repented her
youthful coyness during seven long years, chance brings the object of
her affections once more to her native village, and she overcomes, by
virtue of an enthusiastic and superstitious conviction of the power
and justice of her love, all external and internal obstacles, even the
indifference and coldness of the returned wanderer himself. Madelina,
in the "Reise nach dem Glück," as before mentioned, has driven her
lover at night from her door, and having been compelled to ride away in
the dark, he had a fall from his horse which killed him on the spot.
Remorse for this defiance of love gives her no rest. "Of what avail
was my virtue?" said she; "it was sound and whole, and by no means
threadbare; and yet it chilled me to the innermost recesses of my
heart."[14] It is not enough, though, that she regrets having followed
the dictates of conventional morality: the image of the deceased haunts
her year after year; it seems to be jealously watching over her each
time in her life that she thinks it possible to forget the past, and
find happiness anew; she hears the finger of the dead man knocking at
the door, as he knocked that night she drove him from her. Severe are
the punishments of Eros for those who do not sacrifice on his altar.
And Heyse in other of his creations still further amplifies this idea.
Here the repulsed lover meets his death, simply as an accidental result
of the rigor shown him by the being for whose presence he yearned
so ardently. Let us suppose the case to be one where, instead of an
humble petitioner, one who threatens violence approaches, and that
the resistance of the proud woman be not based on a sense of duty
that conquers temptation, but is merely self-defence at the time of
a dreaded invasion, how then? Even then Eros bestows chastisement,
as a zealous god. The drama "Die Sabinerinnen" (The Sabine Women)
was evidently written by Heyse for the sake of one single character.
How, otherwise, could it have occurred to him to choose for tragic
treatment this purely burlesque material, so little adapted to tragedy.
This character is Tullia, the Sabine king's daughter. Carried off by
a Roman warrior, held captive in his house, she kills him, when, on
the bridal night, he dares approach her. If a tragic woe should now
befall the rash woman in order that the Roman might be avenged, no one
would be surprised; but the psychological point is in harmony with
Heyse's entire erotic system; for through the murder of her husband she
endeavored to kill the awakening impulse of her own heart, and thus
sacrilegiously rebelled against Eros.

                           "And stooping,
    He bowed his face until it reached my brow;
    His flutt'ring breath went rippling over me,
    And stealthily, like streams of poison, ran
    His low-toned voice through all my veins."

Now left alone with her shattered soul, she recoils with horror at a
deed which is so genuinely feminine, and in which she is so entirely
justified. The apparition of the dead man haunts her wherever she goes,
but still more than the aspect of his dead body, the remembrance of
his caresses. "Only a day and a night have passed since that deed was
accomplished," says she, "and yet it lies behind me as a thousand years
and a thousand deaths. One thing alone is, and ever will be, present
with me: his kiss upon my eyelids, his hand within my own." Toward the
end she expresses to her sister the fundamental idea in these words:--

                     "From Love, oh, do not flee!
    She will o'ertake you if you do. Go humbly
    And kneel before her shrine. For deadly anger
    She heaps on those who dare defy her will,
    And sucks their blood. And is not every maiden
    In bondage stern to this grim god? O sister,
    I only must atone for free resistance."[15]

Even the man that has approached her through violence, cannot be hated
by the young virgin. He broke the peace; but what else does Love? He
outwitted her; but is not Love crafty? He mocked; but does not Love
scoff even at the most powerful and most free? In other words: is not
Eros himself a worker of violence, without shyness or shame, a criminal
who overleaps all customary bounds.

All? That is saying too much. Heyse has indeed sometimes, as in the
instances cited, shown a tendency, reminding one of Kleist, for all
purely pathological erotic problems; but his nature is entirely too
harmonious, too mature, and by far too typically German, to admit of
his describing passion as bursting all the law and order of society.
He is developed enough to see clearly that the laws of passion and
the laws of society are two wholly dissimilar things, which have very
little in common; yet he pays the latter the respect it deserves,
that is, a conditional one. From his earliest youth it has interested
and pleased him to show how relative is the truth, and how limited
the worth of these laws; to bring forward in his poetic creations
instances where their boundaries are overstepped in such a way that
the exceptions to the rule seem right, and even the most hardened and
narrow-minded person would hesitate to condemn them. In his anxiety
to do full, incontestible justice to the exceptional cases, Heyse
has sometimes--as in his first drama, "Francesca von Rimini," which
is not included in his "Gesammelte Werke"--sought out extremely
quaint exceptions; but it is his universal endeavor so to enclose
the case with palisades, that no assault of usual morality can cause
the downfall of the barricade. When Goethe brings together Egmont
and Clärchen, he does not present the case as though it required an
apology; the beauty of the relationship is its defence. Heyse, the less
grand poet, whose caution is quite equal to his daring, has always
fixed an eye on conventional morality, and has continually endeavored
to conciliate it, either by ceding the point to it, so to say, in all
other cases but just this one where its infringement was unavoidable,
or by so atoning for the offence that the individual who is guilty of
it is allowed to purchase the forbidden happiness, with his eyes fully
open, and of his own free will, at so high a price that it appears too
costly to be alluring to any Philistine.

In "Francesca von Rimini" the circumstances are as follows: Lanciotto
is ugly, coarse, and corrupt; his brother, Paolo, noble and handsome.
Lanciotto is inflamed with passion for Francesca. Misguided by
brotherly love for the thoroughly unworthy Lanciotto, Paolo has allowed
himself to be deluded not only into playing the part of suitor, but
even disguised as bridegroom on the wedding day, to take the place of
his brother, who feared that with his hideous person he could never
obtain the maiden's consent. Not until shrouded by the darkness of
the bridal chamber, does Lanciotto dare approach his bride. Now Paolo
also loves Francesca, as she loves him in return. Therefore, it is no
wonder that the young wife, upon discovering this gross deception, the
victim of which she has become, feels dishonored by the caresses of her
husband, and far from viewing her love for Paolo as a sin, she regards
it as justified and sacred.

    "The kiss thou gavest me the holy wafer was
    Which my dishonored lips did purify from taint."

In order to make his intrenchment as solid as possible, it will thus be
seen that the poet, in this naïve work of his youth, has constructed
the most improbable, most far-fetched, case in the world; for what
can be more preposterous than for Paolo out of pure, simple-hearted
kindliness to a despicable brother, to expose the woman he loves to the
basest deception, which, moreover, annihilates his own life-happiness.
But in this exaggerated example will, nevertheless, be found the
type according to which, in Heyse's numerous later "novellen," with
their plentiful tact and exquisite delicacy, the moral collision
is constructed. Let me single out at random several examples. In
"Beatrice" it is legal marriage which breaks up the love romance, a
forced marriage, as unholy as the marriage of Francesca, although
stronger reasons are given for it. In "Cleopatra" the young German
resists the love of the fair Egyptian, as stubbornly as Kleist's Count
Wetter von Strahl resists the passion of Kätchen von Heilbronn. Not
until her yearning for him brings Cleopatra to the brink of the grave,
is the liaison between them formed. The proud Gabrielle in the work
"Im Grafenschlosse" does not allow herself to be persuaded into the
"conscience marriage" with the Count, until he has jeopardized his
life for her sake. The young wife in "Rafael" purchases a few hours of
companionship with her lover through a lifelong incarceration in the
cloister; the self-surrender of Garcinde and Lottka is ennobled by the
fact that the outwardly fettered but inwardly free _ego_ was unable to
conceive of a self-surrender, forbidden by circumstances, under any
other conditions than those whose consequences are death. The right to
the happiness of a fleeting moment is purchased by suicide.

The goblet of bliss, drained by these personages, has seasoned their
destiny with poison. Heyse, therefore, affirms for these _heroic_ souls
the right to solve the problem of a conflict of duties in a different
way than is customary for "the timid Philistine whose half-way measures
are circumscribed by petty customs and considerations," and in the
introduction to his "Beatrice"[16] he himself formulates his ethic
heresy in the following words: "Genial, self-dependent natures can
do much toward extending the boundary lines of the moral sphere, by
permitting the measure of their inner power and magnitude to shine
forth as an example, through their actions, just as genial artists can
burst through those barriers of their art that have been handed down to
them by tradition."

No less than through this intimately allied association with ruin
and death does Heyse ennoble love, legitimate or illegitimate, as
indicated above, through the nature of the self-surrender. It is always
conscious. These women whom he characterizes never allow themselves to
be carried away by their emotions; they give themselves up as a free
gift--when they yield at all. Thus it is in works dating from Heyse's
earliest youth, as "Der Kreisrichter"[17] (The Circuit Judge), thus in
"Rafael," in "Lottka," and in so many of the "novellen" in prose and in
verse. Everywhere the self-sufficiency and the right of spontaneity of
the individual is preserved. The woman gives herself as a free gift to
her lover, she goes freely forth to meet her own destruction, or with
her own hand inflicts death upon herself; and where the bliss of love
is not ennobled by the price it costs, it is at least exalted by the
pride with which it is bestowed and received. By virtue of this pride
the personality, itself governed by the strongest power of nature,
feels independent and regal in the assertion of its sovereign dignity.
In the romance "Im Paradiese" Heyse has for the first time treated as a
main problem the freedom of love in antithesis to the laws of society,
and maintained its justice. The fundamental idea of this romance is
none other than that the morality and dignity, of love between man and
woman is independent of the outward ratification of the marriage tie.
According to his wont, Heyse has provided the case here given with
the most forcible motives. Jansen cannot, without putting his friend
to shame, become free from his despicable wife, and without Julie all
his hopes as an artist and a man would perish. Yet when Julie in the
presence of the assembled friends, adorned with the myrtle-wreath,
freely weds Jansen, a decided attack is aimed at the purely exterior
morality of society, although the incident is not brought forward
as an example for imitation. The poet who in the "Kinder der Welt"
urgently impresses it upon the consciences of his contemporaries, that
the morality of the individual is not dependent on his metaphysical
convictions, in his "Im Paradiese," strives to teach that the purity
and dignity of a union of love must not be judged by the laws of
outward morality, but that love both without and within the marriage
relation may be true and false, moral and immoral. Everything depends,
according to Heyse's views, upon the true nobility of the heart.


I have already said that Heyse as a poet is originally a pupil of
Eichendorf. Like the hero in his "Ein Abenteuer" (An Adventure), he
appears to have chosen for the companion of his first journeyman-years
the romantic "Taugenichts" (Good-for-nothing). Where, in one of his
"novellen" (Lottka), he introduces himself as a youth, he sings in
Eichendorf's own key, and we recognize that very early in life he has
been in the habit of whistling, with rare skill, the melodies of
romance. Musje Morgenroth, in the collection of romantic folk-lore
tales for children, which as a student he published under the title
"Der Jungbrunnen" (The Fountain of Youth), is a genuine brother of the
celebrated Eichendorf hero. The book is the work of a boy, and yet it
is not without a certain interest, as it marks the first standpoint
of our poet. It shows also with what talents he was equipped from the
outset: the boyish, yet never inelegant prose flows smoothly, and the
verse, which is of a vastly higher character, with all its echoes, is
unaffected, fresh, and regular in form. His song is not original, but
it is pure; it is in the usual key of romance, but it is sung with
youthful freshness and grace. The fact of producing naïvely during the
years of boyhood is in itself a phenomenon, and the unusual amount of
innate command of language secures the student author from exaggeration
or mannerism. The gift of language, inherited evidently from his
father, the well-known philologist, develops in the son into a fluency,
a facility for handling words and rhythm, which even in his earliest
youth was not far removed from virtuoso-ship. This almost Rückert-like
flow of language, as a fundamental element in Heyse's natural
endowments, influenced all the other peculiarities which he gradually
developed. From the very beginning he sang not because he had more in
his heart than the rest of mankind, but because it was far easier and
more natural for him than for others to express that of which his heart
was full. Since, no mighty inward revolutions or startling outward
occurrences were necessary to unseal his lips, as are usually required
to rouse the creative fancy of those for whom it is difficult to find
form of expression, and who succeed only in moments of passion in
bringing forth to the light of day the treasures of their inner being,
he turned his gaze not within but without, pondered but little on his
_ego,_ his calling, and his capabilities; but fully conscious that he
bore within his own soul a clear mirror, which reflected everything
within his immediate surroundings that interested him, he allowed his
gaze, with the keen susceptibility and true creative impulse of a
plastic artist, to wander in all directions.

Of a plastic artist, I said; for he did not long continue to carol
forth the music of romance. He himself has said,--

    "Fair is romantic poesie,
    Yet what we call _beauté de nuit._"

True men, Heyse thinks, understand how to grasp their ideas in the
light of day, and he is too thoroughly a child of the sun to be able
to linger in the twilight of romance. A lyric poet he is not in the
main, and the strength of romance, conformably to its nature and of
necessity, lies in lyric poetry. Nor did the surroundings of nature
imbue him with an independent poetic interest; such a freshness of
the sea and of the landscape as is breathed for instance by the
Danish novels of Blicher will not be found in his works; he is not a
landscape-painter, and has always availed himself of the landscape
merely as a background. What first and earliest met his gaze, as soon
as he was developed enough to see with his own eyes, was man; and let
it be observed, not man as an intelligence served by organs, or as
a will walking on a pair of legs, or as a psychological curiosity,
but man as a plastic form. Like the sculptor or the figure-painter
it is his wont, according to my opinion, on closing his eyes, to see
his horizon first and foremost populated with outlines and profiles.
Beautiful external forms and movements, the poise of a graceful head,
a charming peculiarity of carriage or walk, have occupied him in
precisely the same way as they engross the attention of the plastic
artist, and are reproduced by him with the same partiality, indeed,
at times with technical exactness of expression. And not only the
narrator, but the personages that appear on the scene, often form the
same kind of conceptions. Thus, for instance, the main character in
"Der Kreisrichter" (The Circuit Judge) says: "The young people here
are healthy, and health constitutes half of the beauty of youth. There
is also race development. _Notice the refined form of their heads, and
the delicate moulding of their temples, and the natural grace of their
bearing in walking, dancing, and sitting down_."[18] A striking example
of the poet's method of contemplation may be found in "Die Einsamen"
(The Solitary Ones), where his dissatisfaction at being able to paint
so imperfectly with the means which his art affords, breaks forth in
the following words: "Only the mere outlines!" he raved to himself.
"Only a few dozen lines! How she went trotting about on her little
donkey, one leg thrown across the back of the animal, resting firmly
and securely, the other almost grazing the ground with the tip of her
foot, and her right elbow supported on the knee that was in repose,
her hand playing gently with the chain about her neck, her face turned
toward the sea. What a mass of black tresses on the neck! Something
red lends a radiance thereto. A coral necklace? No; fresh pomegranate
blossoms. The wind plays with the loosely knotted kerchief; how dark
is the glow of the cheeks, and how much darker the eye!"[19] Such are
the pictures of plastic figures, simple, picturesque situations, with
which Heyse's imagination has had to operate upon from the beginning,
and which serve to form for it a starting-point. And though it may
be felt ever so keenly how much more sensible it is to describe a
poet than to praise him, still it were scarcely possible to restrain
an outburst of admiration upon considering how exceedingly well
Heyse, in every instance, has succeeded in presenting his characters,
especially, however, his female characters, to the reader's eye. He
does not belong to the descriptive school; he does not characterize
in detail, as either Balzac or Turgenief; he describes with a few
delicate strokes: yet his creations remain fixed in our memories, from
the simple reason that they all have defined style. A peasant maiden
from Naples or Tyrol, a servant girl, or a young fräulein from Germany,
all obtain, when depicted by his hand, a higher, more visionary, and
yet ever-memorable life, because they are all ennobled by strictly
ideal methods and the art of representation. They are as perfect in
form as statues; they have the carriage of queens. With the exception
of the painter Leopold Robert, of whom some of Heyse's Italian works
are reminders, no one, to my knowledge, has displayed so grand a style
in the delineation of peasants and fishing people as Heyse. And as
the forms of the outer person, so those of the inner being are of an
exquisitely finished style. Did not the expression seem almost too
daring, I should say that Heyse's descriptions of love are plastic.
The romantic school always conceived love to be of a lyric nature. If
Heyse's love stories be compared with the love stories of the romantic
school, it will be found that while the romantic writers give their
strength in analyzing their romantic transports as such, and forming
a nomenclature for the rarest moods which it has usually been thought
impossible to name, in Heyse's writings every psychological force
is mirrored in a look or in a gesture; everything becomes with him
contemplation and visible life.


I remarked that the faculty of preserving and idealizing forms
constituted _one_ of the starting-points of this poet's imagination.
It has, however, another. Quite as inherent as his capacity for
delineating character is his fondness for experiencing and inventing
"adventures." By adventures, I understand events of a peculiar
and unusual nature, which--as is scarcely ever the case in real
adventures--have a sure outline, and so clearly defined a beginning,
middle, and end, that they appear to the imagination like a work
of art enclosed in a frame. From any chance, outward or inward,
observation--the fragment of a dream, an encounter on the street, the
sight of a tower dating from the Middle Ages, in some ancient city,
in the glow of the setting sun--there springs up for him, through the
most rapid association of ideas, a history, a chain of events; and
as he is by nature an artist, this series of events ever assumes a
rhythmic form. Like the beings he creates, it has clear, firm outlines
and inner equilibrium. It has its skeleton, its filling up of flesh;
above all, its well-defined and slender shape. The faculty of relating
a story in brief, concise form, of imparting to it, so to say, a
harmonious rhythm, has its origin directly in Heyse's thoroughly
harmonious nature.[20] The "novellen" form, as he has carved it out
and engraved it, is an entirely original and independent creation, his
actual property. Therefore he has become especially popular through
his prose "novelle." The "novelle" with him always has extremely few
and simple factors, the number of the personages introduced is small,
the action is concise and may be surveyed with a single glance. But
his fiction does not exist for the sake of the personages alone, as
in the modern French novels, which only satisfy a psychological or a
physiological interest; it has its own peculiar mode of development and
its independent interest. A novel like Christian Winter's "Aftenscene"
(Evening Scene), whose quaint, old-fashioned grace of style renders it
so fascinating, possesses the fault of having no incident. With Heyse
the "novelle" is not a picture of the times, or a _genre_ painting;
something always _does happen_ with him, and it is always something
unexpected. The plot, as a rule, is so arranged that at a certain point
an unforeseen change takes place; a surprise which, when the reader
looks back, always proves to have had a firm and carefully prepared
foundation in what went before. At this point the action sharpens; here
the threads unite to form a knot from which they are spun around in an
opposite direction. The enjoyment of the reader is based upon the art
with which the purpose of the action is gradually more and more veiled
and hidden from view, until suddenly the covering falls. His surprise
is caused by the skill with which Heyse apparently strays farther and
farther away from the goal which rose beyond the starting-point, until
he finally discovers that he has been led through a winding path and
finds himself exactly above the point where the story began.

Heyse himself, in his introduction to his "Deutscher Novellenschatz,"
has expressed his views on the principle to which he does homage in
his "novellen" compositions. Here, as in the introduction to the
"Stickerin von Treviso" (The Embroidery Woman of Treviso), he calls the
attention of those who would place the entire importance on style and
diction, to the fact that the narrative as a narrative, what children
call the story, is unquestionably the essential foundation of the
"novelle" and possesses its own peculiar beauty. He lays stress on the
statement that according to his æsthetic taste, he would give the
preference to _that_ "novelle" whose main motive is most distinctly
finished, and--with more or less intrinsic worth--betrays something
peculiar, specific, in the original design. _"A strong silhouette_,"
he continues, "should not be lacking in what is called a 'novelle' in
the proper sense of the word."[21] By the term "silhouette" Heyse means
the outlines of the story, as shown by a brief summary of the contents;
and he illustrates his idea with a striking example and a striking
description. He gives the synopsis of one of the novels of Boccaccio,
as follows:--

"Frederigo degli Alberighi loves, without meeting with any return;
roving in knightly fashion, he squanders all his substance, and has
nothing left but one single falcon; this, when the lady whom he loves
is led by chance to his house, and he has nothing else with which to
prepare a meal for her, he places on the table before her. She learns
what he has done, suddenly changes her resolution, and rewards his love
by making him the lord of her hand and her fortune."

Heyse calls attention to the fact that in these few lines lie all
the elements of a touching and delightful "novelle," in which the
fate of two human beings is accomplished in the most charming manner,
through an accidental turn of affairs, which, however, serves to
give deeper development to the characters; and he therefore invites
modern story-tellers, even when engaged on the most touching and rich
materials, to ask themselves where "the falcon" is, the specific object
that distinguishes this story from a thousand others.

In the demand he makes on the "novelle," he has especially
characterized the task he has imposed on himself and faithfully
fulfilled. He prefers eccentric to typical everyday instances. As
a rule, we are quite as sure of finding "the falcon" in his prose
narratives, as a certain judge was of finding a woman at the bottom
of every crime. In "L' Arrabbiata," the biting of a hand is "the
falcon"; in the "Bild der Mutter" (The Mother's Portrait) it is the
elopement; in "Vetter [Cousin] Gabriel," it is the letter copied from
the "lover's letter-writer." If the reader will himself search for the
aforesaid wild bird, he will gain an insight into the poet's method of
composition. It is not always so easily captured as in the cases just
cited. With a power of investigation, a nimble grace, which is rare
in a man who is not of Roman race, Heyse has understood how to tie
the knots of events and disentangle them again, to present and solve
the psychologic problem which he has _isolated_ in the "novelle." He
has the faculty of singling out exceptional, unusual cases from the
general state of culture, and the condition of the society of which
he is a member, and presenting them purely and sharply in the form of
a "novelle," without permitting the action to play into the unreal
and fabulous, as is the wont of romantic novelists, and without ever
allowing it to run into a merely epigrammatic point. His "novellen"
are neither brief romances nor long anecdotes. They have at the same
time fulness and strictly-defined form. And circumscribed as this form
may be, it has yet proved itself sufficiently flexible to be able to
embrace within its limits the most diverse materials. The "novellen"
of Heyse play on many strings; most abundantly on the tender and
the _spirituelle_, but also on the comic (as in the amusing tale,
"Die Wittwe von Pisa"--The Widow of Pisa), the fantastic (as in the
Hoffman-like "Cleopatra"); indeed, in a single instance, the awful (in
the painful nocturne, "Der Kinder Sünde der Väter Fluch"--The Sins of
the Children the Curse of the Fathers). The "novelle" as it is treated
by Heyse borders on the provinces of Alfred de Musset, Mérimée, Hoffman
and Tieck; but has, however, its own special domain, as well as its
very individual profile.


Meanwhile, ready as I am to recognize the significance of this sharp
profile as the individual characteristic of the Heyse "novelle," and
its significance for the novel in general as a work of art, it is
equally hard for me to allow this to pass as the decisive norm for the
estimation of individual stories.

The novel is, indeed, as every work of art, an organism in which
beautiful proportions, relatively independent of one another and of
a totally dissimilar character, contribute to produce a combined
impression. We have been dwelling upon the characterizations, and the
action; style is the third element. According to my convictions, these
three elements are not subordinate one to the other, but co-ordinate;
and each one of them, when developed in a masterly way, affords the
reader an equally perfect enjoyment.

It is very certain, as Heyse makes evident, that a one-sided
development of diction leads to clever capriciousness without any
scheme; whoever places too great importance on "the plot" is in danger,
on the other hand, of retrograding into mere sensational literature.

"Spring Floods," by Turgenief, is a novel whose action moves on in
an unsatisfactory manner,--of the style, in the stricter sense of
the word, I cannot judge, as I have never read the story in the
original,--but is this lack of much importance in such a masterwork of
individual characterization? Does not the description of the Italian
family, in and by itself, outweigh every imperfection in the plan of
occurrences? What matters it if the reader would rather have had the
end somewhat different, and cannot read it a second time, even though
he may read three-quarters of the novel over and over again with
unchanged enjoyment?

Blicher's "Diary of a Village Sexton" is a novel in which the action
is of but little moment, and most of the characters are absolutely
repellant, on account of their coarseness; but it is, nevertheless,
a work of the highest artistic worth; its main strength lies in its
style, in the masterly execution of the honest sexton's language, which
belongs to a period of almost two hundred years past. This language is
a guarantee for the cutting truth of the narrative, a truth which is
not reached by the path of idealism, and which, therefore, is neither
sought nor found by Heyse; I mean that truth which by the French is
designated "la vérité vraie."

And cannot Heyse be attacked with his own weapons? I think he can. By
the stress he lays on what the novel within the novel is, he seems to
oppose alike the overestimation of style, and of ideal purport. But of
all his "novellen" in verse "Der Salamander" (The Salamander) appears
to me to stand the highest; of his prose works "Der letzte Centaur"
(The Last Centaur) is one of my favorites. The first of these seems to
me to bear off the palm on account of the diction; the last, on account
of the idea.

There is no need of taking pains to seek for a "falcon" in Salamander;
there is no plot in it, the characters have no development worth
mentioning, and yet every reader of any susceptibility will experience
such lively enjoyment under the influence of the magic of these
terzettos, that it will seem to him as if this poem, in addition to
its own merits, possessed also all those which it lacks. Of the epic
repose, of the objective style, which is Heyse's precise ideal in the
domain of the "novelle," not much will here be found. This epic repose
is perhaps less adapted on the whole to the restless spirit of our
time. The realization of this ideal of Heyse's has, properly speaking,
only perfectly succeeded in the few prose "novellen," which do not
touch upon the civilization of modern society, as in those genial
pasticcios of the olden time: "Die Stickerin von Treviso" and "Geoffroy
und Garcinde," where the noble, simple style of the old Italian or
Provençal form of narrative is idealized, or when the materials are
taken from the life of the people in Italy or Tyrol; for the people in
those lands are themselves a simple piece of the Middle Ages cast in
_a form_. Such a story as that little jewel "L' Arrabbiata," which was
the foundation of Heyse's fame, actually attains its rights through its
plain, rigid setting; adorned with the decorations of style, or with
psychologically polished facets, it would lose its entire beauty, if
not become impossible. In the same way "Die Stickerin von Treviso,"
which probably, next to the work just named, has reaped the greatest
harvest of applause, in its touching simplicity and grandeur, is so
thoroughly one with its chronicle form, that it cannot be conceived
of without this. But in instances where scenes from purely modern
civilization are described, the style cannot be too individual and
nervous. Heyse himself cannot avoid making his aim in this respect
proportionate to his materials; how feverish is the recital in the
pretty invalid story in letters "Unheilbar" (Incurable.) However,
it is apparently with the utmost reluctance, and without the free
exercise of his will, that he permits himself to be carried away into
such a passionately surging and trembling style as in "Salamander."
This creation is pure style, its beauty depends wholly and entirely
on the captivating charm of its metric diction, and yet throughout
not a word will be found that is not to the purpose. The entire work
teems with active life, every change in style is deeply felt and
transparent; the struggling soul of the writer lies like an open book
before the reader. The situations are insignificant and commonplace; no
Bengal illumination, not even a final tableau. But these remarkable,
incredibly beautiful, unnaturally easy, nervously passionate
terzettos, which question and answer, jest, sing and lament, invest
the theatrical, the enamored yet thoroughly composed blasé coquette,
the heroine, and the passion she inspires, with such a charm that
no exciting story, with crisis and pole, could be more captivating.
Toward the close of the poem the glorious terzettos, which throughout
have been transformed into quite a new species of metre, ring out in
a manner as surprising as it is genial and bold, in the chords of a
triple ritornelle, invested with all the freshness of nature. Such a
poem as this will maintain its place in spite of all theories.

Upon the whole, however, it seems to me that Heyse has formed
an incorrect conception of the significance of poetic style.
Theoretically, he fears its independent development, and cannot
tolerate any works which are "mere diction and style." Nevertheless,
in such poems as "Das Feenkind" (The Fairy Child), and still more
in such poems as "Frauenemancipation" (Female Emancipation), he has
himself furnished productions of this kind. The first of these poems is
refined and graceful, but the raillery in it is of too ample length--we
do not care to eat an undue amount of whipped cream; the other, whose
tendency, however, is the best, suffers from a loquacity without any
salt. But a distinctly marked style is by no means the same thing
as the formal virtuosoship of diction. That an artist of language
like Heyse, the translator of Giusti, of the troubadours, of Italian
and Spanish folk-songs, must possess this in the fullest degree, is
understood as a matter of course. And yet the truly artistic style is
not that formal grace which spreads uniformly over everything. Style,
in the highest sense of the word, is fulfilment, a form completed from
every point of view. Where the coloring of language, the phraseology,
diction, and personal accent, still possess a certain abstract
homogeneousness, where the author has failed to mirror the character at
every essential point in all the outer forms, the drapery of language,
of however light a texture it may consist, will hang stiff and dead
about the personality of the speaker. The perfect modern style, on the
contrary, envelops it as the flowing robe envelops the form of the
Grecian orator, serving to relieve the attitude of the body and every
movement. The diction of the mere virtuoso, even when "brilliant," may
be traditional and trivial; genuine style is never so. With the mode
of narration of Heyse's "novellen," I have not much fault to find; his
dramatic diction, on the contrary, does not please me so well.

There are no doubt many who think that if Heyse's historic dramas have
not gained the recognition accorded his "novellen," it is because
they are invested with too little action, and too much style. If the
word style, however, be understood as I have here defined it, it
should certainly rather be asserted that the iambic form used was worn
threadbare, and that these works have not style enough. The diction
in "Elizabeth Charlotte," for example, neither sufficiently bears
the coloring of the period in which the scenes are laid, nor of the
persons who speak. Only compare it with the dry posthumous memoirs of
the princess. The poet who, with his fabulous facility for orienting
himself in every poetic form, can produce a drama as easily as he
can tell a story, has taken his task almost too easily. The little
tragedy "Maria Moroni," a drama which may be ranked next to his
"novellen," through its plan as well as through its characterization,
might worthily stand side by side with the Italian dramas of Alfred
de Musset, of which it reminds us, were not its language-coloring by
far too dull and cold. The dialogues of Musset not only sparkle with
wit, but glow with ardor and with life. In his dramas Heyse is not
personally present with his whole soul at every point. And yet this "at
every point" is the style.

Inasmuch, therefore, as I have placed the highest estimate on
"Salamander," of all the versified "novellen," on account of its
excellence of diction, so for the sake of its idea I would give a high
place to the prose narrative, "Der letzte Centaur" (The Last Centaur),
although the latter is, at the same time, farthest removed from the
requirements of the definition. It does not treat of an occurrence or a
conflict in a defined sphere of life, nor of any especial psychologic
instance, but of life itself; it permits the entire modern life to
be mirrored at once within a narrow frame. A shot at the central
point is so refreshing; why deny it? The peripheric character of some
others of Heyse's works is to blame for their not being of greater
interest. After reading through a long series of "novellen" one cannot
help longing for an art form which is capable of embracing the more
significant, universally current ideas and problems in poetic form.


Heyse's dramas are in the highest degree heterogeneous: civil
tragedies, mythological, historic, patriotic plays of the most
dissimilar artistic nature. His talent is so pliant that he feels at
liberty to enter upon any theme. A strong impulse for the historical,
Heyse has never had; his historical dramas have all sprung from a
patriotic sentiment, and are effective chiefly through this sentiment.
The one of his groups of dramas for which the poet is most noted is
that which deals with antique subjects. At a time when modern political
action was everywhere demanded of the higher drama, this employment
of old Grecian and Roman materials was lamented over and derided in
Germany, with an utter lack of comprehension. People asked what in all
the world there was in such a subject as the rape of the Sabine women,
or Meleager, or Hadrian, that could possibly interest the poet or any
one else. To those who read critically it is very evident what must
have attracted Heyse to these themes. They incorporate for him his
favorite ideas concerning woman's love and woman's destiny, and his own
being is mirrored in them. Any one who will compare the warm-blooded
drama "Meleager" with Swinburne's "Atalanta in Kalydon," which
handles the same material, will find occasion for many interesting
observations, concerning the peculiarity of the two poets. "Hadrian"
has perhaps perplexed the critic the most. What could attract the poet
to a relation so wholly foreign to us as that between Hadrian and
Antinous, one, too, that is so decidedly a reminder of the shady side
of antique life, seems almost incomprehensible. I, for my part, rank
"Hadrian" highest of all of Heyse's dramas. I have never been able to
read this tragedy of the handsome young Egyptian who, passionately
loved by the ruler of the world, surrounded by all the pomp and
splendor of the court, free in every respect, and bound alone to his
imperial admirer, languishes for freedom,--I have never been able to
read this tragedy, I say, without thinking of a certain young poet who,
already in his earliest youth summoned to a South German court, soon
became an object of envy as the favorite of an amiable and intelligent
monarch, as the darling of fortune, while in many a secret moment he
wished himself far from court, and in many a fettered moment felt
how little even the favor of the best master weighed in the balance
against the freedom of one who was entirely unprotected, but entirely

In this drama, by way of exception, all that is scenic is of the
highest effect. The actual reason why Heyse, with all his great ability
for the stage, still failed to meet with decided success in his dramas,
is unquestionably because he does not possess the German pathos
proper, that of Schiller. Not until the pathos is broken, not until
it has become half pathological, is he able to treat it with entire
originality. Genuine dramatic pathos from the depths of the heart, with
him easily becomes inartistically national, patriotic, and somewhat
commonplace. This is the reason why the representation of manly action
proper is not his province. To however high a degree he may have
command in his poetry over the passive qualities of manhood, such as
dignity, earnestness, repose, dauntless courage, he nevertheless,
like Goethe, wholly lacks the active momentum. A vigorous, effective
plan of action that follows a defined goal is as little the essential
part of his dramas as of his novels and romances. If there now and
then appear an energetic action, it is occasioned by despair; the
individual is forced into a dilemma in which the only apparent means
of escape may be gained through the utmost daring alone. (Compare the
action of the young forester in "Mutter und Kind," when he kidnaps the
son of his sweetheart, or the elopement in "Das Bild der Mutter"--The
Mother's Portrait.) In the romance "Im Paradiese" a good example of
this will be found in the scene where Jansen, in exasperation at all
the incompleteness amid which his life has been passed, dashes to
pieces the models of his saints. It was an unmanly thing in Jansen
to carry on a saint factory,--the whole idea is amusing as a passing
jest, but does not admit of being made permanent without disfiguring
the character,--but it is a still more unmanly, aye, a truly womanish
course of action, when he pours out the vials of his wrath against
the dead plaster images. Although from the reason already cited the
genuine dramatic nerve and sinew are almost always lacking in Heyse's
works, the hindrances which are placed in the way of the poet's
decided success on the stage are not of such importance that he may
not overcome them with time and celebrate a scenic triumph. By way of
preliminary, a few years ago he made his début, to the astonishment of
every one, in a species of poetic composition which seemed to be wholly
remote from his province, but in which, in a very short time, he won
the greatest success.

It is still fresh in the public memory what an excitement the "Kinder
der Welt" created when it first appeared in Spener's "Zeitung." For a
whole month this feuilleton was the universal theme of conversation.
The guileless novelist, who was so completely an alien to worldly life,
had suddenly unveiled himself as a purely modern thinker, who ended a
philosophic romance with the words of Hölderlin:--

    "Cease not to guard with heav'nly buckler
    Fair innocence; thou guardian of the bold,
    Forsake her not!"

It had been apparently overlooked previous to this that through Heyse's
insinuating poetry there ran a vehement demand for freedom, a complete
independence of dogmas and conventional fetters. At his new departure,
therefore, people were more astonished than they had any reason to be.
Heyse is of a mixed origin: from his Teutonic father he has inherited
the positive side of his character, the fulness and beauty of his
disposition; from his mother, who was a Jewess, a critical vein. For
the first time both sides of his nature were revealed to the great
public. It must have produced a marked impression on the minds about
him that this Fabius Cunctator who had so long held aloof from the
problems of the day, now felt that the moment had come for him to
take his position in their ranks, and fight the fight of the times.
The romance is a dignified and noble protest against those who would
fetter freedom of thought and instruction in our day. It has to back
it all polemics against dogmas. All its main personages, with a clear
consciousness of their position, are made to live in that atmosphere
of freer ideas, which is the vital air of modern times. It is one
of those works which possess the intensity of a long-repressed,
late-matured personal experience, and therefore has a vitality to
which no awkwardness of form, no lack of form, can be prejudicial. The
book, as a first attempt, is wanting in many of the elements of the
genuine romance; the hero, as might have been expected, lacks much in
resolution, in active manly vigor; it does not concentrate itself in
a single, absolutely dominating interest; the all-engulfing erotic
element does not permit the idea to stand forth clear and central, as
it was conceived by the poet. The decisive turning-point of the work
seems to be impending where Franzelius, after the burial of Balder, is
thrown into prison on the denunciation of Lorinser. Here Edwin says
expressly:[22] "You desire open war, you yourself demand it, and there
shall be no peace until it has been honestly fought out." But the
_open_ war does not take place; the entire little band of heroes of the
book content themselves with the defensive, and when Edwin has finally
completed his epoch-making work, the romance ends. Closely associated
with this lack is the undue softness of feeling in those parts which
treat of Balder. The absence of that strict observance of proportion
and limits which distinguish Heyse's "novellen," is plainly felt in
this romance. But how would it be possible that great merits in a work
of such extent should not be purchased with some lacks. Not only have
the ideal female characters here the same points of excellence as in
the "novellen"; but the poet has also enlarged his sphere in a high
degree; even the least ideal figures, Christiane, Mohr, Marquard, are
incomparable. And what a flood of genuine humanity streams through this
romance! What a fund of true, versatile culture it contains! It is not
only a courageous book, it is also an edifying one.

On certain foul attacks which it drew down upon its author, I will
not linger. The denunciations of a couple of insignificant German
sheets alone interest me because one of these abusive articles, which
so stated the purport of the book that it was represented as dealing
solely with the coarsest sensuality, was brought out in Norway by the
Norwegian translator of Goethe's "Faust," with an introduction in which
all Norwegian fathers of families were warned against allowing the book
to cross their thresholds.[23]

For a sharp thrust from France, Heyse had every reason to be prepared.
It came not unmerited; for the remarks concerning the literature and
intellectual tendency of that country occurring in his romance are
quite in the style of the general German sentiment; but the cut might
have been given in a more chivalrous and skilful manner than the very
ignoble and narrow-minded article by Albert Réville in the "Revue des
Deux Mondes," which was dictated by national hatred and a love of

Freedom of thought was the fundamental idea of the "Kinder der Welt";
freedom of moral action is the fundamental idea of the romance "Im
Paradiese," yet not in such a way that this work must be considered an
attempt at justification; for if the freedom of thought Heyse advocates
may be designated as absolute, the freedom of moral action is only
relative. Moreover, "Im Paradiese" is a work of quite a different
character than the first romance. Even the fact that the scenes of
the early romance are laid in keen, critical Berlin, the second one
in merry, pleasure-loving Munich, indicates the difference. While the
"Kinder der Welt" may be called a philosophic romance, "Im Paradiese"
is a sort of _roman comique,_ light, graceful, and full of a raillery
blended with earnestness. Its greatest value is in being the psychology
of an entire city of importance, and the portrait of the social and
art circles of this city. All Munich is embraced in this book, and, as
a matter of course, the artist life of this city of artists occupies
the main place. The conversations and reflections on art have not the
useless and abstract character in the pages of this book that they
assume in the ordinary art-romance; we feel that it is no theorist but
a connoisseur who speaks, and a genuine studio atmosphere is diffused
throughout all portions of the book. The entire æsthetics of the author
may be condensed into Ingre's old definition, _"l'art c'est le nu."_

So far as the entanglements and composition of the plot are concerned,
"Im Paradiese" denotes an undoubted progress. The interest is sustained
throughout, and what is more, it continually increases; a commendation
that cannot be bestowed on "Kinder der Welt." Now and then, however,
the means used to forward the plot are applied in rather an unskilful
manner. For instance, the entire rôle played by the dog Homo as _deus
ex machina_ is especially marked in its exaggerations. He reminds us,
with his superhuman penetration, of those lions of the sculpture of the
"Zopf" period, with human and majestic countenances, framed in masses
which too strongly resemble the big wigs of real life. Yet in German
romances not the plot, but the delineation of character is the main
thing, and in almost all its subordinate figures this book reveals
a new side of Heyse's talent. Such forms as Angelica, Rosenbusch,
Kohl, Schnetz, have sportive, manifold life that formerly had been
almost entirely excluded from Heyse's style. In a word, Heyse's mind
has gained humor, the humor of mature manhood, one might almost say,
of forty years of age; but a delicate, sagacious, quiet humor which
renders complete the gift of the poet and invests its coloring with the
true blending.


We have run through the circle of ideas and forms in which this poetic
soul has found its expression. We have seen how Heyse, at last, in the
romance accommodated himself to the thought agitating modern times,
and to which the "novellen" form was not able to give adequate space.
Moreover, I pointed out one "novelle" which was not less distinguished
by its fundamental thought than "Der Salamander" was by its style.

Each time that Heyse has attempted to gain a modern interest for
ancient myths, he has been fortunate. The charming little youthful
poem, "Die Furie" (The Fury), is among the best that he has written.
In a little drama, "Perseus" (not included in his collected works), he
has given a new interpretation of the Medusa myth; he has felt pity for
poor, beautiful Medusa, to whom was allotted the cruel fate of turning
every one into stone, and he informs us that the envy of the goddesses
who were jealous of her love for Perseus is alone to blame for this.
Her head falls by the hand of her own lover, while she, in order not
to harm him through her pernicious gaze, buries her face in the sand.
Heyse has transformed the ancient myth into an original and sorrowful
Mährchen. The story of the "Centaur" is bright, and full of profound
thought. We are not astonished when "Im Paradiese" informs us that this
story inspired the favorite fresco of the painter Kohle. The pilgrimage
"unserer lieben Frau von Milo," which as a picture we almost think we
see before our eyes, so vividly is the fresco described, is intimately
related as a poem to "Der letzte Centaur" (The last Centaur)! That
sounds almost like the last of the Mohikans! What does Heyse know of
the last Centaur? How could he possibly introduce him into a regular
"novelle"? It is done with consummate art, and yet in the most natural
way in the world. He first, so to speak, brings together two circles,
then a third circle, and in the latter he conjures up the Centaur.
The first circle is the world of the living, the second the world of
the dead, the third easily and naturally comprises the world of the
supernatural. The story begins, contrary to Heyse's custom, in a purely
autobiographical way, therefore with the strongest possible elements
of reality. The author, late one evening, approaches a wine-house,
where, in his youth, he was in the habit of meeting every week his
dearest friends and comrades, all of whom are now dead, and lets them
pass in review before his mind's eye. Finally he enters the wine-house,
feels weary, and--suddenly it seems to him as though he were summoned
to join the old circle, and as the door is opened, lo! his friends
all sit together. But not one of them extends a hand to him who is
entering, and their faces wear an expression of formality, seriousness,
and sorrow. Every now and then they drink long draughts from their
wineglasses, while their pale cheeks and dim eyes sparkle and glow for
a moment, but directly afterward they sit rigid and silent once more,
staring into their glasses. One of them alone is not bowed down by the
destiny that has overtaken them, and of which, from a mute agreement,
not a word is spoken in the society. It is Genelli, the distinguished
painter, whose "Centaur" in the "Schackschen Sammlung" at Munich is
the admiration of all travellers. One of the company remarks that such
a Genelli creation looks so life-like that one is almost inclined to
believe that the artist himself was a participator in the scene. And as
the master calmly replies "And so he was," we glide imperceptibly from
the realm of the dead to the world of fiction. He has seen the Centaur
with his own eyes, one beautiful summer afternoon, as it came trotting,
without thought of evil, into a little Tyrolese village, where Genelli
sat over his wineglass. In olden times, the Centaur was a country
physician by profession, had grown weary during a professional tour
across the mountains, had laid himself down to sleep in a glacier-cave,
was then frozen in--and now, after the lapse of centuries, the ice had
melted about him, and he could freely gaze on the changed world with
his wondering eyes. It is Sunday, and just church time, when, with his
mighty body,--a Farnese Hercules above, a superb, heroic battle-charger
below,--with floating mane and long, trailing horse tail, with a spray
of roses behind one ear in his thick hair, he trots through the empty
streets, only now and then terrifying some old woman, who flees, with
shrieks of alarm, from the strange apparition. He sees the church door
open, the building full of people, and a marvellously beautiful woman
with a child on her arm, painted over the altar. Filled with curiosity,
meaning no harm, he trots through the portal, over the stone flags,
and approaches the altar. It can easily be comprehended what a hubbub
is caused by this monster, newly arisen from hell. The parson shrieks
aloud, waves toward the beast whatever consecrated thing he may happen
to hold in his hand, and cries "Apage! apage!" (which the Centaur
understands because it is Greek). The congregation makes the sign of
the cross over and over again; and filled with astonishment, this beast
of ancient story then trots out of the door again, and accompanied
by all the old women and all the children of the village, who are
naturally very much shocked to see "the lofty traveller so lightly
clad," presses onward to the village inn, where Genelli is sitting on
the balcony. The master then informs the Centaur that he has awakened
to life either a couple of hundred years too late or too early. At the
time of the Renaissance he would doubtless have been well received.
"But at the present day, among this narrow-chested, broad-browed,
enervated, unmanned, worn-out race that is called the modern world!"
Genelli could not venture to make out a very cheering horoscope for
him. "Wherever you may show yourself, in cities or in villages, the
street-urchins will run after you and pelt you with rotten apples,
the old women will cry murder, and the priest will report you to be
the foul fiend himself, etc." And it comes to pass as Genelli has
prophesied. While the worthy Centaur, with the good nature that belongs
to the strong, allows the public to stare at him, to feel his soft,
velvety hide, while he, in genial mood, drains glass after glass of
wine, and hands back his empty glass over the railing of the arbor to
the pretty bar-maid, to whom he at once gave his rose, hatred and envy
are lying in ambush to work his destruction. A complete conspiracy has
been formed against him. "At the head stood, of course, the reverend
clergy, who deemed it detrimental to the spiritual welfare of their
parishioners to come into closer contact with a certainly unchristian,
wholly naked, and no doubt, very immoral beast-man." Equally incensed
was an Italian who had been exhibiting on the market-place a stuffed
calf with two heads and five legs. The horse-man could be seen gratis,
he was alive and drank and talked, and who knew whether he might
not even be moved to treat the by-standers to some skilful feats of
horsemanship. The calf, on the other hand, was a peaceful genius, and
gave no signs of any such extravagant undertakings. The Italian cannot
enter into competition. "There is a difference," he explains to the
parson, "between a legalized, natural sport, that is carried on with
the full approval of the police, and a monster that is wholly beyond
the limits of probability, such a one as has never been known to exist
before, who, travelling without passport or license, makes the country
unsafe and steals the bread from the mouths of honest five-legged
calves." But the most passionate opponent of the Centaur is the little
bow-legged village tailor, the bridegroom elect of the pretty bar-maid.
The tailor, too, discloses his mind to the parson, and expresses his
anxiety lest the new fashion introduced by the unknown should ruin
the whole tailor's trade, and, moreover, overthrow all conceptions
of decency and good morals. So, while the Centaur, in his cheerful
mood, is just engaged in carrying the fair Nanni on his back round
the court-yard of the inn, and, at the same time, entertaining the
by-standers with an exceedingly graceful and peculiar dance, all the
conspirators appear with a company of mounted gens-d'armes to capture
him. Without honoring them with the slightest attention, he continues
his dance, and softly pressing the maiden's hands on his breast, he
makes a magnificent leap over the heads of the peasants and away he
goes. Pistol-balls follow him, with sharp reports, without hitting him,
and soon he stands free on the next mountain slope. There, moved by the
piteous entreaties of the maiden, he allows her to glide gently down to
the ground. "Greatly as she had been flattered by the chivalrous homage
of the stranger, and pitiful as was the figure her own sweetheart
displayed beside him, she could not expect a solid support from this
mounted foreigner." Her practical nature triumphs, and like a hunted
chamois she springs from stone to stone into her tailor's arms. An
expression of divine scorn glides over the countenance of the Centaur;
he is seen to move away, and shortly afterward he has vanished from the
eager gaze of those who are staring after him.

Here Genelli's voice is hushed, the little circle breaks up, and the
poet awakens in the ante-room of the inn.

All the qualities which make a poetic work an enjoyment to the reader
are combined in this "Märchen"; an exalted humor, which casts a gentle
glow over all the details, the tenderest semi-tone and the finest
clair-obscure, that permits the action of the piece to glide gently
from the light of day into a dream of a circle of the dead, and then
again allows the twilight of the shadow-world to be illumined by a
sunbeam from old Hellas. Add to this a profound thought, which is
entirely original to its poet. For this sportive tale is in reality
a hymn to freedom in art as well as in life, and to freedom as Heyse
has conceived it. In his eyes freedom does not consist in a struggle
for freedom (as, for instance, in the case of the Norwegian author
Henrik Ibsen), but it is the protest of nature against dogmas in the
religious sphere, of nature against conventionality in the social and
moral sphere. Through nature to freedom! that is his path and that his
watchword. Thus the Centaur as half human being, half divinity, is to
his fancy a beloved symbol. How beautiful is the Centaur in his proud
strength gained from the remnant of old Grecian blood he has preserved
in his veins! What must he not have suffered, the poor Centaur, for the
remnant of heathenism, that has arisen in him, and that, after having
been frozen in a few thousand years, has ventured out into the light of
day in our age when all the glaciers are beginning to melt away! How
much more instructive, how much more sedate and moral, does the whole
civilized world about him find his interesting rival, the stuffed calf,
with two tongues and five legs, which are by no means intended for
progress, but are conservative legs that with all due propriety keep
the place ascribed to them. Such curiosities never exceed the limits
of any civil custom, never exhibit themselves without permission from
the public authorities and the clergy, and are therefore none the less
unusual. They will always remain rivals of the Centaur, considered by
some as his equal and by others as far outshining him.

And is not the poet himself, on his Pegasus in this petty modern social
world of ours, the living representative of "the last Centaur"?


I have noted down some expressions of opinion concerning Heyse,
favorable and unfavorable all mixed together.

"Heyse," says one, "is the woman's doctor, the German woman's doctor,
who has thoroughly understood Goethe's saying,--

    'Es ist ihr ewig Weh und Ach
    So tausendfach u.s.w.'

That he is no poet for men, Prince Bismarck has rightly felt."

"On the contrary," says another, "Paul Heyse is very masculine. He is
pronounced weak by some because he is pleasing, because a finished
grace has lent its impress to his creations. People do not realize how
much strength is requisite in order to have this exquisite charm!"

"What is Heyse?" says a third. "The denizen of a small town, who has
so long played hide and seek with Berlin, with the social life of the
world, with politics, that he has estranged himself from our present,
and only feels at home among the troubadours in Provence. I always
scent out something of the Provençale and of the provincialist in his

"This Heyse," remarks a fourth, "in spite of his fifty years and the
maturity of his authorship, has the weakness to wish to persuade us
throughout that he is an immoral, lascivious poet. But no man believes
him. That is his punishment."

"I have never in my life been so greatly envied," once said a lady, an
old friend of Heyse's youth, in my presence, "as I was to-day, in one
of our higher schools for young ladies, which I was visiting, when the
rumor was circulated that I was about to pass the evening in a circle
where I would meet him. The little damsels (Backfische) unanimously
commissioned me to carry to him their enthusiastic greetings. How
gladly would they one and all have thrown themselves into his arms! He
is and always will be the idolized author of young maidens."

"One can define Paul Heyse," said a critic, "as the
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy of German poetry. He appears like Mendelssohn
when compared to the great masters. His nature, like that of
Mendelssohn, is a German lyric, sensitive temperament, permeated with
the most refined Southern culture. Both men lack the grand pathos,
the energetic power, the storm of the dramatic element; but both have
natural dignity in earnestness, charming amiability and pleasing grace
in jest, they are thoroughly cultured in regard to form, they are
virtuosos in execution."


    One's movements, step by step to measure,
      Mars all one's chances.
    Who dares not follow one's own pleasure (sich gehen zu lassen)
      Not far advances.--_P. H._

[2] Gesammelte Werke, iv. 135.

[3] Ibid., v. 199.

[4] Kinder der Welt, ii. 162.

[5] Kinder der Welt, iii. 210, 242, 256.

[6] Kinder der Welt, iii. 109.

[7] Kinder der Welt, i. III; Gesammelte Werke, vi. 206.

[8] Gesammelte Werke, iii. 300.

[9] Kinder der Welt, ii. 47.

[10] Gesammelte Werke, v. 201. On page 175 the word "vornehm" is used
by her.

[11] Gesammelte Werke, viii. 44, 246, 321.

[12] Kinder der Welt, ii. 355. "That you are the best, deepest, purest,
noblest of women"--"Poor, brave, free-born breast--bow well it has
preserved its patent of nobility." Kinder der Welt, iii. 309.

[13] Im Paradiese, iii. 6.

[14] Gesammelte Werke, v. 197.

[15] Gesammelte Werke, ix. 73.

[16] Gesammelte Werke, viii. 168.

[17] Gesammelte Werke, vi. 71: "I have been sold once in my life. How
mankind will now blame me if I give myself as a free-will offering in
order to suppress the anguish of that disgrace!"

[18] Gesammelte Werke, vi. 40.

[19] Gesammelte Werke, vi. 5.

[20] Heyse und Kurz, Novellenschatz des Auslandes, Bd. VIII.

[21] Heyse und Kurz, Deutscher Novellenschatz, Bd. I. s. xix.

[22] Kinder der Welt, ii. 265.

[23] Did not a critic of this sort take it upon himself to get up a
"warning" in the same style, against Goethe's "Faust"? "The purport
of this immoral work," he wrote, "is the following: A physician (Dr.
Med.), already pretty well advanced in years, is weary of study, and
hankers after carnal pleasures. Finally he signs a bond with the
devil. The latter leads him through divers low diversions (which, for
instance, consist in making half-drunk students still more drunk) to
a burgher's daughter, a young maiden, whom Faust (the doctor) at once
attempts to seduce. A couple of rendez-vous at the house of an old
procuress prepare the way for this. As the seduction, however, cannot
be brought about speedily enough, the devil gives Faust a jewel-case
to present to the young maiden. Wholly powerless to resist this gift,
that is to say, not even seduced, simply purchased, Gretchen yields
to Faust; and in order to be all the more undisturbed with her lover
she doses her old mother with a narcotic, which kills the old woman.
Then after being the cause of her brother's death, she destroys her
child, the fruit of her shame. In prison she employs herself in
singing obscene songs. That her lover left her in the lurch we cannot
wonder when we consider his religious principles. He is, as the scene
in which his donna questions him about his faith clearly proves, no
Christian; indeed, he does not even seem to believe in a God, although
he endeavors to grasp at all sorts of empty subterfuges to conceal his
absolute unbelief.

"As this wicked book, notwithstanding all this, finds, as we hear to
our astonishment, many readers, indeed, even lady readers, and is in
constant demand at the circulating libraries in our city, we beg of
all fathers of families to watch over the spiritual welfare of those
belonging to them, to whom such profligate reading is all the more
dangerous because its immoral teachings are veiled in a polished,
insinuating form."




He who possesses talent should also possess courage. He must dare trust
his inspiration, he must be convinced that the fancy which flashes
through his brain is a healthy one, that the form which comes natural
to him, even if it be a new one, has a right to assert its claims; he
must have gained the hardihood to expose himself to the charge of being
affected, or on the wrong path, before he can yield to his instinct
and follow it wherever it may imperiously lead. When Armand Carrel, a
young journalist at the time, was censured by the editor of the paper
for which he wrote, who, pointing to a passage in the young man's
article, remarked, "That is not the way people write," he replied, "I
do not write as people write, but as I myself write," and this is the
universal formula of a gifted nature. It countenances neither fugitive
rubbish, nor arbitrary invention, but with entire self-consciousness
it expresses the right of talent, when neither traditional form nor
existing material suffices to meet the peculiar requirements of its
nature, to choose new material, to create new forms, until it finds a
soil of a quality to give nurture to all of its forces and gently and
freely develop them. Such a soil the poet Hans Christian Andersen found
in the nursery story.


In his stories we meet with beginnings like this: "Any one might
have supposed that something very extraordinary had happened in the
duck-pond, there was such a commotion. All the ducks--some swimming,
some standing in the pond with their heads downward--suddenly jumped
on land, leaving the traces of their feet in the wet clay, and sending
forth a loud, startled cry," or like the following: "Now, then, let
us begin. When we are at the end of the story, we shall know more
than we know now: but to begin. Once upon a time there was a wicked
sprite, indeed, he was the most mischievous of all sprites!" The
construction, the position of the words in individual sentences, the
entire arrangement, is at variance with the simplest rules of syntax.
"This is not the way people write." That is true; but it is the way
they speak. To grown people? No, but to children; and why should it not
be proper to commit the words to writing in the same order in which
they are spoken to children? In such a case the usual form is simply
exchanged for another; not the rules of abstract written language, but
the power of comprehension of the child is here the determining factor;
there is method in this disorder, as there is method in the grammatical
blunder of the child when it makes use of a regular imperfect for an
irregular verb. To replace the accepted written language with the
free, unrestrained language of familiar conversation, to exchange the
more rigid form of expression of grown people for such as a child
uses and understands, becomes the true goal of the author as soon as
he embraces the resolution to tell nursery stories for children? He
has the bold intention to employ oral speech in a printed work, he
will not write but speak, and he will gladly write as a school-child
writes, if he can thus avoid speaking as a book speaks. The written
word is poor and insufficient, the oral has a host of allies in the
expression of the mouth that imitates the object to which the discourse
relates, in the movement of the hand that describes it, in the length
or shortness of the tone of the voice, in its sharp or gentle, grave
or droll character, in the entire play of the features, and in the
whole bearing. The nearer to a state of nature the being addressed,
the greater aids to comprehension are these auxiliaries. Whoever tells
a story to a child, involuntarily accompanies the narrative with many
gestures and grimaces, for the child sees the story quite as much as
it hears it, paying heed, almost in the same way as the dog, rather to
the tender or irritated intonation, than to whether the words express
friendliness or wrath. Whoever, therefore, addresses himself in writing
to a child must have at his command the changeful cadence, the sudden
pauses, the descriptive gesticulations, the awe-inspiring mien, the
smile which betrays the happy turn of affairs, the jest, the caress,
and the appeal to rouse the flagging attention--all these he must
endeavor to weave into his diction, and as he cannot directly sing,
paint, or dance the occurrences to the child, he must imprison within
his prose the song, the picture, and the pantomimic movements, that
they may lie there like forces in bonds, and rise up in their might
as soon as the book is opened. In the first place, no circumlocution;
everything must be spoken fresh from the lips of the narrator, aye,
more than spoken, growled, buzzed, and blown as from a trumpet: "There
came a soldier marching along the high-road--_one, two! one, two!_"
"And the carved trumpeters blew, 'Trateratra! there is the little boy!
Trateratra!'"--"Listen how it is drumming on the burdock-leaves,
rum-dum-dum! ram-dum-dum!' said the Father Snail." At one time he
begins, as in "The Daisy," with a "Now you shall hear!" which at once
arrests the attention; and again he jests after the fashion of a
child: "So the soldier cut the witch's head off. There she lay!" We
can hear the laughter of the child that follows this brief, not very
sympathetic, yet extremely clear presentation of the destruction of an
imposter. Often he breaks into a sentimental tone, as for instance:
"The sun shone on the Flax, and the rain-clouds moistened it, and this
was just as good for it as it is for little children when they are
washed, and afterward get a kiss from their mother; they become much
prettier, and so did the Flax." That at this passage a pause should be
made in the narrative, in order to give the child the kiss mentioned
in the text, is something to which every mother will agree, and which
seems to be a matter of course; the kiss is really given in the book.
This regard for the young reader may be carried still farther, inasmuch
as the poet, by virtue of his ready sympathy, so wholly identifies
himself with the child and enters so fully into the sphere of its
conceptions, into its mode of contemplation, indeed, into the range
of its purely bodily vision, that a sentence like the following may
readily flow from his pen: "The biggest leaf here in the country is
certainly the burdock-leaf. Put one in front of your waist, and it is
just like an apron, and if you lay it upon your head, it is almost as
good as an umbrella, for it is quite remarkably large." These are words
which a child, and every child, can understand.

Happy, indeed, is Andersen! What author has such a public as he? What
is, in comparison, the success of a man of science, especially of one
who writes within a limited territory for a public that neither reads
nor values him, and who is read by four or five--rivals and opponents!
A poet is, generally speaking, more favorably situated; but although
it is a piece of good fortune to be read by men, and although it is an
enviable lot to know that the leaves of our books are turned by dainty
fingers which have employed silken threads as book-marks, nevertheless
no one can boast of so fresh and eager a circle of readers as Andersen
is sure of finding. His stories are numbered among the books which we
have deciphered syllable by syllable, and which we still read to-day.
There are some among them whose letters even now, seem to us larger,
whose words appear to have more value than all others, because we
first made their acquaintance letter by letter and word by word. And
what a delight it must have been for Andersen to see in his dreams
this swarm of children's faces by the thousands about his lamp, this
throng of blooming, rosy-cheeked little curly-pates, as in the clouds
of a Catholic altar-piece, flaxen-haired Danish boys, tender English
babies, black-eyed Hindoo maidens,--rich and poor, spelling, reading,
listening, in all lands, in all tongues, now healthy and merry, weary
from sport, now sickly, pale, with transparent skin, after one of
the numberless illnesses with which the children of this earth are
visited,--and to see them eagerly stretch forth this confusion of white
and swarthy little hands after each new leaf that is ready! Such devout
believers, such an attentive, such an indefatigable public, none other
has. None other either has such a reverend one, for even old age is not
so reverend and sacred as childhood. In considering this public we can
conjure up a whole series of peaceful and idyllic scenes: yonder some
one is reading aloud while the children are listening devoutly, or a
little one is sitting absorbed in its reading, with both elbows resting
on the table, while its mother, in passing by, pauses that she too may
read over the child's shoulder. Does it not bring its own reward to
write for such a circle of auditors? Is there, indeed, one that has a
more unspotted and ready fancy?

There is none, and it is only needful to study the imagination of
the audience, in order to become acquainted with that of the author.
The starting-point for this art is the child's play that makes
everything out of everything; in conformity with this, the sportive
mood of the artist transforms playthings into natural creations, into
supernatural beings, into heroes, and, _vice versa,_ uses everything
natural and everything supernatural--heroes, sprites, and fairies--for
playthings, that is to say, for artistic means which through each
artistic combination are remodelled and freshly stamped. The nerve
and sinew of this art is the imagination of the child, which invests
everything with a soul, and endows everything with personality; thus,
a piece of household furniture is as readily animated with life as
a plant, a flower as well as a bird or a cat, and the animal in the
same manner as the doll, the portrait, the cloud, the sunbeam, the
wind, and the seasons. Even the leap-frog, made of the breastbone of
a goose, becomes thus for the child a living whole, a thinking being
endowed with a will. The prototype of such poesy is the dream of a
child, in which the childish conceptions shift more rapidly and with
still bolder transformations than in play; therefore, the poet (as in
"Little Ida's Flowers," "Ole Shut Eye," "Little Tuk," "The Elder-Tree
Mother") likes to seek refuge in dreams as in an arsenal; therefore,
it is, when he busies his fancy with childish dreams, such as fill and
trouble the mind of childhood, there often come to him his wittiest
inspirations, as, for instance, when little Hjalmar hears in his
dream the lamentation of the crooked letters that had tumbled down
in his copy-book: "'See, this is how you should hold yourselves,'
said the Copy. 'Look, sloping in this way, with a powerful swing!'
'Oh, we should be very glad to do that,' replied Hjalmar's letters,
'but we cannot; we are too weakly.' 'Then you must take medicine,'
said Ole Shut Eye. 'Oh no,' cried they; and they immediately stood
up so gracefully that it was beautiful to behold." This is the way a
child dreams, and this is the way a poet depicts to us the dream of
a child. The soul of this poetry, however, is neither the dream nor
the play; it is a peculiar, ever-childlike, yet at the same time a
more than childlike faculty, not only for putting one thing in the
place of another (thus, for making constant exchange, or for causing
one thing to live in another, thus for animating all things), but
also a faculty for being swiftly and readily reminded by one thing of
another, for regaining one thing in another, for generalizing, for
moulding an image into a symbol, for exalting a dream into a myth,
and, through an artistic process, for transforming single fictitious
traits into a focus for the whole of life. Such a fancy does not
penetrate far into the innermost recesses of things; it occupies
itself with trifles; it sees ugly faults, not great ones; it strikes,
but not deeply; it wounds, but not dangerously; it flutters around
like a winged butterfly from spot to spot, lingering about the most
dissimilar places, and, like a wise insect, it spins its delicate web
from many starting-points, until it is united in one complete whole.
What it produces is neither a picture of the soul nor a direct human
representation; but it is a work that with all its artistic perfection
was already indicated by the unlovely and confusing arabesques in "The
Foot Journey to Amager." Now while the nursery story, through its
contents, reminds us of the ancient myths ("The Elder-Tree Mother,"
"The Snow Queen"), of the folk-lore tale, on whose foundation it
constructs itself at times, of proverbs and fables of antiquity,
indeed, sometimes of the parables of the New Testament (the buckwheat
is punished as well as the fig-tree); while it is continually united
by an idea, it may, so far as its form is concerned, be compared with
the fantastic Pompeian decorative paintings, in which peculiarly
conventional plants, animated flowers, doves, peacocks, and human
forms are entwined together and blend into one another. A form that
for any one else would be a circuitous route to the goal, a hindrance
and a disguise, becomes for Andersen a mask behind which alone he
feels truly free, truly happy and secure. His childlike genius, like
the well-known child forms of antiquity, plays with the mask, elicits
laughter, awakens delight and terror. Thus the nursery story's mode
of expression, which with all its frankness is masked, becomes the
natural, indeed, the classic cadence of his voice, that but very rarely
becomes overstrained or out of tune. The only disturbing occurrence
is that now and then a draught of whey is obtained instead of the
pure milk of the nursery story, that the tone occasionally becomes
too sentimental and sickly sweet ("Poor John," "The Poor Bird," "Poor
Thumbling"), which, however, is rarely the case in materials taken from
folk-lore tales, as "The Tinder-Box," "Little Claus and Big Claus,"
etc., where the naïve joviality, freshness, and roughness of the
narrative, which announces crimes and murders without the slightest
sympathetic or tearful phrase, stand Andersen in good stead, and invest
his figures with increased sturdiness. Less classic, on the other hand,
is the tone of the lyric effusions interwoven with some of the nursery
stories, in which the poet, in a stirring, pathetic prose gives a
bird's-eye view of some great period of history ("The Thorny Path of
Honor," "The Swans' Nest"). In these stories there seems to me to be
a certain wild flight of fancy, a certain forced inspiration in the
prevailing tone, wholly disproportionate to the not very significant
thought of the contents; for thought and diction are like a pair of
lovers. Thought may be somewhat larger, somewhat loftier, than diction,
even as the man is taller than the woman; in the opposite case there
is something unlovely in the relation. With the few exceptions just
indicated, the narrative style of Andersen's nursery stories is a model
of its kind.

Let us, in order to know them thoroughly, watch the poet at his
work. Let us, by studying his manner of procedure, gain a deeper
comprehension of the result. There is one instance wherein his method
may be clearly followed, and that is when he remodels anything. We do
not need, in such a case, merely to observe and to praise in vague
generalities, by making comparison with a different mode of narrative;
we can sharply and definitely declare, point for point, what he has
omitted, what he has rendered prominent, and thus see his individual
production grow up under our eyes. One day, in turning over the leaves
of Don Manuel's "Count Lucanor," Andersen became charmed by the homely
wisdom, of the old Spanish story, with the delicate flavor of the
Middle Ages pervading it, and he lingered over Chapter VII., which
treats of how a king was served by three rogues.

"Count Lucanor spoke one day with Patronio, his counsellor, and said
to him, There is a man who has come to me and addressed me on a very
important subject. He gives me to understand that it would conduce
in the highest degree to my advantage. But he says that no man in
the world, however highly I may esteem him, must be allowed to know
anything about it, and he so earnestly enjoins upon me to keep the
secret that he even assures me all my possessions and my life itself
will be imperilled if I reveal it to any one. And as I know that
nothing can come to your knowledge that you cannot determine whether it
be meant for a blessing or with deceitful intent, I beg of you to tell
me how this matter strikes you. Sir Count, replied Patronio, in order
that you may be able to comprehend what should, in my opinion, be done
in this matter, I beg of you to hearken unto how a king was served by
three rogues, who sought his presence. The count asked what it was that
took place." This introduction resembles a programme; we first learn
the bold question to which the story following is to be the answer, and
we feel that the story owes its existence solely to the question. We
are not permitted to draw for ourselves from the narrative the moral
that it seems to us to contain; it must be directed with a violent
effort to the question concerning the amount of confidence that is due
people who are shrouded in mystery. Such a method of telling a story
is the practical, not the poetic one; it places undue limits on the
pleasure the reader takes in discovering the hidden moral for himself.
True, the fancy is gratified to find its work made easy, for it does
not really desire to exert itself; but neither does it like to have its
easy activity anticipated; like old people who are permitted to keep up
a semblance of work, it does not wish to be reminded that its work is
mere play. Nature pleases when it resembles art, says Kant; art, when
it resembles nature. Why? Because the veiled purpose gives pleasure.
But no matter, let us read further in the book.

"Sir Count, said Patronio, there once came three rogues to a king
and stated that they were most superior masters in the manufacture
of cloth, and that they especially understood how to weave a certain
stuff which was visible to everyone who was actually the son of the
father whom all the world supposed to be his, but which was invisible
to him who was not the son of his supposed father. This pleased the
king greatly, for he thought that with the aid of this fabric he could
learn which men in his kingdom were the sons of those who were legally
accredited to be their fathers, and which were not, and that in this
way he could adjust many things in his kingdom; for the Moors do not
inherit from their fathers if they be not truly their children. So he
gave orders to have the men conducted to his palace in which they could

The beginning is delightful, there is humor in the story; but Andersen
thinks that if it is to be rendered available for Denmark, another
pretext must be chosen, one better adapted to children, and to the
well-known northern innocence. And, besides, this king in the story is
merely like a figure on the chess-board. Why was it that the rogues
came to him? What sort of character does he possess? Is he fond of
show? Is he vain? He does not stand out distinctly before the reader's
eye. It would be better if he were an absolute fool of a king. He ought
in some way to be characterized, to be stamped by a word, a phrase.

"And they told him that, in order to be sure they were not deceiving
him, he might lock them up in the palace until the fabric was finished,
and this pleased the king vastly!" They now receive gifts of gold,
silver, and silk, spread abroad the tidings that the weaving has begun,
and through their bold indication of pattern and colors cause the
king's messengers to declare the fabric admirable, and thus succeed in
obtaining a visit from the king, who, as he sees nothing, "is overcome
by a deathly terror, for he believes that he cannot be the son of the
king whom he has considered his father." He therefore praises the
fabric beyond measure, and every one follows his example, until one
day on the occasion of a great festival he puts on the invisible
garment; he rides through the city, "and it was well for him that it
was summer." No one could see the fabric, although every one feared
to confess his inability to do so, lest he should be ruined and
dishonored. "Thus this secret was preserved, and no one dared reveal
it, until a negro who tended the king's horse, and had nothing to lose,
went to the king" and affirmed the truth.

    "Who bids you keep a secret from a faithful friend,
    Will cheat you too as surely as he has a chance."

The moral to this neat little story is most ludicrous and at the same
time but poorly indicated. Andersen forgets the moral, puts aside, with
a sparing hand, the clumsy precept which causes the story to deviate
from the point which is its true centre, and then tells, with dramatic
vivacity, in the form of a dialogue, his admirable story about the
vain emperor, of whom it was said in the city, "The Emperor is in the
wardrobe." He brings the narrative quite home to us. There is nothing
whose existence people are afraid to deny for fear of passing for a
bastard, but there is much concerning which people dare not speak the
truth, through cowardice, through fear of acting otherwise than "all
the world," through anxiety lest they should appear stupid. And this
story is eternally new and it never ends. It has its grave side, but
just because of its endlessness it has also its humorous side. "'But
he has nothing on!' said the whole people at length. That touched the
Emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought
within himself, 'I must go through with the procession.' _And so he
held himself a little higher,_ and the chamberlains held on tighter
than ever, and carried the train which did not exist at all." It was
Andersen who made the narrative comic.

But we can enter still more closely into relation with Andersen's
method of story-telling; we have seen him place before us in a new form
a foreign tale; we can now also see how he remodels his own attempts.
In the year 1830 Andersen published in a volume of poetry, "The
Dead Man, a Folk-lore Tale from Fünen," the same which he remoulded
later under the tide of "The Travelling Companion." The narrative,
in its original form, is aristocratic and dignified; it begins in
the following way: "About a mile from Bogensee may be found, on the
field in the vicinity of Elvedgaard, a hawthorn so remarkable for its
size that it can even be seen from the coast of Jutland." Here there
are pretty, rural descriptions of nature, here may be detected the
masterly hand of a skilful author. "The first night he _quartered_ on a
haystack in the field, and slept there like a _Persian_ prince in his
resplendent chamber." A Persian prince! This is an idea quite foreign
to little children. Suppose we put in its place: "The first night he
slept on a haystack, out in the fields, for there was no other bed for
him; but it seemed to him so nice and comfortable that even a king
need not wish for a better." This is intelligible. "The moon hung,
like an _Argantine_ lamp, from the vaulted ceiling, and burned with a
perpetual flame." Is not the tone a more familiar one when we say: "The
moon, like a large lamp, hung high up in the blue ceiling, and he had
no fear of its setting fire to his curtains." The story of the doll's
comedy is rewritten; it is sufficient when we know that the piece
treats of a king and a queen; Ahasuerus, Esther, Mordecai, who were
named in the original, are too learned names for children. If we hit
upon a life-like stroke, we hold fast to it. "The queen threw herself
on her knees, took _off_ her beautiful crown, and, holding it in her
hand, cried: 'Take this from me, but do rub (with healing ointment) my
husband and his courtiers.'" Such a passage is one of those in which
the nursery story tone penetrates the polished form; one of those in
which the style that says "thou" to the reader thrusts aside the one
that says "you." In illustration, a whole swarm of comparisons throng
upon us. "From the host our travellers learned that they were in the
realm of the King of Hearts, an excellent ruler, and nearly related to
the King of Diamonds, Silvio, who is sufficiently well known through
Carlo Gozzi's dramatic folk-lore tale, 'The Three Pomegranates.'" The
princess is compared with Turandot, and of John it is said: "It would
seem as though he had recently read Werther and Siegwart; he could
only love and die." A shrill discord for the nursery tale style. The
words are not those of the child's treasury of language; the tone is
elegant, and the illustrations are abstract. "John spake, but he knew
not himself what he was saying, for the princess bestowed on him so
blessed a smile, and graciously extended her white hand for him to
kiss; his lips burned, an _electric_ current ran through him; he could
enjoy nothing of the _refreshments_ the pages offered him, he saw only
the beautiful vision of his dreams." Let us once hearken to this in the
style so familiar to us all: "She looked wonderfully fair and lovely
when she offered her hand to John, and he loved her more than ever. How
could she be a wicked witch, as all the people asserted? He accompanied
her into the hall, and the little pages offered them gingerbread nuts
and sweetmeats; but the old king was so unhappy, he could eat nothing,
and, besides, gingerbread nuts were too hard for him."

In his youth, Andersen, who then took Musæus for his model, had not
advanced far enough to understand how to mingle jest and earnest in his
diction; they were always at variance; scarcely was utterance given to
a sentiment before the disturbing parody made its appearance. John says
a few words, in which he expresses his love, and the author adds: "O,
it was so touching to hear! The poor young man, who was at other times
so natural, so amiable, now spoke quite like one of Clauren's books;
but then, what will not love do?" On this point, with this pedantic
frivolity, Andersen still persisted in 1830; but five years later the
transformation process is at an end; his talent has shed its skin; his
courage has grown; he dares speak his own language.

The determining element in this mode of speech was from the outset
the childlike. In order to be understood by such youthful readers as
those to whom he addressed himself, he was obliged to use the simplest
possible words, to return to the simplest possible conceptions, to
avoid everything abstract, to supply the place of indirect with direct
language; but in thus seeking simplicity, he finds poetic beauty, and
in attaining the childlike he proves that this childlike spirit is
essential to true poetry; for that form of expression which is naïve
and adapted to the general comprehension is more poetic than that which
reminds the reader of industry, of history, of literature; the concrete
fact is at once more life-like and more transparent than that which is
presented as proof of a proposition, and the language which proceeds
directly from the lips is more characteristic than the pale paraphrase
with a "that."[2]

To linger over this language, to become absorbed in its word-treasury,
its syntax, its intonation, is no proof of a petty spirit, and does
not take place merely through love of the vocables or the idiom.
True, language is but the surface of a work of poetic fancy; but if
the finger be placed upon the skin, we may feel the throbbing pulse
which indicates the heart-beats of the inner being. Genius is like a
clock; the visible index is guided by the invisible spring. Genius is
like a tangled skein, inextricable and knotted, as it may seem, it is
nevertheless inseparably one in its inner coherence. If we but get hold
of the outer end of the thread, we may slowly and cautiously endeavor
to unravel even the most tangled skein from its coil. It is not harmed
by the effort.


If we hold fast to the clue, we shall comprehend how the childlike
in diction and sphere of conception, the true-hearted manner with
which the most improbable things are announced, is just what invests
the nursery story with its poetic worth. For what renders a literary
production significant, what gives it circulation in space and lasting
value in time, is the force with which it is able to present that
which is propagated through space and which endures through time. It
preserves itself by means of the vigor with which, in a clear and
polished way, it renders perceptible the constant. Those writings which
support tendencies or emotions whose horizon is limited in time or
space, those which revolve about purely local circumstances or are the
result of a prevailing taste, whose nourishment and whose image are
found in these circumstances, will vanish with the fashion that has
called them forth. A street song, a news-paper article, a festival
oration, reflect a prevailing mood which for perhaps a week has
superficially occupied the population of the city, and therefore have
themselves a duration of about equal length. Or, to mount to a higher
level, suppose there suddenly arises in a country some subordinate
proclivity, as, for instance, the fancy for playing private comedies,
which became an epidemic in Germany in the time of "Wilhelm Meister,"
or in Denmark between 1820 and 1830. Such a tendency in itself is
not wholly devoid of significance, but psychologically considered
it is thoroughly superficial and does not affect the deeper life of
the soul. If it be made an object of satire, as it was in Denmark,
by Rosenkilde's "The Dramatic Tailor," or in "Sir Burchardt and his
Family," by Henrik Hertz, those works which, without representing the
epidemic from a higher point of view, merely imitate and render it
laughable, will be just as short-lived as it was. Let us now take a
step higher, let us turn to the works which mirror the psychological
condition of an entire race, an entire period. The good-natured
drinking-song poetry of the past century, and the poetry written for
political occasions, are such literary productions. They are historic
documents, but their life and their poetic value are in direct ratio
to the depth at which they approach universal humanity, the constant
in the current of history. With greater and more marked significance
in this gradual ascent stand forth these works, in which a people has
seen itself portrayed for a half or for a whole century, or during
an entire historic period, and has recognized the likeness. Such
works must of necessity depict a spiritual condition of considerable
duration, which, just because it is so enduring, must have its geologic
seat in the deeper strata of the soul, as otherwise it would much
sooner be washed away by the waves of time. These works incorporate
the ideal personality of an epoch; that is to say, the personality
which floats before the people of that time as its reflection and
model. It is this personality which artists and poets chisel, paint,
and describe, and for which musicians and poets create. In Grecian
antiquity it was the supple athlete and the eagerly-questioning youth
who was athirst for knowledge; during the Middle Ages it was the knight
and the monk; under Louis XIV the courtier; in the beginning of the
nineteenth century it was Faust. The works which represent such forms
give expression to the intellectual condition of an entire epoch, but
the most important of them express still more; they mirror and embody
at the same time the character of an entire people, of an entire race,
an entire civilization, inasmuch as they reach the most profound, most
elementary stratum of the individual human soul and of society, which
concentrates and represents them in its little world. In this way,
with the aid of a few names, the history of an entire literature could
be written, by simply writing the history of its ideal personalities.
Danish literature, during the first half of the nineteenth century,
is placed, for instance, between the two types, Oehlenschläger's
Aladdin and Frater Taciturnus in Kierkegaard's "Stages in the Path of
Life." The former is its starting-point, the latter its perfection
and conclusion. Now since the worth of these personalities, as before
stated, depends upon how deeply they have their growth in the character
of the people, or in human nature, it will readily be recognized that
such a personality, for instance, as that of Aladdin, in order that
it may be comprehended in its peculiar beauty, must be compared with
the ideal personality which from the beginning of the period beamed
upon us from the fancy of the Danish people. We find this personality
by bringing together a large number of the oldest mythic and heroic
characterizations of the people. If I were to cite a single name, I
would choose that of Uffe the Bashful.[3] In virtues as well as in
faults he is a colossus of a Danish hero. It can readily be perceived
how great a degree of resemblance all of Oehlenschläger's best
characters, his calm Thor, his nonchalant Helge, his indolent Aladdin,
bear to this hero, and it will be seen during the contemplation how
deeply Aladdin is rooted in the character of the people, while at
the same time he is the expression of the ideal of an epoch whose
duration was about fifty years. It could just as easily be rendered
perceptible how Frater Taciturnus is one variety of the Faust type.
Sometimes, therefore, it is possible to show how ideal personalities
extend through the most divers countries and peoples, over an entire
continent, leaving behind them their indelible stamp in a whole group
of literary works which resemble one another as impressions of one and
the same intellectual form, impressions of one and the same gigantic
seal, with wafers of the most varied colors. Thus the personality that
becomes most prominent in Danish literature, as "Johann, the Betrayer"
(in Kierkegaard's "Either--Or") is derived from Byron's heroes, from
Jean Paul's Roquairol, from Chateaubriand's René, from Goethe's
Werther, and is at the same time represented in Lermontow's Petschorin
("The Hero of Our Time"). The usual billows and storms of time will not
suffice to overthrow such a personality; it was the Revolution of 1848
that first succeeded in setting it aside.

Extremes meet. For the same reason that a universal spiritual malady
which exercises a powerful influence over humanity will spread
simultaneously through the whole of Europe, and, because of its
profundity, will cause the works that were first created as its
portraits to live as its monuments; for the same reason, too, those
works attain general European fame and become long-lived that reflect
that which is most _elementary_ in human nature--childlike fancy and
childlike emotion, and consequently summon up facts which every one has
experienced (all children lock up kingdoms with a key). They depict
the life which existed in the first period of the human soul, and
thus reach that intellectual stratum which lies the deepest with all
peoples and in all lands. This is the simple explanation of the fact
that Andersen alone of all the Danish writers has attained a European,
indeed, more than a European, circulation. No other explanation has
reached my ears, unless it be the one that would have his renown due
to his having journeyed about and provided for his own fame. Ah,
if journeys would accomplish such results, the travelling stipends
for artists of all kinds that _must_ of necessity be awarded each
year would in the course of time provide Denmark with a rich bloom
of European celebrities, as they have already furnished poet after
poet. To be sure, the poets correspond with the way in which they
are made. But even the remaining, less malicious explanations that
may be brought forward, as, for instance, that Andersen alone among
the greater Danish authors has written in prose, and is therefore
the only one whose works can be translated without effort into other
languages, or that his genre is so popular, or that he is so great a
genius, state either too little or too much. There is more than _one_
genius in Danish literature who is greater than Andersen; there are
many who with respect to their endowments are by no means inferior to
him; but there is none whose creations are so elementary. Heiberg, as
well as Andersen, possessed the courage to remodel a form of art (the
vaudeville) in accordance with his own peculiarities, but he did not
have the good fortune to find any one art form in which he could reveal
his entire talent, combine all his gifts, as Andersen was able to do
in the nursery story, nor to find materials in which interests of time
and locality are of such enduring importance. His best vaudeville "The
Inseparable Ones" (De Uadskillelige) would only be understood where
there exists, as in the Scandinavian countries, a "Temperance Society
for Happiness" (Ibsen's expression for long betrothals), at which this
vaudeville aims its shafts. But as the possessor of talent should also
possess courage, so the possessor of genius should also possess good
fortune, and Andersen has lacked neither good fortune nor courage.

The elementary quality in Andersen's poetry insured him a circle of
readers among the cultivated people of all lands. It was still more
effectual in securing him one among the uncultivated people. That
which is childlike is in its very essence of a popular nature, and
a wide circulation corresponds with an extension downward. Because
of the deep and grievous but most natural division of society into
grades of culture, the influence of good literature is confined
almost exclusively to one class. If in Denmark a series of literary
productions like Ingemann's romances make an exception, it is chiefly
because of qualities which remove them from the cultivated classes
through lack of truth to nature in the character delineations and in
the historic coloring. With Ingemann's romances it is the same as with
Grundtvig's theories: if one would defend them, it could not be done by
proving their truth, but by practically laying stress on their outward
usefulness, the advantage they have been to the Danish cause, to the
interests of enlightenment and piety, etc. Ingemann's romances stand,
moreover, in noteworthy relation to Andersen's nursery stories. The
latter are read by the younger, the former by the older children. The
nursery story harmonizes with the luxuriant imagination and the warm
sympathy of the child, and the somewhat older maiden; the romance, with
the fantastic desire for action of the child and especially of the
somewhat older boy, with his growing taste for deeds of chivalry, with
his conceit, his love of pleasing and daring. Romances are written for
grown people; but the healthy mind of the nation has slowly dropped
them until they have found their natural public in the age between
ten and twelve years. Truth is something relative. At twelve years
of age these books seem just as fall of truth, as at twenty they seem
full of innocent lies. But they must be read before the twelfth year
be gone, for at twelve and a half it is already too late for those who
are a trifle advanced in intellectual development. With the nursery
story the reverse is the case. Written in the beginning for children
and constantly read by them, they speedily rose to the notice of grown
people and were by them declared to be true children of genius.

It was a lucky stroke that made Andersen the poet of children. After
long fumbling, after unsuccessful efforts, which must necessarily throw
a false and ironic light on the self-consciousness of a poet whose
pride based its justification mainly on the expectancy of a future
which he felt slumbering within his soul, after wandering about for
long years, Andersen, a genuine offspring of Oehlenschläger, strayed
into Oehlenschläger's footsteps, and one evening found himself in
front of a little insignificant yet mysterious door, the door of the
nursery story. He touched it, it yielded, and he saw, burning in the
obscurity within, the little "Tinder-Box" that became his Aladdin's
lamp. He struck fire with it, and the spirits of the lamp--the dogs
with eyes as large as teacups, as mill-wheels, as the round tower in
Copenhagen--stood before him and brought him the three giant chests,
containing all the copper, silver, and gold treasure stores of the
nursery story. The first story had sprung into existence, and the
"Tinder-Box" drew all the others onward in its train. Happy is he who
has found his "tinder-box."

Now in what sense is the child Andersen's ideal form? There comes to
every land a certain epoch in which its literature seems suddenly
to discover what has long remained unobserved in society. Thus in
literature are discovered by degrees the burgher (in Denmark by
Holberg), the student, the peasant, etc. In the time of Plato, woman
was not yet discovered, one might almost say not yet invented. The
child was discovered at different periods in the literatures of
different countries; in England, for instance, much earlier than
in France. Andersen is the discoverer of the child in Denmark. Yet
here, as everywhere else, the discovery does not take place without
pre-suppositions and stipulations, and here, as everywhere in Danish
literature, it is Oehlenschläger to whom thanks are due for the first
impetus, the fundamental discovery which prepares the way for that of
almost every later poet. The installation of the child in its natural
poetic rights is only one of the many phenomena of the ascension
to the throne of naïveté, whose originator in Danish literature is
Oehlenschläger. The eighteenth century, whose strength lies in its
critical understanding, whose enemy is its imagination, in which it
sees but the ally and bondman of antiquated tradition, whose queen
is its logic, whose king is Voltaire, the object of whose poetry
and science in the abstract is the enlightened and social human
being, sends the child, which is neither abstract, nor social, nor
enlightened, from the parlor into exile in the remote nursery, where
it may listen to nursery tales, traditions, and robber stories, to
its heart's content, provided it take good care to have forgotten all
this worthless trash when it becomes a grown person. In the society
of the nineteenth century (I do not draw the boundary line sharply
on the frontiers) the reaction takes place. The individual, personal
human being takes the place of the social human being. Consciousness
alone had previously been valued, now the unconscious is worshipped.
Schelling's philosophy of nature breaks the spell of Fichte's _Ego_
system; war is carried on against the unfruitful intellectual
reflection, the folk-lore tale and the nursery story are restored to
their rights, the nursery and its occupants are brought into honorable
esteem once more, at times even into too great favor. In all lands the
folk-lore is collected, and in most countries poets begin to remould
it. The sentimental German authors of the transition period (Kotzebue
and Iffland) bring children on the stage, in view of touching the
audience, even Oehlenschläger introduces children into his works
and is, therefore, obliged to endure the censure of Heiberg. So far
as society is concerned, silence has been enforced by Rousseau with
his pedagogic declamations and theories, such attention as was never
known before, is bestowed on the child and above all on the childlike
_nature,_ and the enthusiasm for the education of children (Campe)
is gradually supplanted by the enthusiasm for the child's "state
of nature" (see Rousseau's tendency, as displayed even in Götz von
Berlichingen's conversation with his little son).

There is but a step from the child to the animal. The animal is a child
that will never be anything else than a child. The same tendency to
make life a social life, which thrust aside the child, also banished
the animal. The same thirst for simplicity, for nature, for all that
is innocent and _unconscious_ which led poetry to the child, led it
also to the animal, and from the animal to all nature. Rousseau who
champions the cause of the child, champions at the same time the cause
of the animal; and first and foremost, as his Alpha and Omega, his
"præterea censeo," the cause of nature. He studies botany, writes to
Linné, expresses to him his admiration and affection. The scientific
contemplation of nature determines the social, which in its turn
determines the poetic. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, through his exquisite
story "Paul and Virginia," introduces descriptions of nature into
French prose, and, what is particularly noteworthy simultaneously with
his discovery of the landscape he introduces, as his hero and heroine,
two children. Alexander von Humboldt takes "Paul and Virginia" with
him on his journey to the tropical regions, admiringly reads the book
aloud to his travelling companions in the midst of the nature which it
describes, and refers with gratitude to what he owes to Saint-Pierre.
Humboldt influences Oersted who in his turn profoundly influences
Andersen. The sympathetic contemplation of nature operates on the
scientific, which in its turn operates on the poetic. Chateaubriand,
in his highly-colored brilliant manner, depicts a nature closely
related to the one which Saint-Pierre has received in his peaceful,
nature-worshipping soul. Steffens, in his celebrated lectures, first
introduces to Denmark the natural system of nature. About the year
1831, at the period, therefore, when Andersen's nursery stories
originated, there is founded in England (the land which took the lead
in bringing forward the child in literature) the first society for the
prevention of cruelty to animals. Branches are established in France
and Germany, where societies spring up in Munich, Dresden, Berlin and
Leipsic. Kierkegaard in his "Enten--Eller" (Either--Or) turns the
establishment of these societies into ridicule; he sees in it but a
phenomenon of the tendency to form associations, which in his eyes is
a proof of the lamentable condition of individual personality. If we
return now to Denmark, we will observe that the national landscape
painting, with its literal imitation of nature, takes its decisive
upward soaring flight at precisely the time when nursery stories are
devised. Skovgaard paints the lake in which "the ugly duckling" went
splashing about, and at the same time--as by a miracle--the large city
becomes too small for the citizen of Copenhagen. He finds it wearisome
to gaze the whole summer long on its paving-stones, its many houses
and roofs, he longs to see a larger bit of the sky, he repairs to the
country, lays out gardens, learns to distinguish barley from rye,
becomes a rustic for the summer months. One and the same idea, the
recovered idea of nature, extends its influence through all the spheres
of life, just as the water of an upland stream flowing downward is
distributed through a series of different basins. Could an idea produce
a more singular effect, or a more suggestive one for contemplation?
During the past century there has been nothing similar. We may, as has
been wittily remarked, rummage through Voltaire's "Henriade," without
finding a single blade of grass; there is no fodder for the horses in
it. We may turn over the leaves of Baggesen's poems, without stumbling
on a single description of nature, used even as an accessory. What a
leap from this poetry to such poetry as that of Christian Winther,
in which the human figures are merely used as accessories and the
landscape is almost universally the main point of interest, and how far
removed was the world, even in his day, from so much as dreaming of
a poetry like that of Andersen, in which animals and plants fill the
place of man, indeed, almost make man superfluous![4]

Now what is there in plants, in animals, in the child, so attractive to
Andersen? He loves the child because his affectionate heart draws him
to the little ones, the weak and helpless ones, of whom it is allowable
to speak with compassion, with tender sympathy, and because when he
devotes such sentiments to a hero,--as in "Only a Fiddler,"--he is
derided for it (compare with Kierkegaard's criticism),[5] but when he
dedicates them to a child, he finds the natural resting-place for his
mood. It is owing to his genuine democratic feeling for the lowly and
neglected that Andersen, himself a child of the people, continually
introduces into his nursery stories (as Dickens, in his novels), forms
from the poorer classes of society, "simple folk," yet endowed with
the true nobility of the soul. As examples of this may be mentioned
the washerwoman in "Little Tuk" and in "Good-for-Nothing," the old
maid in "From a Window in Vartou," the watchman and his wife in "The
Old Street-Lamp," the poor apprentice boy in "Under the Willow-Tree,"
and the poor tutor in "Everything in its Right Place." The poor are as
defenseless as the child. Furthermore, Andersen loves the child, because
he is able to portray it, not so much in the direct psychologic way of
the romance,--he is by no means a direct psychologist,--as indirectly,
by transporting himself with a bound into the child's world, and he
acts as though no other course were possible. Rarely, therefore, has
charge been more unjust than that of Kierkegaard when he accused
Andersen of being unable to depict children; but when Kierkegaard, who,
moreover, as a literary critic combines extraordinary merits with great
lacks (especially in point of historic survey), takes occasion, in
making this criticism, to remark that in Andersen's romances the child
is always described "through another," what he says is true. It is no
longer true, however, the moment Andersen, in the nursery story, puts
himself in the place of the child and ceases to recognize "another." He
seldom introduces the child into his nursery stories as taking part in
the action and conversation. He does it most frequently in the charming
little collection "A Picture-Book without Pictures," where more than
anywhere else he permits the child to speak with the entire simplicity
of its nature. In such brief, naïve child-utterances as those cited
in it there is much pleasure and entertainment. Every one can recall
anecdotes of a similar character. I remember once taking a little
girl to a place of amusement, in order to hear the Tyrolese Alpine
singers. She listened very attentively to their songs. Afterward, when
we were walking in the garden in front of the pavilion, we met some
of the singers in their costumes. The little maiden clung timidly to
me, and asked in astonishment: "Are they allowed to go about free?"
Andersen has no equal in the narration of anecdotes of this kind.[6]
in his nursery stories we find sundry illustrations of the fact, as in
the charming words of the child in "The Old House," when it gives the
man the pewter soldiers that he might not be "so very, very lonely,"
and a few kind answers in "Little Ida's Flowers." Yet his child forms
are comparatively rare. The most noteworthy ones are little Hjalmar,
little Tuk, Kay and Gerda, the unhappy, vain Karen in "The Red Shoes,"
a dismal but well-written story, the little girl with the matches and
the little girl in "A Great Sorrow," finally Ib and Christine, the
children in "Under the Willow-Tree." Besides these real children there
are some ideal ones, the little fairy-like Thumbling and the little
wild robber-maiden, undoubtedly Andersen's freshest child creation,
the masterly portrayal of whose wild nature forms a most felicitous
contrast to the many good, fair-haired and tame children of fiction.
We see her before us as she really is, fantastic and true, her and her
reindeer, whose neck she "tickles every evening with her sharp knife."

We have seen how sympathy with child-nature led to sympathy with the
animal which is doubly a child, and to sympathy with the plants, the
clouds, the winds, which are doubly nature. What attracts Andersen to
the impersonal being is the impersonal element in his own nature, what
leads him to the wholly unconscious is merely the direct consequence
of his sympathy. The child, young though it may be, is born old; each
child is a whole generation older than its father, a civilization of
ages has stamped its inherited impress on the little four-year-old
child of the metropolis. How many conflicts, how many endeavors, how
many sorrows have refined the countenance of such a child, making
the features sensitive and precocious! It is different with animals.
Look at the swan, the hen, the cat! They eat, sleep, live, and dream
undisturbed, as in ages gone by. The child already begins to display
evil instincts. We, who are seeking what is unconscious, what is naïve,
are glad to descend the ladder that leads to the regions where there
is no more guilt, no more crime, where responsibility, repentance,
restless striving and passion cease, where nothing of an evil nature
exists except through a substitution of which we are but partially
conscious, and which, therefore, robs our sympathy of half its sting.
An author like Andersen, who has so great a repugnance to beholding
what is cruel and coarse in its nakedness, who is so deeply impressed
by anything of the kind that he dare not relate it, but recoils a
hundred times in his works from some wanton or outrageous deed with
the maidenly expression, "We cannot bear to think of it!" Such an
author feels content and at home in a world where everything that
appears like egotism, violence, coarseness, vileness, and persecution,
can only be called so in a figurative way. It is highly characteristic
that almost all the animals which appear in Andersen's nursery stories
are tame animals, domestic animals. This is, in the first place, a
symptom of the same gentle and idyllic tendency which results in making
almost all Andersen's children so well-behaved. It is, furthermore,
a proof of his fidelity to nature, in consequence of which he is
so reluctant to describe anything with which he is not thoroughly
familiar. It is, finally, an interesting phenomenon with reference to
the use he makes of the animals, for domestic animals are no longer
the pure product of nature; they remind us, through ideal association,
of much that is human; and, moreover, through long intercourse with
humanity and long education they have acquired something human, which
in a high degree supports and furthers the effort to personify them.
These cats and hens, these ducks and turkeys, these storks and swans,
these mice and that unmentionable insect "with maiden's blood in
its body," offer many props to the nursery story. They hold direct
intercourse with human beings; all that they lack is articulate speech,
and there are human beings with articulate speech who are unworthy
of it, and do not deserve their speech. Let us, therefore, give the
animals the power of speech, and harbor them in our midst.

On the almost exclusive limitation to the domestic animal, a double
characteristic of this nursery story depends. First of all, the
significant result that Andersen's animals, whatever else they may be,
are never beastly, never brutal. Their sole faults are that they are
stupid, shallow, and old-fogyish. Andersen does not depict the animal
in the human being, but the human in the animal. In the second place,
there is a certain freshness of tone about them, a certain fulness of
feeling, certain strong and bold, enthusiastic, and vigorous outbursts
which are never found in the quarters of the domestic animal. Many
beautiful, many humorous and entertaining things are spoken of in
these stories, but a companion piece to the fable of the wolf and the
dog--the wolf who observed the traces of the chain on the neck of
the dog and preferred his own freedom to the protection afforded the
house dog--will not be found in them. The wild nightingale, in whom
poetry is personified, is a tame and loyal bird. "I have seen tears
in the Emperor's eyes; that is the real treasure to me," it says. "An
emperor's tears have a peculiar power!" Take even the swan, that noble,
royal bird in the masterly story, "The Ugly Duckling," which for the
sake of its cat and its hen alone cannot be sufficiently admired,--how
does it end? Alas! as a domestic animal. This is one of the points
where it becomes difficult to pardon the great author. O poet! we
feel tempted to exclaim, since it was in your power to grasp such a
thought, to conceive and execute such a poem, how could you, with your
inspiration, your pride, have the heart to permit the swan to end thus!
Let him die if needs must be! That would be tragic and great. Let him
spread his wings and impetuously soar through the air, rejoicing in
his beauty and his strength! let him sink down on the bosom of some
solitary and beautiful forest lake! That is free and delightful.
Anything would be better than this conclusion: "Into the garden came
little children, who threw bread and com into the water. And they ran
to their father and mother, and bread and cake were thrown into the
water; and they all said, 'The new one is the most beautiful of all!
so young and handsome!' and the old swans bowed their heads before
him." Let them bow, but let us not forget that there is something which
is worth more than the recognition of all the old swans and geese and
ducks, worth more than receiving bread-crumbs and cake as a garden
bird,--the power of silently gliding over the waters, and free flight!

Andersen prefers the bird to the four-footed animal. More birds
than mammals find place with him; for the bird is gentler than the
four-footed beast, is nearer to the plant. The nightingale is his
emblem, the swan his ideal, the stork his declared favorite. It is
natural that the stork, that remarkable bird which brings children into
the world,--the stork, that droll, long-legged, wandering, beloved,
yearningly expected and joyfully greeted bird, should become his
idolized symbol and frontispiece.

Yet plants are preferred by him to birds. Of all organic beings, plants
are those which appear most frequently in the nursery story. For in the
vegetable world alone are peace and harmony found to reign. Plants,
too, resemble a child, but a child who is perpetually asleep. There is
no unrest in this domain, no action, no sorrow, and no care. Here life
is a calm, regular growth, and death but a painless fading away. Here
the easily excited, lively poetic sympathy suffers less than anywhere
else. Here there is nothing to jar and assail the delicate nerves
of the poet. Here he is at home; here he paints his Arabian Nights'
Entertainments beneath a burdock leaf. Every grade of emotion may be
experienced in the realm of plants,--melancholy at the sight of the
felled trunk, fulness of strength at the sight of the swelling buds,
anxiety at the fragrance of the strong jasmine. Many thoughts may flit
through our brain as we follow the history of the development of the
flax, or the brief honor of the fir-tree on Christmas evening; but we
feel as absolutely free as though we were dealing with comedy, for
the image is so fleeting that it vanishes the moment we attempt to
render it permanent. Sympathy and agitation gently touch our minds, but
they do not ruffle us, they neither rouse nor oppress us. A poem about
a plant sets free twofold the sympathy to which it lays claim; once
because we know that the poem is pure fiction, and again because we
know the plant to be merely a symbol. Nowhere has the poet with greater
delicacy invested plants with speech than in "The Fir-Tree," "Little
Ida's Flowers," and in "The Snow Queen." In the last named story, every
flower tells its own tale. Let us listen to what the Tiger-lily says:
"Hearest thou not the drum? Bum! bum! those are the only two tones.
Always bum! bum! Hark to the plaintive song of the old women! to the
call of the priests! The Hindoo woman in her long robe stands upon the
funeral pile; the flames rise around her and her dead husband, but the
Hindoo woman thinks on the living one in the surrounding circle; on him
whose eyes bum hotter than the flames; on him, the fire of whose eyes
pierces her heart more than the flames which soon will bum her body to
ashes. Can the heart's flame die in the flame of the funeral pile?"
--"I do not understand that at all," said little Gerda.--"That is my
story," said the Tiger-lily.

Yet a step farther, and the fancy of the poet appropriates all
inanimate objects, colonizes and annexes everything, large and small,
an old house and an old clothes-press ("The Shepherdess and the Chimney
Sweep"), the top and the ball, the darning needle and the false collar,
and the great dough men with bitter almonds for their hearts. After
it has grasped the physiognomy of the inanimate, his fancy identifies
itself with the formless all, sails with the moon across the sky,
whistles and tells stories like the wind, looks on the snow, on sleep,
night, death, and the dream as persons.

The determining element in this poetic mind was, then, sympathy
with all that is childlike, and, through the representation of such
deep-seated, elementary, and constant spiritual conditions as those of
the child, the productions of this imagination are raised above the
waves of time, spread beyond the boundaries of their native land and
become the common property of the divers classes of society. The time
when genius was looked upon as a meteor fallen from the skies, has
long since passed away; now it is known that genius, as all else that
comes from nature, has its antecedents and its conditions, that it
holds relations of general dependence with its epoch, is an organ for
the ideas of the age. Sympathy for the child is only a phenomenon of
the sympathy of the nineteenth century for whatever is naïve. Love of
the unconscious is a phenomenon of the love of nature. In society, in
science, in poetry and in art, nature and the child had become objects
of veneration; in the realms of poetry, art, science, and society,
there takes place a reciprocal action. If there arise, therefore,
a poet whose affections are attracted to the child, whose fancy is
allured by the animal, by plants, and by nature, he dares follow his
impulses, he gains courage to give utterance to his talent, because a
hundred thousand mute voices about him strengthen him in his calling,
because the tide he believes himself to be stemming, rocks him gently
as it bears him onward to his goal.

Thus it will be seen we can study the poet's art by studying the ideas
which are his inspiration. To contemplate these in their origin and
their ramifications, in their abstract essence and their concrete
power, is, therefore, no superfluous act, when it becomes our task to
make a study of individual poetic fancies. For the bare idea cannot
make poetry; but neither can the poet make poetry without the idea
and without the surroundings which give it its impetus. About the
fortunate poet there gathers a multitude who, in a less felicitous way,
are working in his own vein; and about this multitude the people swarm
as mute but interested fellow-laborers. For genius is like a burning
reflector, which collects and unites the scattered rays of light.
It never stands alone. It is merely the noblest tree in the forest,
the highest ear in the sheaf, and it is first recognized in its real
significance and in its true attitude when it is seen in its rightful


It does not suffice to indicate the quarter of the globe in which a
genius dwells; we cannot travel through Denmark with a map of Europe
for our guide. In the first place, it is necessary to see the locality
more accurately described, and, even then, we no more know a genius
because we happen to be familiar with his relations and surroundings
than we know a city because we have walked around its walls. For though
a genius may be partially, he cannot be exhaustively, explained by
the period in which he lives. What is transmitted to him he combines
under a new law; a product himself, he brings forth products which he
alone of the whole world is able to bring forth. We need only exert
our powers of observation a little, or hearken perhaps to the opinion
of a foreigner, to feel how much there is that is national, local,
and individual in Andersen's nursery stories. I was once talking with
a young Frenchman about Denmark. "I am very well acquainted with
your country," said he. "I know that your king is named Christian,
that your greatest author is an unrecognized genius whose name
is Hr. Schmidt, that Hr. Ploug is your fatherland's most valiant
warrior, whom no battle-field ever saw retreat, and that Hr. Bille
is the Gambetta of Denmark. I know that you have a body of learned
men who are distinguished for their scientific independence and free
investigations, and I know Hr. Holst, whom you call the 'Tyrtäus
of Danebrog.'" Seeing that he had oriented himself pretty well, I
interrupted him with the question, "Have you read Andersen's nursery
stories?" "Have I read them?" cried he, in reply. "Why, I have read
no other Danish book." "What do you think of them?" asked I. "_Un peu
trop enfantin,_" was the answer, and I am convinced that if Andersen's
nursery stories were submitted to a French child five years old, he,
too, would find them '_un peu trop enfantin_.'

I have stated that the childlike element in Andersen is universally
intelligible. This is true, but it is not the whole truth. This
childlike tone has a decidedly Teutonic impress; it is best understood
in England and in Germany, less well in any of the Latin nations, least
of all by the French. In fact, Andersen is very little known and read
in France. England is the only land in which romances and semi-romances
are devoted to the portrayal of the spiritual life of little children
(Dickens's "Paul Domby" and "David Copperfield," Miss Wetherell's
"The Wide, Wide World," George Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss"), and
English child nature is unique of its kind. It is only needful to open
the first illustrated French book for children that comes to hand to
observe the difference. The English child and the French child are as
dissimilar as the acorn and the beechnut. Moreover, Andersen could
never gain firm foothold in France for the reason that the field is
already occupied, having been taken possession of long since by La

There are two kinds of naïveté. One is that of the heart, the other
that of the understanding; the former is frank, free, simple, and
touching, the latter has a distorted appearance, is jocose, full of
ready wit, and subtile. The one evokes tears, the other a smile; the
former has its beauty, the latter its charm; the former characterizes
the good child, the latter the _enfant terrible;_ and Andersen is the
poet of the former, La Fontaine of the latter naïveté. The latter form
of naïveté is that expression of precocity which utters the appropriate
word without exactly knowing what it says, and which has, therefore,
the appearance of a cloak; the other naïveté is that of innocence which
takes it for granted that its Garden of Eden is the whole world, and
consequently puts the whole world to shame without being aware that it
is doing so, and at the same time with so appropriate a choice of words
that it assumes the appearance of a mask. If we compare Andersen's
nursery stories with the fables of La Fontaine, we shall find a
fundamental difference in the contemplation of life exhibited and thus
become acquainted with the limits of the Northern mode of viewing life,
for every attempt at definition is in itself a limitation.

One of the most marked traits in La Fontaine's and the Gallic mode of
contemplating life is the war against illusion. The humorous play in
La Fontaine's naïveté is dependent on the fact that, harmless as this
naïveté is, good-natured and gentle as it always shows itself to be,
it now and then gives undoubted evidence that it is not altogether
foolish, that it will not allow itself to be duped, that it knows very
well how to estimate and value all the stupidity and hypocrisy, all the
preaching and all the empty phrases with which humanity permits itself,
as by common consent, to be led by the nose or by the heart. With a
smile it passes by all the earnestness at whose core is corruption and
hollowness, all the greatness which at bottom is but audacity, all
the respectability whose essence is a lie. Thus it puts "Everything in
its Right Place," which is the title of one of Andersen's most popular
tales. The key-note of its earnestness is poetic enthusiasm, and its
keen wit has a sting which is carefully concealed. French satire is
a rapier with a provisional button. In "Tartuffe," "Candide," and
"Figaro," it effected a revolution before the revolution. Laughter is
the oldest Marseillaise of France.

The most marked trait in Andersen's mode of viewing life, is that which
gives the ascendency to the heart, and this trait is genuinely Danish.
Full of feeling itself, this method of contemplation takes every
opportunity to exalt the beauty and significance of the emotions. It
overleaps the will (the whole destiny of the Flax, in the story of its
life, comes from without), does combat with the critique of the pure
reason as with something pernicious, the work of the Devil, the witch's
mirror, replaces pedantic science with the most admirable and witty
side-thrusts ("The Bell," "A Leaf From the Sky"), describes the senses
as a tempter, or passes them over as unmentionable things, pursues and
denounces hardheartedness, glorifies and commends goodness of heart,
violently dethrones coarseness and narrowness, exalts innocence and
decorum, and thus "puts everything in its right place." The key-note
of its earnestness is the ethic-religious feeling coupled with the
hatred felt by geniality for narrowness, and its humorous satire is
capricious, calm, in thorough harmony with the idyllic spirit of the
poet. Its satire has only the sting of a gnat, but it stings in the
tenderest places. Which of the modes of contemplation is the best? Such
a question is not worthy of an answer. I love the beech, but I love the
birch as well. Only because they please me, not in view of casting the
balance in favor of either of these modes, I quote the following lines
of George Herwegh:--

    "My eyes with tears have often been bedewed,
    When hearts I've seen all bruised and maltreated,
    By hounds of understanding, too, pursued.

    "Within the breast one little word is seated,
    Yet wisely is its utterance subdued,
    For hearts that beat too high will be defeated."

As different as these modes of contemplating life are the poetic
endowments of the two authors. La Fontaine writes clear, elegant,
highly melodious verse, whose poetry is a light enthusiasm and a
gentle melancholy. Andersen writes a grotesque, irregular prose, full
of harmless mannerisms, and whose poetry is a luxuriant, gushing,
rapturous conceit. It is this fantastic element which makes Andersen
so foreign to the French people whose rather gray poetry wholly lacks
the bright-hued floral splendor found among the Northern people and
attaining its highest beauty in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's
Dream," a splendor which may be detected throughout Andersen's nursery
stories, and which imparts to them their finest perfume. And as the
fantastic caprice of this element is Norse-Danish, its idyllic key-note
is purely Danish. No wonder that the earliest and most original of
these nursery stories were written during the reign of Friedrich VI.
and bear the stamp of his day. We recognize this monarch in all the
fatherly, patriarchal old kings represented in them; we find the spirit
of the age in the complete lack of social, to say nothing of political
satire, that we detect in them. No wonder, too, that Thorwaldsen could
never weary of hearing these stories read aloud as he counted his
numbers in the game of Lotto, for his Danish temperament was naïve,
and his art, with all its greatness, was as idyllic as the art which
produced these poetic creations.

A genius, born in an age whose every influence opposes his development,
is either hopelessly crushed or goes to ruin like any inferior talent.
An Andersen born in Denmark in 1705, instead of 1805, would have been
a most unfortunate and thoroughly insignificant individual, perhaps
even a maniac. A genius born at a period when everything unites to
come to its aid, produces classic, genial creations. Now, this first
harmony between a poet and his era (in a measure also, his country)
corresponds to a second one between the individual faculties of genius,
and to a third one between genius and its peculiar type of art. The
nature of genius is an organically connected whole; its weakness in one
direction is the condition of its strength in another; the development
of this faculty causes that one to be checked in its growth, and it
is impossible to alter any single particular without disturbing the
entire machinery. We may wish that one quality or another was different
than it is, but we can readily comprehend that any decided change is
out of the question. We may wish our poet had stronger personality,
a more manly temperament, and more mental equilibrium; but we have
no difficulty in understanding that the lack of defined personality,
and the incompleteness of the character whose acquaintance we make in
"The Story of my Life," stand in the most intimate relationship with
the nature of his endowments. A less receptive mind would not be so
susceptible to poetic impressions, a harder one would not unite so
much flexibility with its more rigid attitude, one more susceptible to
criticism and philosophy would not be so naïve.

Since, then, the moral attributes are requisite to the intellectual,
so, too, they are mutually contingent one upon the other. An
overflowing lyric sentiment, an exalted sensibility, cannot exist with
the experience and method of a man of the world, for experience chills
and hardens. A lightly vaulting fancy that hops and soars like a bird,
does not admit of being united with the logically measured crescendo
and decrescendo of dramatic action. An observation by no means inclined
to be cold-blooded cannot possibly penetrate psychologically to the
heart of things; a childlike, easily quivering hand cannot dissect a
villain. If, therefore, we place genius of this kind face to face with
sundry defined and well-known types of art, we can determine beforehand
precisely what its relations with each of them will be.

The romance is a species of poetic creation which demands of the mind
that would accomplish anything remarkable in it, not only imagination
and sentiment, but the keen understanding, and the cool, calm power
of observation of the man of the world; that is the reason why it is
not altogether suited to Andersen, although it is not wholly remote
from his talent. In the entire scenery, the background of nature,
the picturesque effect of the costumes, he is successful; but where
psychological insight is concerned, traces of his weakness may be
detected. He will take part for and against his characters; his men
are not manly enough, his women not sufficiently feminine. I know no
poet whose mind is more devoid of sexual distinctions, whose talent is
less of a nature to betray a defined sex, than Andersen's. Therefore
his strength lies in portraying children, in whom the conscious sense
of sex is not yet prominent. The whole secret lies in the fact that
he is exclusively what he is,--not a man of learning, not a thinker,
not a standard-bearer, not a champion, as many of our great writers
have been, but simply a poet. A poet is a man who is at the same time
a woman. Andersen sees most forcibly in man and in woman that which
is elementary, that which is common to humanity, rather than that
which is peculiar and interesting. I have not forgotten how well he
has described the deep feeling of a mother in "The Story of a Mother,"
or how tenderly he has told the story of the spiritual life of a woman
in "The Little Sea-Maid." I simply recognize the fact that what he has
represented is not the complicated spiritual conditions of life and
of romance, but the element of life; he rings changes on single, pure
tones, which amid the confused harmonies and disharmonies of life,
appear neither so pure nor so distinct as in his books. Upon entering
into the service of the nursery story all sentiments undergo a process
of simplification, purification, and transformation. The character
of man is farthest removed from the comprehension of the poet of
childhood, and I can only recall a single passage in his stories in
which a delicate psychological characteristic of a feminine soul may
be encountered, even this appears so innocently that we feel inclined
to ask if it did not write itself. It occurs in the story of the new
porcelain figures, "The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep."

"'Have you really courage to go forth with me into the wide world?'
asked the chimney-sweep, tenderly. 'Have you considered how large it
is, and that we can never come back here again?' 'I have,' said she.
And the chimney-sweep gazed fixedly upon her, and then he said: 'My way
lies up the chimney. Have you really courage to go with me through the
stove, and to creep through all the flues?' ... And he led her towards
the door of the stove. 'It looks quite black,' said she, but still
she went with him and on through all the intricacies of the interior,
and through the flues, where a pitchy darkness reigned." After long,
long troublesome ascent they reached the top of the chimney and seated
themselves on its edge. "The heaven and all its stars were above them,
and all the roofs of the town below them; they could see far around,
far away into the world. The poor shepherdess had never pictured it
to herself thus; she leaned her little head on her sweep, and wept so
bitterly that all the gilding of her girdle came off. 'O this is too
much!' said she; 'I cannot bear it. This world is too large. O were I
but again on the little table under the looking-glass! I shall never be
happy till I am there again. I have followed you into the wide world;
now, if you really love me, you may follow me home again.'"

A more profound, more mercilessly true, more self-evident analysis
of a certain kind of feminine enthusiasm and its energy when it
undertakes to act boldly without regard to consequences, and without
looking backwards, can be found, I think, in the works of no other
Danish writer. What delicacy of presentation: the momentary resolute
enthusiasm, the heroic conquering of the first horror, the endurance,
bravery, firmness, until the moment which requires courage, when the
firmness is shattered, and the yearning for the little table under
the looking-glass is awakened. Many a voluminous romance would have
been exalted by such a page, and we find in it a compensation for the
fact that Andersen is no master in the province of the romance. The
drama is a species of poetic production that requires the faculty for
differentiating an idea and distributing it among many characters;
it requires an understanding of conscious action, a logic power to
guide this, an eye to the situation, a passion for becoming absorbed
and overwhelmed in the inexhaustible study of individual, many-sided
characters. Therefore it is that the drama is still farther removed
from the genius of Andersen than the romance, and that his lack of
capacity for the dramatic style increases with mathematical exactness
in the same ratio as each variety of dramatic art is removed from the
nursery story, and consequently from his gifts. He naturally succeeds
best with the nursery-story comedy; although, to be sure, it possesses
little more of comedy than the name. It is a mixed species, and if it
were put to the test of the Spanish story, it would be recognized as a
bastard. In the comedy of special situations he is happy with respect
to the poetic execution of single scenes ("The King's Dream"), but
singularly unfortunate in the execution of the idea as a whole ("The
Pearl of Good Fortune"). The comedy proper is not poorly suited to his
gifts. Certain of his nursery stories are, indeed, veritable Holberg
comedies; "The Happy Family" is a Holberg character-comedy, and "It is
Quite True" possesses a decided Holberg plot. In stories of this kind
character delineation comes easier to him than in the grave drama, for
in them he walks directly in the footsteps of Holberg, so strikingly
does his talent accord in a single direction with that of this early
Northern dramatist. Andersen is, as I have already remarked, no direct
psychologist; he is rather a biologist than an especially well-informed
student of human nature. His predilection is for describing man through
animals or plants, and seeing him develop from the rudiments of his
nature. All art contains an answer to the question, What is man?
Inquire of Andersen how he defines man, and he will reply, Man is a
swan hatched in the "duck-yard" of Nature.

To a person who takes an interest in psychological investigations, who,
without being able to grasp a complex character, possesses a refined
development of observation for single qualities, for characteristic
peculiarities, animals, especially those with which we are familiar,
afford great relief. We are usually accustomed to credit each animal
with an individual attribute, or at all events, with a limited group
of attributes. The snail is slow, the nightingale is the unpretending
singer with the glorious voice, the butterfly is the fair inconstant
one. There is nothing then to prevent the poet who possesses the gifts
needed to represent these striking little traits, from following in the
footsteps of Holberg, the man who wrote "Den Vægelsindede" (The Fickle
One), as Andersen did in "The New Lying-In Room." He betrays here,
moreover, one of his many points of similarity with Dickens, whose
comic characterizations are frequently limited to a few traits repeated
_ad infinitum._

In the epopee, which belongs in our day to the impossible forms of
poetry and which demands all the qualities that Andersen lacks, he can
merely find play for certain petty fancies, as for instance, when he
characterizes the spirit of China, in his "Ahasuerus," in a droll lyric
episode, or when he permits the twittering swallows (exactly as in a
nursery story) to describe the festal hall of Attila.

In his descriptions of travel very naturally a large number of his
best qualities come to light. Like his favorite, the migratory bird,
he is in his element when he travels. He observes with the eye of
a painter, and he describes like an enthusiast. Yet even here two
faults are apparent: one is that his lyric tendency at times runs
away with him, so that he chants a hymn of praise instead of giving a
description, or exaggerates instead of painting (see, for instance, the
gushing and untrue description of Ragatz and Pfäffers); the other, that
the underlying, personal, egotistical element of his nature, giving
evidence that his innermost personality lacks reserve, occasionally
obtrudes itself in a most disturbing manner.

The latter tendency characterizes with especially marked force the
style of his autobiography. The criticism that can with justice be made
on his "Story of My Life" is not so much that the author is throughout
occupied with his own private affairs (for that is quite natural in
such a work); it is that his personality is scarcely ever occupied with
anything greater than itself, is never absorbed in an idea, is never
entirely free from the ego. The revolution of 1848 in this book affects
us as though we heard some one sneeze; we are astonished to be reminded
by the sound that there is a world outside of the author.

In lyric poetry Andersen has met with foreign success--even Chamisso
has translated some of his songs; yet I am always loath to see him lay
aside his bright colored, realistic prose dress, that is so true to
nature, in order to veil himself in the more uniform mantle of verse.
His prose has fancy, unrestrained sentiment, rhythm, and melody. Why,
then, cross the brook to find water? His poems, too, are frequently
distinguished by a peaceful and childlike spirit, a warm and gentle
sentiment. We see that the result of his attempts in the different
regions of poetry proceeds quite directly, like the unknown _x_ in
mathematics, from the nature of his talents on one side, and the nature
of the kind of poetic creation he has chosen on the other.

Thus the nursery story remains his sole individual creation, and for
it he requires no patent, since no one is likely to rob him of it.
In Andersen's day it was a common thing to attempt to classify all
kinds of poetic creations with their varieties in an æsthetic system,
according to the method of Hegel; and Hegel's Danish disciple, Heiberg,
projected a complicated system in which the rank of the comedy, the
tragedy, the romance, the nursery story, etc., was definitely fixed,
while to Heiberg's own art-form an especially high rank was accorded.
It is, however, in a certain measure pedantic to speak of general
classes of art. Every creative artist thoroughly individualizes his own
species of art. The form which he has used, no other has it in his
power to use. So it is with the nursery story, whose theory Andersen
made no attempt to describe, whose place in the system there has been
no effort to establish, and which I, for one, should take good care
not to define. There is, indeed, something very curious about æsthetic
systematic classification; it impresses one very much in the same way
as division of rank in the State: the more one broods over it, the
more heretical one becomes. Perhaps this arises from the fact that to
think is in the main synonymous with becoming a heretic. Yet like every
natural type, Andersen's nursery story has its individual character,
and his theories are comprised in the laws it obeys, whose boundaries
it may not overstep without bringing to light a monster. Everything in
the world has its law, even that species of poetry which transcends the
laws of nature.

Andersen somewhere remarks, that he has made attempts in pretty much
every radiation of the nursery story. This remark is striking and
good. His nursery stories form a complete whole, a web with manifold
radiations, that seems to address the beholder in the words of the
spider's web in "Aladdin," "See how the threads can become entwined in
the delicate net!" If it will not seem too much like bringing the dust
of the schoolroom into the parlor, I should like to call the reader's
attention to a celebrated scientific work in Adolf Zeising's "Æsthetic
Investigations," in which can be found a complete series of æsthetic
contrasts, in all their different phases (the beautiful, the comic, the
tragic, the humorous, the touching, etc.), arranged in one great star,
just as Andersen has planned in respect to his nursery stories.

The form of fancy and the method of narration in the nursery story
admit the treatment of the most heterogeneous materials in the most
varied tones. Within its province may be found sublime narratives, as
"The Bell"; profound and wise stories, as "The Shadow"; fantastically
bizarre, as "The Elfin Mound"; merry, almost wanton ones, as "The
Swineherd," or "The Leap Frog "; humorous ones, as "The Princess on the
Pea," "Good Humor," "The False Collar," "The Lovers"; also stories with
a tinge of melancholy, as "The Constant Tin Soldier"; deeply pathetic
poetic creations, as "The Story of a Mother"; oppressively dismal,
as "The Red Shoes"; touching fancies, as "The Little Sea-Maid"; and
those of mingled dignity and playfulness, as "The Snow Queen." Here we
encounter an anecdote like "A Great Sorrow," which resembles a smile
through tears, and an inspiration like "The Muse of the Coming Age,"
in which we feel the pinion strokes of history, the heart-throbs and
pulse-beats of the active, stirring life of the present, as violent as
in a fever, and yet as healthy as in a happy moment of enthusiastic
inspiration.[7] In short, we find everything that lies between the
epigram and the hymn.

Is there, then, a boundary line which limits the nursery story, a law
which binds it? If so, where does it lie? The law of the nursery story
lies in the nature of the nursery story, and its nature is dependent on
that of poetry. If, at the first moment, it would seem that nothing is
prohibited a species of poetic creation which can permit a princess to
feel a pea through twenty mattresses and twenty eider-down beds, it is
but a semblance. The nursery story, which unites unbridled freedom of
invention with the restraint its central idea impresses upon it, must
steer between two rocks: between the luxuriance of style that lacks
ideas, and dry allegory; it must strike the medium course between too
great fulness and too great meagreness. This, Andersen most frequently
succeeds in doing, and yet not always. Those of his stories that are
based on materials derived from folk-lore, as "The Flying Trunk," or
those that may be classed with the fairy-tale proper, as "Thumbling,"
do not attract grown people as they do children, because the story
in such instances conceals no thought. In his "Garden of Paradise"
everything preceding the entrance to the garden is masterly, but the
Fairy of Paradise herself seems to me to be invested with little, if
any, beauty or charm. The opposite extreme is when we see the barren
intention, the dry precept, through the web of poetic creation; this
fault, as might be expected in our reflecting and conscious age, is
one of more frequent occurrence. We feel it keenly because the nursery
story is the realm of the unconscious. Not only are unconscious beings
and objects the leaders of speech in it, but what triumphs and is
glorified in the nursery story is this very element of unconsciousness.
And the nursery story is right; for the unconscious element is our
capital and the source of our strength. The reason why the travelling
companion could receive aid from the dead man, was because he had
entirely forgotten that he had formerly helped this same dead man,
and even simple Hans gains the princess and half the kingdom, because
with all his folly he is so exceedingly naïve. Even stupidity has its
genial side and its good luck; with the poor intermediate beings, the
Nureddin natures alone, the nursery story knows not what to do.

Let us consider some instances of sins against the unconscious. In the
beautiful story of "The Snow Queen" a most disturbing influence is
exercised by the scene where the Snow Queen requests little Kay to make
figures with the ice puzzle for the understanding, and he is unable
to represent the word "Eternity." There is also clumsy and un-poetic
bluntness in "The Neighboring Families" whenever the sparrow's family
mention the rose by the abstract, and for a sparrow rather unnatural,
term, "the beautiful." It would have been understood, without this
hint, that the roses were the representatives of the beautiful in the
narrative, and in encountering this abstract word in the nursery story
we recoil as though we had come into contact with a slimy frog.

This tendency to allegory in narratives for children appears most
frequently, as might be expected, in the form of instruction and
moralizing; in some of the nursery stories, as in "The Buckwheat,"
the pedagogic element plays an exaggerated rôle. In others, as "The
Flax," we feel too strongly at the conclusion--as in Jean Paul--the
tendency to exhibit, in season and out of season, the doctrine of
immortality. Toward the end of the latter story a few little, somewhat
"insipid beings" are created who announce that the song is never
done. In some cases finally the tendency is more personal. A whole
series of stories ("The Duckling," "The Nightingale," "The Neighboring
Families," "The Daisy," "The Snail and The Rose-Tree," "Pen and
Inkstand," "The Old Street Lamp") allude to the poet's life and the
poet's lot, and in single cases we see traces--a rare exception with
Andersen--of invention being dragged in forcibly in order to bring
out the tendency. What sense and what conformity to nature is there,
for instance, in the fact that the street lamp can only let others
see the beautiful and symbolic sights that had been interwoven with
its experience when it is provided with a wax candle, and that its
faculties are useless when provided with an ordinary light? It is quite
incomprehensible until we conceive it to be an allegory on a poet's
supposed need of prosperity in order to accomplish anything. "And so
genius must run after cupboard lore!" wrote Kierkegaard on the occasion
of the appearance of "Only a Fiddler." Still more infelicitous is the
scene where the street lamp, in its melted-down condition, in its other
life, finds its way to a poet and thus fulfils its destiny. So strongly
as this the tendency has rarely shown itself.

The first duty of the nursery story is to be poetic, its second
to preserve the marvellous element. Therefore, it is first of all
necessary that the order of the legendary world be sacred to it. What
in the language of legendary lore is regarded as a fixed rule, must
be respected by the nursery story, however unimportant it may be in
relation to the laws and rules of the real world. Thus it is quite
inappropriate for the nursery story, as in Andersen's "The Dryad," to
part its heroine from her tree, to let her make a symbolic journey to
Paris, to go to the "bal Mabille," etc., for it is not more impossible
for all the kings of the earth to place the smallest leaf on a nettle
than it is for legendary lore to tear a dryad away from its tree. But
in the second place, it lies in the nature of the nursery story form
that its outline can frame nothing that, in order to obtain its poetic
rights, requires a profound psychological description, an earnest
development, such as would be adapted either to the nature of the
drama or the romance. A woman like Marie Grubbe, a sketch of whose
interesting life Andersen gives us in the story of "Chicken-Grethe,"
is too much of a character for it to be possible for the author of the
nursery story to describe or interpret; when he attempts to do so, we
feel a disproportion between the object and the form.[8] There is less
occasion, however, to marvel at these few blemishes than at the fact
that they so very rarely occur. I have only called attention to them
because it is interesting to become acquainted with the boundary lines
by observing how they have been overstepped, and because it seemed to
me more important to ascertain how the Pegasus of the nursery story,
notwithstanding all its freedom to race and fly through the circle, has
its firm tether in the centre.

Its beauty, its strength, its power of flight, and its grace, we do
not see by observing its limits, but by following its many and bold
movements within its circle. Upon this fact we will in conclusion cast
a glance. The nursery story field lies before us like a large, rich
flowery plain. Let us freely stroll about this, let us cross it in all
directions, now plucking a flower here, now there, rejoicing in its
coloring, its beauty, its _tout-ensemble._ These brief little poetic
creations stand in the same relation to the poetry of greater compass
as little flowers to the trees of the forest. Whoever on a beautiful
day in spring takes a walk in a forest by the seaside in order to view
the beeches in their youthful splendor, with their brown velvety buds
encased in light green silk, and after gazing aloft for awhile bends
his eyes downward to the earth, will find that the carpet of the forest
is as beautiful as its ceiling of tree-tops. Here grow in lowly state
many colored anemones, white and dark red mayflowers, yellow stars
of Bethlehem, and saxifrage, starwort, buttercups and dandelions.
Near together are the buds, the full-blown flowers, and those which
already bear seed, the virgin and the fecundated plants, the flowers
without fragrance and those with pleasant perfume, the poisonous, and
the useful, the healing weed. Frequently the plant which takes the
humblest place in the system, as the flowerless fern, is the most
beautiful to the eye. Flowers which seem to be complex prove on closer
scrutiny to consist of very few leaves, and plants whose bloom seems
to be one flower, bear on their top a wealth of blossoms only united
by the stalk. So, too, it is with the nursery stories. Those which in
respect to their worth seem the most insignificant, as "The Leap-Frog,"
often contain a whole life philosophy in a nutshell, and those which
appear to be a single whole, as "The Galoshes of Fortune," are often
composed of a loosely united cluster of blossoms. Some are in the bud,
as "The Drop of Water"; others are about bursting the seed, as "The
Jewish Girl," or "The Stone of the Wise Men." Some consist of but a
single point, as "The Princess on the Pea"; others have grand, noble
form, as "The Story of a Mother," a tale that is a special favorite in
India, and that resembles that tropical flower, the calla, which in its
sublime simplicity consists of but a single leaf.

I open the book at random, and my eye falls on "The Elfin Mound." What
life and what humor! "In the kitchen there was a great quantity of
frogs among the dishes; adders' skins, with little children's fingers
inside; salad of mushroom-seed; wet mice's snouts and hemlock,...
rusty nails and church-window glass were among the delicacies and
kickshaws." Does any one think that the children are forgotten here?
By no means. "The old Elfin King had his golden crown polished with
powdered slate-pencil. It was the pencil of the head scholar; and to
obtain this one is very difficult for the Elfin King." Does any one
think there is nothing here for grown people? A still greater mistake!
"O how I long to see the old Northern Elf! His sons, people say, are
coarse, blustering fellows...." They "went with open throats, for
they disdained the cold." What a banquet! The skeleton horse is among
the invited guests. Does any one think that Andersen would forget the
character of the guests at a festal gathering? "The Elfin maidens were
now to dance, simple as well as stamping dances.... Confound it! their
legs grew so long, one did not know which was the beginning nor which
was the end, one could not distinguish legs from arms; all was twirling
about in the air like sawdust; and they went whizzing round to such
a degree that the Skeleton Horse grew quite sick, and was obliged to
leave the table." Andersen is acquainted with the nervous system of the
skeleton horse, and is mindful of his weak stomach.

He has the genuine gift for creating supernatural beings, in modern
times so rare. How deeply symbolical and how natural it is, for
instance, that the little sea-maid, when her fish-tail shrivelled up
and became "the prettiest pair of white feet a little girl could have,"
should feel as though she were treading on pointed needles and sharp
knives at every step she took! How many poor women tread on sharp
knives at every step they take, in order to be near him whom they love,
and are yet far from being the most unhappy of women!

What a splendidly drawn band is that multitude of sprites in "The Snow
Queen," what a superb symbol the witches' mirror, and how thoroughly
the author has comprehended this queen herself, who, sitting in the
midst of the desert snow field, had imbibed all its cold beauty! This
woman is to a certain degree related to Night, one of Andersen's
peculiarly characteristic creations. It is not Thorwaldsen's mild,
sleep-bringing night, not Carstens' venerable, motherly night; it is
black, gloomy, sleepless, and awful night. "Out in the snow sat a woman
in long black garments, and she said, 'Death has been with you in your
room; I saw him hasten away with your child; he strides faster than
the wind, and never brings back what he has taken away.' 'Only tell
me which way he has gone,' said the mother. 'Tell me the way, and I
will find him.' 'I know him,' said the woman in the black garments;
'but before I tell you, you must sing me all the songs that you have
sung to your child. I love those songs; I have heard them before. I
am Night, and I saw your tears when you sang them.' 'I will sing them
all, all!' said the mother. 'But do not detain me, that I may overtake
him, and find my child.' But Night sat dumb and still. Then the mother
wrung her hands, and sang, and wept. And there were many songs, but
yet more tears." Then the mother journeys onward, weeps out her eyes
in order that for this price she may be borne to the opposite shore,
and in the great hot-house of Death gives her long black hair to an old
gray-haired woman in exchange for the old woman's white hair.

We meet with a countless multitude of fanciful creations, little
elf-like divinities, such as Ole Shut-Eye (the sandman), or the goblins
with the red caps, and the northern dryad, the Elder-Tree Mother. We
feel Andersen's strength when we compare it with the weakness of the
contemporary Danish poets in this respect. What pale forms are not
Heilberg's Pomona, Astræa, or Fata Morgana! Andersen invests even a
shadow with a body. What says the shadow? What does it say to its
master? "I, as you know well, have from a child followed in your
footsteps." This is true. "We have grown up together from childhood."
This is not less true, and when after his call he takes his leave,
he says, "Farewell! here is my card; I live on the sunny side of
the street, and am always at home in rainy weather."[9] Andersen is
familiar with the shadow's pangs of yearning, its customs, and its
delights. "I ran about the streets in the moonlight; I made myself
long up the walls--it tickles the back so delightfully!" The story
of the shadow, which by no means reminds us of Chamisso, is a little
world in itself. I do not hesitate to pronounce it one of the greatest
master novels in Danish literature. It is the epopee of all shadows,
of all people who are feeble imitations, of all those characters that
lack originality and individuality, all those who imagine that through
mere emancipation from their prototypes they can attain independence,
personality, and true, genuine, human existence. It is also one of the
few stories in which the poet, in spite of his tender-hearted optimism,
has ventured to allow a hideous truth to stand forth in its entire
nakedness. The shadow resolves, in order to insure himself against
all revelations concerning his past, to take the man's life. "'Poor
Shadow!' (that is the man) said the Princess; 'he is very unfortunate;
it would be a real work of charity to deliver him from the little life
he has; and when I think properly over the matter, I am of opinion that
it will be necessary to do away with him in all stillness!' 'It is
certainly hard!' said the Shadow, 'for he was a faithful servant!' and
then he gave a sort of a sigh. 'You are a noble character!' said the
Princess." This story is one of those in which the transition from the
natural to the supernatural can most readily be observed. The shadow
worked its way up "so as to become its own master," until it seems
quite natural that it should at last make itself free.

We close the book, and open it again at another place. Here we meet
with "The Leap-Frog." A brief and comprehensive treatise on life. The
main characters are a Flea, a Grasshopper and a Leap-Frog, made of
the breast-bone of a goose; the king's daughter is the prize for the
highest jumper. "Pay heed, all of you," says the muse of the nursery
story. "Spring with understanding. It is of no use to jump so high that
no one can see you; for then the rabble will insist that it would have
been as well not to have jumped at all. Only look at all the greatest
minds, thinkers, poets, and men of science. For the multitude it is
the same as though they had not jumped at all; they reap no harvest of
reward, a body is needed for that. Neither is it of any use to spring
high and well, for those who spring right into the face of the Powers
that be. In this way, forsooth, a person would never make a career.
No; take the Leap-Frog for a model. He is almost apoplectic; first of
all he has the appearance of one that cannot jump at all, and many
motions he certainly cannot make either; nevertheless, he makes--with
the instinct of stupidity, with the dexterity of indolence--a little
side-jump, into the lap of the princess. Take example from this; he
has shown that he has understanding." What a pearl of a nursery story!
and what a faculty for making psychological use of animals! It cannot
be denied that the reader is at times inclined to cherish a doubt as
to what this fancy of permitting animals to speak can signify. It is
one thing whether we readers feel that it strikes home to us, and then
whether the character of the animal is really hit, the animal that
has not one human quality. Meanwhile, we can readily comprehend that
it is impossible to speak of animals, even in a purely scientific
way, without attributing to them qualities with which we are familiar
through our own nature. How, for instance, could we avoid painting
the wolf as cruel? Andersen's skill only consists in producing a
poetic, a striking seeming conformity between the animal and its human
attributes. How true it is when the cat says to little Rudy: "Come out
upon the roof with me, little Rudy. It is all nonsense to fancy one
must fall down; you won't fall unless you are afraid; come, set one
of your paws here, the other there, and take care of yourself with
the rest of your paws! Keep a sharp lookout, and be active in your
limbs. If there be a hole, spring over it, and keep a firm footing as
I do." How natural it is when the old snail says: "You need not be in
a hurry--but you always hurry so, and the little one is beginning just
the same way. Has he not been creeping up that stalk these three days?
My head quite aches when I look up at him." What finer description of
a lying-in room than the story of the hatching of the young duckling?
What more probable than that the sparrows, when they want to abuse
their neighbors, should call them "those thick-headed roses."[10]

One story I have reserved until the end; I will now search for it, for
it is, as it were, the crown of Andersen's work. It is the story of
"The Bell," in which the poet of naïveté and nature has reached the
pinnacle of his poetic muse. We have seen his talent for describing
in a natural way that which is superhuman, and that which is below
the human. In this story he stands face to face with nature herself.
It treats of the invisible bell which the children, who had just been
confirmed, went out into the wood to seek--young people in whose
breasts yearning for the invisible, alluring, and wondrous voices of
nature was still fresh. The king of the country had "vowed that he
who could discover whence the sounds proceeded should have the title
of 'Universal Bell-ringer,' even if it were not really a bell. Many
persons now went to the wood, for the sake of getting the place, but
one only returned with a sort of explanation; for nobody went far
enough; that one not farther than the others. However, he said that
the sound proceeded from a very large owl, in a hollow tree; a sort of
learned owl, that continually knocked its head against the branches....
So now he got the place of 'Universal Bell-ringer,' and wrote yearly
a short treatise 'on the Owl'; but everybody was just as wise as
before." The children who had been confirmed go out this year also, and
"they hold each other by the hand; for, as yet, they had none of them
any high office." But soon they begin to grow weary, one by one, and
some of them return to town, one for one reason, another for another
pretext. An entire class of them linger by a small bell in an idyllic
little house, without considering, as the few constant ones, that so
small a bell could not possibly cause so enticing a play of tones, but
that it must give "very different tones from those that could move a
human breast in such a manner"; and with their small hope, their small
yearning, they betake themselves to rest near their small discovery,
the small bell, the small idyllic joy. I fancy the reader must have
met some of these children after they were grown up. Finally but two
remain, a king's son and a poor little boy in wooden shoes, and "with
so short a jacket that one could see what long wrists he had." On the
way they parted; for one wished to seek the bell on the right, the
other on the left. The king's son sought the bell in the road that lay
"on the side where the heart is placed"; the poor boy sought it in the
opposite direction. We follow the king's son, and we read admiringly
of the mystic splendor with which the poet has invested the region, in
altering and exchanging the natural coloring of the flowers. "But on
he went, without being disheartened, deeper and deeper into the wood,
where the most wonderful flowers were growing. There stood white lilies
with blood-red stamens; sky-blue tulips, which shone as they moved in
the winds; and the apple-trees, the apples of which looked exactly like
large soap-bubbles: so only think how the trees must have sparkled in
the sunshine!" The sun goes down; the king's son begins to fear that he
will be surprised by night; he climbs upon a rock in order to see the
sun once more before it disappears in the horizon. Listen to the poet's
song of praise:--

"And he seized hold of the creeping-plants, and the roots of
trees,--climbed up the moist stones where the water-snakes were
writhing, and the toads were croaking,--and he gained the summit before
the sun had quite gone down. How magnificent was the night from this
height! The sea the great, the glorious sea, that dashed its long waves
against the coast--was stretched out before him. And yonder, where sea
and sky meet, stood the sun, like a large, shining altar, all melted
together in the most glowing colors. And the wood and the sea sang a
song of rejoicing, and his heart sang with the rest: all nature was
a vast, holy church, in which the trees and buoyant clouds were the
pillars; flowers and grass the velvet carpeting; and heaven itself the
large cupola. The red colors above faded away as the sun vanished,
but a million stars were lighted, a million diamond lamps shone; and
the king's son spread out his arms toward heaven, and wood, and sea;
when at the same moment, coming by a path to the right, appeared, in
his wooden shoes and short-sleeved jacket, the poor boy who had been
confirmed with him. He had followed his own path, and had reached the
spot just as soon as the son of the king had done. They ran toward
each other, and stood together, hand in hand, in the vast church of
nature and of poetry, while over them sounded the invisible, holy bell;
blessed spirits floated around them, and lifted up their voices in a
rejoicing hallelujah."

Genius is the wealthy king's son, its attentive follower the poor boy;
but art and science, although they may have parted on their way, meet
in their enthusiasm, and their devotion to the divine, universal soul
of nature.

[1] The quotations are from Houghton, Mifflin & Co.'s edition of
Andersen's works.

[2] Compare such passages as the following: "It was just as though some
one were sitting there practising a tune which he could not get hold
of, always the same tune. 'I will get it, though,' he says, no doubt;
but nevertheless, he does not get it, let him play as long as he will."
"The great white snails, which the grand people in old times used to
have made into fricassees; and when they had eaten them, they would
say, 'H'm, how good that is!' for they had the idea that it tasted
delicious. These snails lived on burdock-leaves."

[3] Uffe the Bashful, according to tradition, is the son of a Danish
king. His father had been a powerful warrior in his day, but has become
old and feeble. The son causes the father the most profound solicitude.
No one has ever heard him speak; he has never been willing to learn the
use of weapons, and he moves through life in phlegmatic indifference,
taking no interest in anything about him. But when the kings of Saxony
refuse to pay the old father the accustomed tribute, mock at him,
and challenge him to single combat, and the father wrings his hands
in despair and cries, "Would that I had a son!" Uffe, for the first
time, finds voice, and summons both kings to a holmgang (duel) with
him. Great haste is now made to bring weapons to him, but no harness
is large enough for his broad breast. If he did but make the slightest
movement, whichever one is tried on him is rent asunder. Finally he is
forced to content himself with a harness that bears the marks of many
blows. It is the same with every sword that is placed in his hand. They
all snap like glass whenever he makes trial of them on a tree. Then the
king has the ancient sword Skräpp, once wielded by his father, brought
forth from the giant warrior's grave, and bids Uffe lay hold of it,
but not to test it before the fight. Thus armed, Uffe presents himself
before the two foreign kings, on an island in the Eider. The blind old
king sits on the river-bank and with throbbing heart anxiously hearkens
to the clashing of the swords. If his son fall, he will plunge into the
waves and die. Suddenly Uffe aimed a blow with his sword at one of the
Saxon kings, and cut him in two right across the body. "That tone I
know," said the king; "that was Skräpp's ring!" And Uffe gave another
blow, and cut the other king through lengthwise, so that he fell in two
halves to the ground. "That was Skräpp's ring again," cried the blind
king. And when the old king died, Uffe ascended the throne and became a
powerful and much feared ruler.

[4] The fables of the past century (for instance, Lessing's fables) are
merely ethic.

[5] G. Brandes: S. Kierkegaards. Ein literarisches Charakterlied.
Leipsic, 1879.

[6] The following composition was recently written in Copenhagen by a
little maiden of ten years on the theme, "An Unexpected Joy." "There
dwelt in Copenhagen a man and his wife who were very happy. All went
well with them, and they were extremely fond of each other; but they
felt very sorry because they had no children. They waited a long time,
still they got none. At last the husband went away on a long journey
and was gone ten years. When the time was at an end, he returned
home, entered his house, and was happy indeed to find five little
children in the nursery, some playing, some in the cradle. This was an
unexpected joy!" This composition, however is an example of the kind of
naivete' which Andersen never uses. The point would attract a French
story-teller, but, like everything else that alludes to sex, it leaves
Andersen perfectly cold.

[7] There is not a single Danish poet, who, to such a degree as
Andersen, has scorned to produce effect through the romance of the
past; even in the nursery story, which from the beginning has been
handled by the romantic school of Germany in a manner that can he
compared with the style of the Middle Ages, he is always solely and
entirely in the _present._ He, as well as Oersted, dares to sacrifice
the interesting element in his enthusiasm for King John and his time,
and he heartily joins with Ovid in exclaiming,--

    Prisca juvent alios! ego me nunc denique natum
    Gratulor. Haec aetas moribus apta meis.--ARS. AMAT. III. 121.

[8] Her life was used later as the historic foundation for the
brilliant romance "Fru Marie Grubbe," by J. P. Jacobsen.

[9] Here, as everywhere, the poet has his faithful allies in language,
in the play of words, which dance forward under his pen as soon as he
places it on paper. We see, for instance, what a swarm there is in "The
Old Street Lamp" or "The Snow Man." We see how he avails himself of
the sound-language of animals, for instance. "'Quack!' said the little
toad, and that means the same as when men say 'Alack!'"

[10] Compare, for the sake of antithesis, the method and form of
the speech of the glove, the neckerchief, the flask, in Heiberg's
"Christmas Pastimes and New Year's Farces" furthermore Alfred de
Musset's "Le merle blanc," and Taine's "Vie et opinions philosophiques
d'un chat," in his work, "Voyage aux Pyréneés."

[Illustration: JOHN STUART MILL.]




One day in July, 1870, as I was pacing the floor of my room in Paris,
with a book in my hand, I heard a modest knock at the door. The
clock-maker, thought I, for it was the appointed time when, once each
week, on the stroke of the hour, an assistant of the clock-maker was
in the habit of making his appearance to wind up all the clocks of the
little _hotel garni_.

I opened the door. Without there stood a tall, thin, elderly man, in a
rather long black frock-coat buttoned about the waist. "Walk in!" said
I, and resumed my book without bestowing further scrutiny upon him. But
the man stood still, raised his hat, and questioningly mentioned my
name. "That is my name," I replied, and before I could ask any question
in return, I heard uttered in a subdued voice, the words, "I am Mr.
Mill." Had the gentleman introduced himself as the king of Portugal,
I could scarcely have been more astonished, and I do not know what
he could have said that for the moment would have given me greater
pleasure. My feeling was the same that a corporal of the young guards,
under the first empire, might have experienced, had the great Napoleon,
during one of his rounds in the camp, paid him the honor to notice his
existence by giving his ear a pull.

I had attempted to make Stuart Mill known in my fatherland, and on
this account he had repeatedly written to me, besides sending numerous
pamphlets and newspapers, likely to be of interest to me, both to
Copenhagen and to Paris; so he knew my address, and as he was passing
through Paris, where, strange to relate, he did not possess a single
acquaintance, he did not hesitate to traverse the long distance from
the Windsor Hotel to the Rue Mazarin to honor his young correspondent
with a visit.

As he mentioned his name to me, I recalled at once his portrait. It
gave, however, as little idea of the expression of his countenance
and the hue of his skin, as of the way in which he walked and stood.
Although sixty-four years of age, his complexion was as pure and fresh
as that of a child. He had the smooth, childlike skin and the rosy
cheeks that are scarcely ever seen in elderly men of the continent,
but that not seldom may be observed in the white-haired gentlemen who
take their noonday horseback rides in Hyde Park. His eyes were bright,
and of a deep, dark blue, his nose slender and curved, his brow high
and arched, with a strongly marked protuberance over the left eye; he
looked as though the labor of thought might have forced its organs to
extend in order to make more room. The face, with its large and marked
features, was full of simplicity, but was not calm; it was, indeed,
continually distorted by a nervous twitching, which seemed to betray
the restless, tremulous life of the soul. In conversation, he had
difficulty in finding words, and sometimes stammered at the beginning
of a sentence. Seated comfortably in my room, with his fresh, superb
physiognomy, and his powerful brow, he looked like a younger and more
vigorous man than he really was. When I accompanied him on the street
later, however, I observed that his walk, in spite of its rapidity, was
rather halting, and that, notwithstanding his slender form, age had
left its impress on his bearing. His dress made him seem older than he
was. The old-fashioned coat he wore proved how indifferent he was to
his external appearance. He was clad in black, and a crape band was
wound in many irregular folds about his hat. Although she had been long
dead, he still wore mourning for his wife.

No further signs of negligence were visible; a quiet nobility and a
perfect self-control pervaded his presence. Even to one who had not
read his works it would have been very evident that it was one of the
kings of thought that had taken his seat in the red velvet arm-chair
near the fireplace, whose mantel clock my unfounded suspicion led me to
suppose he had come to wind up.


He spoke first of all of his wife, whose grave in Avignon he had just
left. He had purchased a house in that city, where she had died, and
always passed half of the year there. Already in his introduction to
her essay on the "Enfranchisement of Women," which was the foundation
of his own book on "The Subjection of Women," he had given public
utterance to his enthusiastic admiration for the deceased. He had
there said, the loss of the authoress was one that, even from a purely
intellectual point of view, could never be repaired; he had declared
that he would rather see the essay remain "unacknowledged, than that
it should be read with the idea that even the faintest image could
be found in it of a mind and heart which, in their union of the
rarest, and what are deemed the most conflicting, excellences, were
unparalleled"; indeed, he had called "the highest poetry, philosophy,
oratory, or art," "trivial by the side of her," and had ended with the
prophecy, that if mankind continued to improve, its spiritual history
for ages to come would be nothing but "the progressive working out of
her thoughts and realization of her conceptions." In this tone, too,
he spoke of her in my room. We may well suppose that the man who could
thus express himself was no great portrait-painter, and we may doubt
the objective tendency of his judgment; we cannot, however, accuse him
of viewing marriage as a mere contract, a charge frequently brought
against him on account of his ultra-rationalistic standpoint on the
woman question. Great poets, like Dante and Petrarch, have erected
over the women who were fantastically beloved by them a fantastic
monument; but I do not know that ever a poet gave such true and such
warm expression to his loving veneration of a female character as
Mill, in the words in which his opinion of her worth and her enduring
significance to him was couched. The inscription he had cast on her
tombstone in Avignon is no evidence of an artistic talent for the
lapidary style; it has too many and too eulogistic words. How energetic
and beautiful, though, is the sentence with which it ends, "Were there
even a few hearts and intellects like hers, this earth would already
become the hoped-for heaven." I asked Mill if his wife had ever written
anything else than the essay edited by him. "No," he answered; "but all
through my writings you will find her ideas; the best passages in my
books are by her." "In your 'System of Logic' too?" I asked once more.
"No," he replied, half apologetically; "my Logic was written before I
was married." I could not avoid thinking that the contributions of Mrs.
Mill to the inductive logic, even in the opposite case, could scarcely
have been very considerable; a little thinking and reasoning would,
under all circumstances, have fallen to the lot of Mill himself. The
tone of reverential submissiveness apparent in his conversation was,
however, peculiar to the temperament of the great thinker.

His nature was endowed with a decided inclination to serve not a cause
alone, but its personal incarnation, and thus he was led to worship
one after the other, two individuals, who, rare and significant though
they may have been, were by no means his superiors,--his father and his
wife. To his father (and to Bentham) he looked up in his early youth,
to his wife all the rest of his life.

No one who has read Mill's "Autobiography" will have forgotten the
gloomy description he gives of the desperate state of languor which
ushered in his manhood. It was a long and painful crisis, during
which his nature reacted against the excessive development of his
faculties caused by his abnormal education. Instead of admiring the
perfect intellectual organization which enabled him to come forth
uninjured from the overfreighted and dangerous school of his father,
English mediocrity was fond of pronouncing him, because of this
hot-house culture, an abnormal being who was by no means fitted to be
a teacher and an example. In the incredibly large and varied store
of information imparted to him when he was a mere boy, the proof of
the unnaturalness of his teachings and the "inhumanity" of Stuart
Mill was found. What could be expected from a reading-machine that
had studied Greek at three years of age, and at thirteen had gone
through a course of political economy? The crisis which followed this
overloading has been no less misinterpreted than was the encyclopædic
education of the boy. Its symptoms were total indifference to all
objects that previously had seemed to the young man worth desiring,
and an unbroken state of joylessness, during which he asked himself
whether the complete realization of all his ideas, and the achievement
of the reforms for which he had been eager, would cause him genuine
satisfaction, and found himself compelled to answer the question in
the negative. Philosophers have discovered in this crisis nature's
contradiction of Mill's utilitarian theory, inasmuch as, according to
his own confession, the realization of the greatest possible happiness
for the greatest possible number would have failed to make him happy.
Theologians have found in it the stealthy approach of that secret
melancholy, that deep-seated despair, which is always experienced by
unbelievers, even when they themselves are not aware of it. Still, it
is scarcely evidence against utilitarianism that morality alone is not
sufficient for happiness, and it would be poor testimony, indeed, in
behalf of the indispensability of dogmatic belief that a highly gifted
and eminently critical youth of twenty years of age (who, moreover,
both earlier and later managed to make his way cheerfully through the
world without dogmatic belief) passed one whole winter in a state
of profound aversion to action, overwhelmed with that sense of the
misery of existence, with which every speculative mind is compelled to
contend, and which almost every one is forced to conquer at least once
in a lifetime. Among highly developed men there are but few who have
not known this self-abandonment; with some it is of short duration,
with others it becomes chronic: the exterior cause, as well as the
weapons to be used against it, alone differ. Every one has his armor
against discontent, one the impulse to work, another ambition, another
family life, another frivolity; but through the meshes of his coat of
mail weariness of life will occasionally find its way. With Stuart
Mill this armor was manifestly the certainty of being in harmony with
the mind of another person whom he esteemed more highly than himself.
We must not overlook his own utterance that if he had, during the
sorrowful crisis, "loved any one sufficiently to making confiding his
griefs a necessity, he should not have been in the condition he was."
Had Mill at that time been acquainted with his future wife, the crisis
would certainly not have assumed such an acute character: _she_ would
have helped him to conquer his profound dejection more surely than
dogmas and moral systems. This is very obvious from the pertinent words
with which he has described his condition, "I was thus, as I said to
myself, stranded at the commencement of my voyage, with a well equipped
ship and a rudder, but no sail." The sail of this ship, which bore so
rich and precious a freight, was and always remained his enthusiastic
tendency to bow in profound submission before a chosen idol. At that
period the influence of his father was markedly on the wane, that of
his wife had not yet begun; consequently he stood still.

So much, at least, was made very plain in my first conversation with
Mill, that the gain of this woman friend was the greatest boon of his
life. Only in one of the passages that he has written about her has
he succeeded in giving an exact idea of the peculiar nature of her
character, and that is where he compares her to Shelley. A female
Shelley--so she stood before him in his youth; later, even Shelley,
who was so early snatched away, seemed to him a child in thought and
intellectual maturity in comparison with what she became. He states
many times, in very decided terms, what he owes to her: the perception
of the region of ultimate aims, that is, the final consequences of
theory; and of that of the nearest means, that is, of the immediately
useful and practically attainable. The original endowment which he
himself acknowledges, was now directed to the fusion of these extremes,
to finding the medium course in political and moral truths.

Nevertheless, it does not seem to me probable that Mrs. Mill inspired
her husband with any direct new thought. The essential significance to
him must, I think, be sought in two other points. In the first place,
she strengthened his mental courage, and it is the boldness rather than
the novelty of thought that gives its character to such classic works,
as "On Liberty." Many times, even during our first conversation, he
returned with regret to the lack of courage that everywhere withholds
writers from supporting new ideas. He said, "There are writers of the
first rank, such as George Sand, whose actual originality consists in
courage. I leave out of consideration," he added, "her indescribably
beautiful style, whose music can only be compared with the pleasing
sounds of a symphony." The very confidence that a sense of harmony with
the thought of another arouses, had enabled the wife of Stuart Mill to
promote in him the courage he so extolled in George Sand.

In the second place, through her female universality, Mrs. Mill
prevented her husband from running into any prejudice whatsoever. She
confirmed in his mind a certain scepticism that led him to keep open
amid the ice of doctrine one spot that would never freeze; and in thus
inclining him to be sceptical, she became the cause of his progress.
While the majority of so-called freethinkers have almost always
purchased relative free thought in one point with double obduracy in
other respects, Mill was continually on his guard against conventional
prejudice; indeed, until the day of his death he carried on a sharp
warfare against it, ferreting it out in its stronghold with the utmost
intrepidity, in order to denounce and annihilate it.

Finally, there can be no doubt that Mrs. Mill was largely responsible
for the active part her husband took in advocating the elevation of
woman's social position. I felt interested to learn whether he had
ever replied to his assailants on the woman question. He had given
them no answer, nor did he purpose to pay any heed to them. "Why,"
said he, "forever keep repeating the same thing? Not one of them
has produced anything of value." I touched upon the opposition of
several physicians, whose objections were based on the necessities of
nature to which a woman is subjected. He spoke harshly and positively
against the prejudices of physicians in general. Long and tenderly he
lingered, on the contrary, on the pleasure women took in performing
the duties of the medical profession, and of the decided vocation they
not unfrequently manifested for it. He mentioned Miss Garrett, who had
recently taken a medical degree in Paris, and praised her as the first
woman who had had the courage to make such an attempt. In a letter
to me, he had once designated the woman question as "in his eyes the
most important of all political questions of the present day." At all
events, it was one of those which during the last years of his life
personally occupied him the most.

He did not hesitate, either in his written or in his spoken words, to
use the strongest expressions in order to place in the right light his
conception of the unnaturalness of women's state of dependence. Indeed,
he had not been afraid to challenge universal laughter through his
vehement assertion, that, as we had never seen woman in freedom, we
did know nothing whatever until now of her nature; as though Raphael's
Sistine Madonna, Shakespeare's young maidens, all the literature about
women, in fact, had taught us nothing of the feminine character. On
this point he was almost fanatical. He, who in all the relations
between man and woman was refinement and delicacy itself, allowed
himself to be positively insulting in his expressions when an opinion
differing from his own on his favorite topic was uttered in his
presence. One day I chanced to be visiting a celebrated French _savant_
when the mail brought him a letter from Stuart Mill. It was an answer
to a communication in which the Frenchman had expressed the opinion
that the change in the social status of women, demanded in Mill's essay
on "The Subjection of Women," might turn out well in England, where it
would harmonize with the character of the race, but that in France,
where the talents and tastes of the women were so contrary to it, there
could be no possibility of success. Mill's pithy reply, which was
handed to me with a smile, read as follows: "I see in your remarks that
contempt for woman which is so prevalent in France. All that I can say
on the subject is, that the French women pay this contempt back with
interest to the men of France."

The peculiarity of Mill's standpoint in this emancipation question
was, that it was based solely and entirely on a Socratic ignorance.
He refused to see in the accumulated experience of ages any proof in
regard to the boundaries of the so long enthralled feminine mind,
and insisted that _à priori_ we knew nothing at all about woman. He
proceeded from no doctrinal view of especial feminine faculties,
resting content with the simple proposition that man had no right to
deny woman any occupation to which she felt attracted; and he declared
everything like guardianship to be utterly useless as well as unjust,
since free competition would of itself exclude woman from every
occupation for which she was incapacitated, or in which man decidedly
surpassed her. He has repelled many people by immediately deducing the
final logical consequences of his theory the first time the question
was brought forward, and by advocating the immediate participation of
women in the affairs of government; but, as an Englishman, he had a too
matter-of-fact mind not to limit the practical agitation to a single
point. I remember asking him why--in utter disregard of what appeared
to me the first requisite of all, social emancipation--every effort in
England and America was concentrated on political suffrage, which was
so much more difficult to attain. He replied, "Because when that is
gained, all the rest will follow."


He rose to take his leave, and having been informed that I meditated
a trip to London, he asked me if I would make it with him. Fearing
to intrude, I declined, and received an invitation to visit him in
England. I had at that time just read Mill's masterly work on the
philosophy of William Hamilton, was very full of it, and my mind
was burdened with a thousand philosophic questions aroused by it. I
was, therefore, greatly rejoiced that so rare an opportunity offered
itself to discuss my doubts with the author himself, and a week
later I rang the bell at the garden gate in front of Mill's country
seat in Blackheath Park, near London, that little wicket gate before
which I have never stood without a feeling of joyous expectation, and
which I have never closed behind me without a sense of having been
intellectually enriched.

My university education in Copenhagen had been an abstract metaphysical
one; the professors of philosophy of the institution were men who,
although mutually opposed to one another and supposed to be advocates
of diametrically opposite standpoints, in all essentials bore the
impress of the same school. They had begun their career as theologians,
and had later become Hegelians, some influenced by the left flank of
the Hegel school, others by the right. They had finally, together
with all the rest of the world at that time, become "emancipated
from Hegel," which, however, must be so interpreted as to admit of
Hegel's still remaining first and last in their mental sphere. The
methods of Hegel, employed now more naïvely, now in a more sophistic
way, were preached from a _cathedra_, devoted to the worship of the
absolute, the subjective-objective; his works were cited, his few
witticisms repeated, and a wearisome, never-ending controversy against
his supposed errors was carried on, from which we students gathered
that they were almost all founded on his undervaluation of the real,
especially in his faulty discernment of the natural sciences. We were
taught, however, to consider his errors more precious than the truths
of other thinkers, since truth could only be attained, as was shown by
the example of our worthy professors, by creeping through the loop-hole
of some error of Hegel. The University of Copenhagen, notwithstanding
its otherwise by no means too friendly sentiments towards Germany,
held it as an incontestable fact that modern philosophy was a German,
as ancient philosophy had been a Grecian science. The existence of
English empiricism and of French positivism was not recognized at the
university; of English philosophy, in especial, we only heard as of
a system that had long since been overthrown, and whose death-blow
had been dealt to it by Kant. It had only been possible for me, by a
vigorous effort of the will, to tear myself free, as best I could, from
the bonds of the school prevailing in Denmark, and at the period when
I met Stuart Mill I was still wavering between the speculative and the
positive tendency. I made no secret to Mill of my state of uncertainty.

"So, then, you are very familiar with Hegel," said he. "Do you
understand German?"

"To be sure I do; I read it almost as readily as I do my

"I do not understand the German language," he said, in reply, "and
have never read a line of German literature in the original. In fact,
I know so little German that when I have been in Germany, I have had
difficulty in finding my way at railroad stations and elsewhere."

"Have you made the acquaintance of the German philosophers through

"Kant I have read in a translation, of Hegel not a syllable either in
a translation or in the original. I know him only through reviews and
refutations, best of all through a concise presentation of his views by
the only Hegelian in England,--Stirling."

"And what impressions have you received of Hegel?"

"That the writings in which Hegel has attempted to apply his principles
may perhaps contain some good things, but that everything purely
metaphysical in what he has written is sheer nonsense!"

I was startled, and suggested that I supposed this remark was to be
taken _cum grano salis_.

"No; every word is meant to be understood literally," replied he. Then
he dwelt on the outlines of the system, on the first preliminaries, the
theory of _being_ that is identified with _nothing_, and exclaimed,
"What would you expect from a whole that begins with such sophistry?
Have you really read Hegel?"

"Certainly; I have read most of his writings."

Mill (with a highly incredulous air), "And you have understood him?"

"I think so; at least, in all the principal features of his works."

He (with almost naïve astonishment), "But is there actually anything to

I did what I could to reply to this singular and rather diffusive
question, and Mill, by no means convinced, yet as though he entered
into my thought, said, "I understand very well the reverence, or the
gratitude, you cherish for Hegel. We are always grateful to those who
have taught us to think."

Never have I felt so keenly, as during this conversation, how
thoroughly Mill was a man cast in one mould, a genuine Englishman,
wilful and obstinate, equipped with a singularly iron will, and
absolutely devoid of any flexible critical power of appropriation.
What took the deepest hold of me, however, was the impression of the
ignorance in which the most noteworthy men of different countries, even
of the few lands most closely akin to their own, are of their mutual
merits, and that in this second half of our nineteenth century. It
seemed to me one could do much good by simply studying, confronting,
and understanding these great minds that fail to understand one another.

I endeavored to bring into play against the principles of empirical
philosophy the mode of contemplation I owed to my university training.
To my astonishment, all the arguments I brought forward, and on whose
effect upon Mill I had counted much, had long been familiar to him.
"Those," said he, "are the old German arguments." He traced them all
back to Kant, and had his answers to them ready.

It would not be in place in these pages to treat of the real
significance of the controversy between the two modern schools, a
problem which, in Germany, by almost all thinkers, is solved from the
Teutonic point of view; as a matter of course, Stuart Mill would not
admit that David Hume had been refuted by Kant, an opinion which I now
thoroughly share with him, and which I believe will be universally
prevalent when the Kant worship begins to be somewhat on the decline.
(I already find a trace of this change of conception in Germany in
Fr. Paulsen's admirable work on Kant's "Theory of Knowledge.") At that
time, to be sure, I had a presentiment that there must be some way of
reconciling the rationalistic and the empiric theory of knowledge, but
I did not yet know Herpert Spencer's simple solution of the problem.
Mill spoke briefly but decidedly against all attempts at mediation, and
concluded, with the mingling of modesty and decision that was peculiar
to him, in the following words, which have remained fixed in my memory,
"I believe that we must choose between the theories."

In the same spirit he expressed himself concerning the various
modern philosophers, whose thought was nearly related to his own. He
recommended me to become acquainted with Herbert Spencer, yet would
not advise me, he said, to study Spencer's later works; he thought
that in these Spencer had deviated from the "good method." On the
other hand, he urgently commended to me Spencer's "Principles of
Psychology," and the two chief works of his, in my estimation, far
less intellectual contemporary Bain,--"The Senses and the Intellect"
and "The Emotions and the Will." He presented me with a copy of the
"Analysis of the Human Mind," by his much-revered father (the edition
prepared and supplied with notes by himself and Bain), extolling the
book to me as the main work of the English school in this century;
and I having expressed to him my admiration of his critique of
Hamilton's philosophy, he sent me the book the very next day. Almost
of itself the conversation fell on Taine's recently issued volume, "De
l'intelligence," in which Mill is so zealously investigated, profited
by, and refuted, and in which the English tendency has perhaps placed
its most enduring monument in French philosophy. Mill praised Taine,
called his book one of the most profound and important works of modern
France, and said about the same things to me regarding it that I found
repeated later in his review of it ("Fortnightly Review," July, 1870).
As a whole, he liked the book; but he had the same kind of objections
to offer against the last chapters as against the later works of
Herbert Spencer. We must, according to his conviction, most decidedly
"choose," once for all, between the conditional knowledge of empiricism
and the absolute certainty of intuition, and Taine, in the last volume
of his work, had attempted to establish axioms which, not being derived
from experience, had validity for the whole universe, independent
of the boundaries of our experience. Mill, himself, thought, as is
well known, that even the propositions of algebra and of geometry,
whose empiric origin he endeavored to establish, could only be sure
of a limited dominion. He extolled to me the little book "Essays by a
Barrister," from which he himself quoted a few sentences. The barrister
finds it quite conceivable that our multiplication-table, as well as
our Euclid, may be utterly valueless in another solar system. "The
question is," he says, "whether our certainty of the truth of the
multiplication table arises from experience or from a transcendental
conviction, excited by experience, but anterior to and formative of
it." To illustrate the former of these views he presents a few striking

"There is a world in which, whenever two pairs of things are either
placed in proximity or are contemplated together, a fifth thing is
immediately created, and brought within the contemplation of the
mind engaged in putting two and two together. This is surely neither
inconceivable, for we can readily conceive the result by thinking of
common puzzle tricks, nor can it be said to be beyond the power of
Omnipotence, yet, in such a world, surely two and two may be five;
that is, the result to the mind of contemplating two twos would be
to count five. This shows that it is not inconceivable that two and
two might make five; but, on the other hand, it is perfectly easy to
see why in this world we are absolutely certain that two and two make
four. There is probably not an instant of our lives, in which we are
not experiencing the fact. We see it whenever we count four books,
four tables or chairs, four men in the street, or the four comers of a
paving stone, and we feel more sure of it than of the rising of the sun
to-morrow, because our experience upon the subject is so much wider,
and applies to such an infinitely greater number of cases. Nor is it
true that every one who has once been brought to see it is equally sure
of it. A boy who has just learned the multiplication table is pretty
sure that twice two are four, but is often extremely doubtful whether
or not seven times nine are sixty-three. If his teacher told him that
twice two made five, his certainty would be greatly impaired.

"It would be possible to put a case of a world, in which two straight
lines should be universally supposed to include a space. Imagine a man,
who had never had any experience of straight lines through the medium
of any sense whatever, suddenly placed upon a railway, stretching
out on a perfectly straight line to an indefinite distance in each
direction. He would see the rails, which would be the first straight
lines he ever saw, apparently meeting, or at least tending to meet,
at each horizon; and he would thus infer in the absence of all other
experience that they actually did enclose a space, when produced
far enough. Experience alone could undeceive him. A world in which
every object was round with the exception of a straight, inaccessible
railway, would be a world in which every one would believe that two
straight lines enclosed a space." In his conversation, Mr. Mill
expressed his adherence to these humorous sophistries, which have
been so keenly criticised by Spencer, and he added, "If we possessed
the sense of sight without the sense of touch, we would have no doubt
that two or more bodies might exist in the same place, so completely
is every so-called _a priori_ axiom dependent on the character of our
organs and experiences."


Our conversation turned one day on the then existing circumstances in
Rome. I compared the religious condition of Rome with that of France;
I reminded Stuart Mill of the phenomenon observed by both of us in
Paris of the _beau monde_ congregating in a church, and added: "In
your Dissertations and Discussions, you have written some words which
you will scarcely now defend. You say: 'So far as the upper ranks
are concerned, France may as properly be called a Buddhistic as a
Catholic country; the latter is not more true than the former.' Would
you still maintain this?" He answered: "It was at that time more true
than now. In our day a new reaction has taken place, the possibility
of which I could not conceive. In my youth I did not believe that man
could retrograde; now I know it." A portion of the blame for this
retrogression he ascribed to the French university philosophy. He spoke
with a deprecation which was not to be wondered at, coming from his
lips, of Cousin and his school. "But in spite of all," he concluded, "I
cling to my old conviction that the history of France in modern times
is the history of all Europe."

This view, which is reflected in all the works of Stuart Mill, is, in
my judgment, a one-sidedness which can easily be accounted for by his
ignorance of the German language and literature, and his undervaluation
of the English situation, in which he, as a matter of course, was well
able to detect the evils. He had visited France when he was very young;
he told me he had passed his fifteenth year there, and had during that
time learned all the French now at his command. As the French language
was the only foreign tongue he spoke fluently and frequently (even
though not without a strong English accent), and as through his whole
life he had exerted himself to introduce French ideas into England,
and to impart to his countrymen a love for the French national spirit,
France necessarily represented to him Europe almost as though he were a
native-born Frenchman.

Among all the Frenchmen whom Mill knew, Armand Carrel was, I believe,
the one whom he held in the highest esteem. The essay he has written
about this young French journalist is perhaps the most beautiful and
the most overflowing with sentiment of anything he has written. In
his great admiration for Armand Carrel, I find a partial explanation
of his vehement antipathy to Sainte-Beuve. He could never forgive
Sainte-Beuve for the fact that he, who had once been a collaborator
of the "National," and a friend of Carrel, had become friendly to
the Empire, and allowed himself to be elected senator. And yet this
isolated fact was scarcely sufficient to warrant the hard words Mill
dropped concerning Sainte-Beuve in my presence. Sainte-Beuve was
distasteful to him for the same reason that Carrel so greatly pleased
him. He had not thoroughly studied him; his "Port Royal," for instance,
he had never read; but a mind with such keenness and such firmly
rooted principles as Mill's, was naturally repelled by the pliant and
undulating temperament of Sainte-Beuve. Stuart Mill was a man of almost
metallic character, rigid, angular, and immovable; the spirit of
Sainte-Beuve, on the contrary, was like a lake, broad, tender, elastic,
and of great circumference, yet moving altogether in little ripples
of an undefined and varying size. Therefore Stuart Mill was, as it
were, created to be an authority; his tone was that of one accustomed
to command, and even when his demeanor was the boldest, he seemed,
through the very conciseness and confidence with which he substantiated
his results, to repulse every contradiction. Sainte-Beuve, on the
contrary, never closed a subject entirely and without reservation;
he was never quite catholic, nor quite romantic, nor quite imperial,
nor quite a naturalist; one thing alone he was absolutely and
entirely--Sainte-Beuve, in other words, the critic with feminine
sympathy and ever-lurking scepticism. He was of the tiger race, yet
was no tiger. He attached himself thoroughly to no one and to nothing,
but he rubbed against everything, and the inevitable friction produced
sparks. Mill's repugnance to him was like the antipathy of the dog for
the cat. It was impossible for Sainte-Beuve to write simply; he could
not pronounce a verdict without making it dependent on a whole system
of subordinate conditions; he could not utter ever so brief a eulogy
without spicing it with all kinds of malice. The greatest critic of
France, after the death of Saint-Beuve, once said to me, "A laudatory
sentence from Saint-Beuve is a veritable nest of leeches." Now, take
in comparison the character of the mind and the whole style of Stuart
Mill; his thoughts always on a grand scale, embracing the universal,
allowing the individual to slip from notice; his diction unadorned,
without artistic finish, naked as a landscape, whose sole beauty is the
simplicity and power of the position of the land.

On one of the last days of my stay in London the conversation with
Stuart Mill turned on the relation between literature and theatre in
England and in France. He expressed the opinion, so common in our day,
that the French who in the seventeenth century appropriated Spanish, in
the eighteenth century English, and in the nineteenth century German
ideas, in reality possess no other literary originality than that
which lay in the form. Stuart Mill, whose mind was pretty much devoid
of a sense of the purely æsthetic, and who cared more for the idea in
art than for art itself as art, apparently did not realize that the
poetic and artistic originality of the French would remain unaffected
even by this undue limitation of its inventive genius; for where form
and contents are inseparable, originality in form is identical with
originality in general. Without permitting myself to touch on this
point of view in my conversation with Mill, I merely replied, that
one characteristic commonly held up as a reproach to the French,
their so-called superficiality, was most highly useful to them when
they imitated, for their imitation is but a semblance. With a strong
tendency to be influenced by everything foreign, the French unite an
almost total lack of capacity to form an objective impression of the
foreign; consequently the national stamp is always plainly recognizable
beneath the thin coating of foreign gloss. By way of example, I
mentioned Victor Hugo, as an imitator of Shakespeare, and Alfred de
Musset, as an imitator of Byron. "However," I added, "I will heartily
admit the superiority of English poetry to the French if you will
reward me by conceding the superiority of French dramatic art over the
English." I had the previous evening attended the performance at the
Adelphi Theatre, of Molière's "Le malade imaginaire," under the title
of "The Robust Invalid," and having very often seen the play in Paris,
I had a fine opportunity to compare the English mode of acting with
the French. The invalid and the servant-girl were allowed all manner
of coarse exaggerations; they bawled aloud in the roughest conceivable
way, even had the audacity to end the second act with a _cancan;_ and
this while English prudery demanded that the scene with the syringe,
and all expressions supposed to violate decency, should be omitted.
"Yes," said Mill, "the theatre with us has fallen into decay. So far
as the comedy is concerned, this may be accounted for by the fact that
English nature is so devoid of form, and so untheatrical, and because
our gestures are so stiff and so rare, while the French, even in their
daily lives, always demean themselves like actors; yet in the direction
of tragedy we can show some great names. Who knows, though, but that in
our day reading may supplant theatre-going and compensate for it?"

He led the conversation from the theatre to English authors, and
discussed with warmth two men as totally different from himself as
Dickens and Carlyle. Thoroughly matter-of-fact as he was himself, he
could appreciate as well as any one the poet with the great, warm
heart, and the historian with the gushing, visionary imagination.
Dickens was at that time just deceased; a few days previous to our
conversation I had stood on the spot in Westminster Abbey where his
body had but recently been laid to rest. His grave was still covered
with living roses, while heavy, cold stone monuments covered the
surrounding graves; it had the effect of a symbol. I communicated
my impression to Mill, who expressed deep regret that he had not
known Dickens personally, and had only learned through others of his
amiability in private intercourse.

The last words we exchanged concerned the directly impending
Franco-German War, to which Mill looked forward with gloomy misgivings.
He considered it a misfortune for all humanity, for the entire European

I gazed long into his deep, blue eyes, before I could prevail upon
myself to bid him a final farewell. It was my earnest desire to imprint
upon my mind this so earnest and so stem, yet at the same time so
bold, countenance, with all its youthful freshness. I wished to render
it impossible to me to forget the peculiar greatness stamped on the
man's form and on his every word. It is of considerable importance
in grasping the character of an author to learn in what relation the
impression of his human disposition stands to that of his disposition
as an author. I have never known a great man in whom these two
impressions were so thoroughly harmonious as in Mill. I have never
discovered any quality in him as an author that I have not rediscovered
in my personal intercourse with him, and I have found his different
characteristics in both spheres exalted above and subordinated to one
another in precisely the same order and manner. There are authors in
whose writings some definite quality--for instance, philanthropy, or
wit, or dignity--plays a more prominent rôle than in their lives;
others whose writings display not a trace of those qualities, such as
humor or free humanity, which render them amiable in their private
lives. Most authors are far inferior to their books. In Stuart Mill
no such inequality existed, for he was the very incarnation of
truthfulness. There occurs in Mill's "Autobiography" a situation which
affords an opportunity of measuring the degree of this truthfulness.
I have in mind his position when he, the social reformer, who was so
far removed from all demagogism, at a meeting of electors, comprised
chiefly of the working class, was asked if he had written and made
public the statement that the working classes of England were, as a
rule, liars. He answered at once, and briefly, "I did." "Scarcely," he
adds, "were these two words out of my mouth, when vehement applause
resounded through the whole meeting. It was evident that the working
people were so accustomed to expect equivocation and evasion from those
who sought their suffrages, that when they found, instead of that, a
direct avowal of what was likely to be disagreeable to them, instead
of being affronted, they concluded at once that this was a person whom
they could trust."

Mill gives the most modest interpretation of the proceeding, but the
reader surmises what a halo of truthfulness must at that moment have
hovered about him whose accusation of pervading falsehood was met with
storms of applause from men spoiled by the flatteries of demagogues.
In daily life, too, Mill bore that invisible nimbus of exalted love of
truth. His whole being radiated with purity of character. It is needful
to look back to the most sublime philosophic characters of antiquity,
to Marcus Aurelius and his peers, if peers he has, to find a parallel
to Mill. He was equally true and equally great, whether he addressed
his maturely considered thought in some renowned work to a circle of
readers spread over the whole globe, or whether, in his own home,
without any assumption of superiority, he dropped an accidental remark
to a chance visitor.

[Illustration: ERNEST RENAN.]



It was not my intention to call on Renan during my stay in Paris from
April to September, 1870, for I have always had an absolute horror of
robbing celebrated men of their time under pretext of paying tribute to
them. When, however, Taine--Renan's most intimate friend--repeatedly
urged me to look up his "friend, the philologist," I gathered up my
courage, and one day, provided with a letter of introduction from
Taine, found myself on the third floor of a house in Rue de Vannes,
where Renan lived. His surroundings were exceedingly simple. Since he
had been deprived of the chair of Hebrew in the "Collège de France," he
was without any fixed income, and his first popular publication was the
only one of his books that had been at all remunerative.

Judging from his works and portrait, I had imagined Renan to be a
refined reproduction of Jules Simon, philanthropic, gentle, with his
head slightly inclined to one side; I found him decided, terse, and
bold in his utterances, firm in his convictions, with somewhat of the
modesty of the savant, but still more of the confidence and air of
superiority of the man of the world. Renan was at the time forty-seven
years of age. He was sitting at his writing-table when I entered his
room, a little, broad-shouldered man, with a slight stoop, and a large,
heavy head; his features were coarsely moulded, his complexion poor;
he had blue eyes that displayed a wondrous power of penetration, and a
mouth that, even in repose, was eloquent and indicative of shrewdness.
His far from beautiful yet unquestionably attractive face, with its
expression of lofty understanding and excessive industry, was framed in
a mass of long brown hair that over the temples gradually shaded into
white. In looking at him I was reminded of one of his own sentences,
"_La science est roturière_".


In early youth I had been repelled by the works of Renan, who is by no
means the author for youth. Moreover, his "Life of Jesus," the first
of his writings that fell into my hands, is perhaps his weakest work;
the trace of sentimentality, the occasional appearance of unction, that
last remnant of a priestly education, all that to a young person must
seem either unduly effeminate, or lacking in genuineness, prevented
me from arriving at a correct estimation of his literary qualities.
That first impression had later been lost; the noble collection,
"Etudes d'histoire religieuse," had opened my eyes to the almost
feminine delicacy of feeling that could only seem unmanly to very
youthful and inexperienced minds, and I found it quite natural that
he who had justly been called "the most gentle of the bold" should be
unable to speak without melancholy of his exceptional position. "The
worst penalty a man who has fought his way to a life of reflection is
compelled to pay for the independent stand he has taken, is to see
himself excluded from the great religious family to which belong the
best souls on earth, and regarded by the very beings with whom he
would most gladly live in spiritual harmony, as a corrupt man. One
must be very sure of one's position not to be shaken when women and
children clasp their hands and cry, Oh, believe as we do!"

I had, however, erred in my supposition that any reminder of this
elegiac tone would ring through Renan's every-day mode of expression.
The main characteristic of his conversation was a thorough intellectual
freedom, the magnificent repose of a genial child of the world. The
nerve and sinew of his words was an unbounded contempt for the majority
and for the masses, such as I had never before encountered in any one
who displayed neither misanthropy nor bitterness. The first time I saw
him he led the conversation to human stupidity. He said, evidently in
view of inspiring his younger fellow-laborer with tranquillity of mind
for the coming storms of life, "Most men are not human beings at all,
but apes"; but he said it without anger. The words of Géruzez occurred
to my mind, "L'âge mûr méprise avec tolérance." Traces of this calm
contempt may be found in the prefaces to his works; many years later
it received poetic expression in his translation of Shakespeare's
"Tempest"; but in his essay on Lamennais he has plainly defined it.
He says: "There is found in Lamennais quite too much anger and not
sufficient contempt. The literary consequences of this fault are very
serious. Anger leads to declamation, bluntness, often coarse insults;
while contempt, on the contrary, almost always produces a refined and
dignified style. Anger bears within itself a need of being shared.
Contempt is a subtile, penetrating delight which does not require the
sympathy of others. It is discreet and all-sufficient to itself."

Renan's manner of speaking has a certain upward-soaring flight, a
certain sprightly and redundant grace, without which no one ever gains
the praise in Paris accorded to Renan, that in social intercourse and
conversation he was "_charmant_." Of the solemnity which his style
often displays there was not a trace in its oral form. There was
nothing priestlike about him, and he was wholly devoid of the pathos of
a martyr of free thought. It was his wont to introduce a turn in the
discourse with his favorite expression, "_Diable!_" and he was so far
removed from striking the bitter and elegiac tone, that his equanimity
had rather a touch of Olympian cheerfulness. Whoever knew anything of
the childishly odious attacks with which he was daily assailed from the
orthodox ranks, and whoever, like myself, had observed in Veuillot's
journalistic circles how opinions wavered between whether the right
punishment for his heresy was hanging or shooting, could not but feel
interested to inquire of Renan if he had not suffered a great deal
for his convictions. "I!" was the answer; "not the least! I hold no
intercourse with Catholics; I am only acquainted with one of them;
we have one in the 'Academic des Inscriptions,' and we are very good
friends. The sermons preached against me I do not hear; the pamphlets
written against me I do not read. What possible harm could they do
me?" According to Renan's opinion, the devout Catholics of France
constitute about one-fifth of the population; and he thought they were
far more fanatical than the orthodox Catholics of other places, because
Catholicism in Spain and Italy is viewed almost as a matter of custom,
while in France it is stimulated by intelligent opposition.

I found Renan, in June, 1870, very much exhilarated by the events
in Rome. "A statue should be erected to Pius IX.," said he. "He is
an extraordinary man. Since Luther no one has rendered such great
service to religious freedom as he. He has advanced the cause about
three hundred years. Without him Catholicism might very well have
remained unchanged for three hundred years, shut up in a closed room
with its spider's web and its thick dust. Now we are airing the room,
and every one can see for himself that it is empty, and that nothing
lies concealed within it." He had entertained a fear that during the
negotiations concerning the infallibility of the Pope, even at the
last moment, some compromise or other would be effected, through which
everything would practically remain in the former channels; but this
possibility had just vanished, and it could readily be foreseen that
the bishops would shun no consequence, not even the result anticipated
by Renan, which was, that a dismemberment would take place within
Catholicism similar to that existing in Protestantism. It has been
proved that the policy of the Catholic Church was wiser than its
opponents at the first moment supposed. The division that took place
was neither deep nor important, and there is not the slightest prospect
of a dismemberment that can in any way be compared with the nature of
the sects of Protestantism. Renan, who thought chiefly of France, hoped
that time might open the eyes of the French bourgeoisie, which had
thrown itself completely into the arms of the Church since the February
Revolution, and was watching with profound anxiety the position so
inimical to civilization assumed by the papal power.

In his interesting novel "Ladislaus Bolski," Victor Cherbuliez has
turned into mild ridicule certain pet theories of Renan, by putting
into the mouth of the good-natured yet thoroughly unpractical mentor of
the hero, Renan's doctrine concerning the delicate nature of truth, and
the consequent necessity of approaching it with the utmost deliberation
and caution. George Richardet believes with Renan, that everything
depends on some shade of meaning; that truth is not simply white or
black, but is one shade of these colors, and he is wrecked because we
cannot act in shades, but must act totally or not at all. In fact,
Richardet aims at an actual realization of the idea expressed by Renan
in one of many passages on the subject, as follows: "We might as well
attempt to hit a winged insect with a club, as to grasp the truth in a
moral science with the coarse claws of syllogism. Logic cannot grasp
delicate shades of meaning, yet truths that are of a moral nature
depend solely and entirely upon these shades. It is, therefore, of no
avail to pounce on truth with the clumsy violence of a wild boar, for
fleet and nimble truth will escape the ruthless attack, and all the
pains taken to capture it will be in vain."

Whoever is familiar with Renan's literary activity knows how closely
he adheres to this thought when he writes. How different is the fate
of his beloved shades of meaning when he speaks! While Taine, whose
writings are filled with such bold utterances, is ever moderate and
subdued in conversation, only allowing himself to be guided by the
strictest considerations of justice and fairness, Renan, when he
speaks, goes to extremes, and is by no means the knight of the delicate
shades of thought. In one point alone were the two men equally decided
in their expressions. This was when the discourse turned on that
spiritualistic philosophy of France which strove to gain strength in
its tender alliance with the Church, that system of philosophy which
originally won the hearts of fathers of families, by bearing on its
shield dogmas and virtue, and that in the place of discoveries of new
truths, promised to furnish the entire land with good morals as the
fruits of its scientific research. It had at that time control of all
the professorships of France. In Sorbonne it was represented by Janet
and Caro. Janet, the more refined, more elegant spirit, endeavored to
understand his opponents and set them right, while Caro, a specimen of
genuine mediocrity, won the applause of the audiences he addressed, by
flinging out his arms and vigorously beating his broad chest, and by
his appeals to the freedom of the will. To Renan, who, nevertheless,
has treated of Cousin as an orator and an author in so elegant an
essay, the entire eclectic philosophy was orally mere "official
soup," "children's pap," "product of mediocrity, calculated for
mediocrity." Indeed, so obstinate was he on this point, that he, the
advocate of fine shadings, could never be persuaded that spiritualism
was not absolutely false. For Taine, on the other hand, he cherished
an admiration that was almost passionate, "_Taine, c'est l'homme du
vrai, l'amour de la vérité même._" In spite of the strikingly apparent
difference of their natures,--Taine's style has the strength of a
fountain, Renan's style flows as much like a stream as does the verse
of Lamartine,--Renan declared himself to be in accord with his friend
on all essentials. And when one day I led the conversation to the so
frequently discussed question, namely, how much justice there was
in the universal tendency to bewail the intellectual decadence of
France, Renan immediately referred to Taine. "Decadence, what do you
mean by that?" he exclaimed. "Everything is relative. Is not Taine,
for instance, of vastly more importance than Cousin and Villemain put
together? There is yet much intellect in France." Several times he
repeated the words, "_Il y a beaucoup d'esprit en France._"

In common with nearly all cultivated Frenchmen, Renan was a reverential
admirer of George Sand. This remarkable woman had been able to extend
her dominion over the younger generation of France, without being in
the least untrue to her youthful ideals. An idealist like Renan, she
had won through her idealism; a naturalist like Taine, through the
mysterious endowments that testified of her nearness to nature; the
younger Dumas, to whom we might believe the heroes and heroines of
George Sand, concerning whom his dramas often make bitter criticisms,
would be especially odious, was perhaps the one among the post-romantic
authors who stood personally nearest to her. The enthusiasm of Dumas
for George Sand was, upon the whole, only a consequence of his literary
susceptibility; the enthusiasm of Renan was of a deeper character.
As strong as must necessarily be his hatred for Béranger, in whom he
sees the personification of all that is frivolous and prosaic in the
French national character, and whose narrow "_Dieu des bonnes gens_"
is a thorn in the eye of the follower of Herder, the pantheistic
thinker and dreamer, quite as lively must naturally be his sympathy
for the authoress of "Lélia," "Spiridion," and so many other dreamily
enthusiastic writings.

Notwithstanding his wide range of vision, Renan is not without national
limitations in his literary sympathies. In a conversation about
England, he had nothing whatever that was good to say of Dickens; he
was not even inclined to be fair. "The pretentious style of Dickens,"
said he, "makes the same impression on me as the style of a provincial
newspaper." His well-known unjust article on Feuerbach fills us with
less astonishment, when we learn in how marked a degree the defects
of Dickens caused him to overlook the merits. It is the same morbidly
developed taste for a classic and well-tempered mode of expression
which gives Renan an antipathy to the humorous peculiarities in the
style of Dickens and to the passionate form of Feuerbach's style; the
genial mannerism of the English seemed to him provincial; the violence
of the German appeared to him to savor of a tobacco-like after-taste of
the pedantry of German-student atheism.


In the spring of 1870 Renan was on the point of making a trip to
Spitzbergen, in company with Prince Napoleon. Shortly before starting
he was discussing politics with me one day. "You can become thoroughly
acquainted with the Emperor," said he, "through his writings. He is
a journalist on the throne, a publicist who takes pains to inquire
into popular opinion. Since his whole power depends upon the latter,
he has occasion to employ more art, notwithstanding his inferiority,
than Bismarck, who can afford to disregard everything. Until now he
has been merely physically, not intellectually, enfeebled, but he has
been extremely cautious (_extrêmement cauteleux_), and he entertains a
profound distrust of himself hitherto unknown to him." Renan's estimate
of Napoleon was very similar to that expressed by Sainte-Beuve, in
the well-known fragment on "The Life of Cæsar." Ollivier, whom he had
known for a long time, he criticised severely. "He and the Emperor are
admirably suited to each other," said he; "they have the same kind
of ambitious mysticism; they are, as it were, allied through their
chimeras." As early as the year 1851 Ollivier had often said to Renan,
"As soon as I am at the helm, as soon as I become premier--"

When I, with my simple political principles, urged the necessity of
obligatory education, a thought I constantly had occasion to advocate,
and which was everywhere treated as an absurdity or as a long since
abandoned whim, Renan was, in my estimation, so paradoxical that I
could scarcely believe him to be in earnest. His arguments, however,
are interesting, especially because similar ones were continually
presented at that time by the most prominent men of France, although
perhaps in a different form. Renan maintained, first of all, that
enforced education was tyranny. "I have myself," said he, "a little
child that is in feeble health. How despotic it would be to take that
child from me in order to educate it!" I replied that there would
be exceptions made by the law. "Then no one would send children to
school," he answered. "You do not know our French peasants. They would
gain nothing from such legislation. Let them till the soil and pay
their taxes, or give them a musket in their hand, and a knapsack on
their back, and they are the best soldiers in the world. But what is
well adapted to one race does not always suit another. France is not
like Scotland or the Scandinavian countries; Puritanic and Teutonic
customs cannot take root in our soil. France is not a religious
country, and every attempt to make it so would prove abortive. Ours
is a land that produces two things,--what is great and what is fine
(_du grand et du fin_). Respectable mediocrity will never thrive
here. These two words express the ideal needs of the population; as
for the rest, there is but one thing they want, and that is to amuse
themselves, to experience through pleasure that they are living. And
finally, believe me, it is my firm conviction that elementary education
is a downright evil. What is a human being that can read and write--I
mean a human being that can do nothing but read and write? An animal,
a stupid and conceited animal. Give human beings an education of from
fifteen to twenty years' duration, if you can; otherwise, nothing!
Anything less, so far from making them any wiser, only destroys their
natural amiability, their instinct, their innate sound reason, and
renders them positively unendurable. Is there anything worse than to be
governed by a seminarist? The sole reason why we are forced to occupy
ourselves with this question is because this mass of street boys (_ce
tas de gamins_) gained the upper hand and wrung from us the right of
universal suffrage. No, let us agree that culture is only a good in the
case of highly-cultivated people, and that the half-cultivated are to
be regarded as useless, arrogant apes." I spoke of decentralization,
of elevating the condition of the provincial cities, Lyons, for
instance. "Lyons!" he burst out, in absolute earnest, "why, it would
never occur to any one to transform the metropolitan cities of the
provinces into intellectual focuses, for they would at once come under
the control of the bishops. No," he added with droll conviction, "in
such cities nothing but absurdities will ever be accomplished." After
such utterances from the man of all others in France who fought most
vigorously for a reform in the higher schools and universities, it
is perhaps easier to understand why it was that the indifference of
the liberals in that country went hand in hand with the zeal of the
Catholic priesthood, whenever there arose a question of remedying that
ignorance of the lower classes which later proved so dangerous for the
outer and inner security of the land. Old Philarète Chasles, who was
really no Chauvinist, made himself very merry one evening in May, 1870,
over my faith in the efficacious power of compulsory education; he
called it my _Revalenta arabica,_ and facetiously declared that I hoped
through it to make the human race happy through all eternity. He asked
me, too, if I did not think the peasants made sufficiently good fathers
of families and good soldiers, without the aid of the schoolmaster.
The war soon taught these men that the soldier who can read and write
has a power in his hands never before adequately appreciated. It was,
indeed, remarkable to see how ideas we are apt to ascribe wholly to
the Catholic priesthood--as, for instance, this idea of the absolute
harmfulness of imperfect knowledge--had gradually gained such
authority in a land saturated with Catholicism that, with a slight
alteration of form, they even swayed the opponents of the Catholic

Another equally interesting application of the Renan theory, that
what was good in Germany or in the North was not necessarily suitable
for France, I heard one day at Renan's country villa in Sèvres when
he himself was absent. The conversation fell on French _convenance_
marriages. A lady, closely allied to Renan, a German-born lady, who
was thoroughly imbued with his ideas, defended the French custom of
founding marriages on an agreement between the suitor and the parents,
and of permitting the wedding to take place after a few _obligato_
visits. "This manner of forming a matrimonial alliance," said she,
"would not exist without very good reasons. Although brought up in
France, I who am German by birth did not marry in this way. As often
as it was proposed to me to take a suitor into consideration, I
declared that I would not see him; the mere fact that he came as a
suitor sufficed to make him odious in my eyes. I was acquainted with my
husband several years before our marriage." Who can offer any protest
against the French custom, however, that has seen, as I have in the
case of so many of our friends--and she mentioned one and another--who
were introduced but one week before their wedding-day, and yet whose
union proved so happy and satisfactory to both parties.

While I was viewing these words, partly as a subterfuge employed to
escape passing judgment on the relations of near friends, partly as a
symptom of the French characteristic desire to represent every national
peculiarity, however unfortunate it may be, as an unalterable quality
of the race, a gentleman who was present, one of the most unprejudiced
of French authors, laid his hand on the head of his little daughter,
a child of two years old, and said: "Do you think it would be right
for me to give my little girl to the first man that might appear on
the scene, and without appealing to us, her parents, manage to steal
away her heart? Remember how great is the inexperience of a young
girl, and do not forget the conditions of the actual world, nor what
scoundrels there are abroad, nor what a past, what diseases, what
bestial appetites a young man may have, which a father's eye may
detect, but whose existence the innocent mind of a young maiden neither
can nor should deem possible. The world is an enemy. Should not I with
all my might defend my little daughter against this enemy? If, some
day fifteen years hence, suitors for her hand announce themselves, we
parents, if we are then living, will act as follows: we will discard
those who cannot suitably be taken into consideration, either because
of their social position, or because of moral or physical weaknesses;
we will make a choice selection, and from this permit the young girl to
choose as she pleases." To account for this mode of contemplation, the
secluded education of young girls in convents, or in boarding-schools,
should be borne in mind. Viewed in this light, even when consideration
is taken of the greater ardor and sensuality of the Latin races, the
conclusion arrived at is perhaps not unreasonable.


I was in London when the Franco-German war broke out, and being so
fortunate as to have intercourse with some wholly unbiased men of great
political insight, I foresaw sooner than my French acquaintances all
the disasters the war must inevitably bring upon France. On my return
to Paris, I found the people full of hope and confidence; indeed,
there was, as is well known, a manifestation of arrogance that could
not but affect every stranger unpleasantly. This arrogance, however,
was by no means shared by men of science. As yet there had been no
battle; but already the news of the suicide of Prévost Paradol in North
America had filled with the most painful forebodings every one who knew
him and was aware how thoroughly posted he was in the preparations and
resources of France. The terrible event occurred immediately after
an attack of fever, yet no one doubted that Paradol had laid hands
on himself with a full consciousness of what he was doing, and with
a plain design. That he had not merely sent in his resignation was
because--so it would seem--he was altogether too proud to admit that he
had in any way been in error; he was not even willing to make such an
admission in an argument, and now he had been guilty of a triple error:
believing in the justice of the constitutional tendency of the emperor;
seeking the post of ambassador to Washington; and finally not giving
up his post at once, when the odious comedy of universal suffrage in
May had shown what the constitutional temper of the emperor indicated.
The declaration of war, in his eyes identical with the downfall of
France, caused him to prefer death to a position in which he could not
consistently remain, and from which he was unable to withdraw without
a humiliation far worse to him than death. This solitary pistol-shot,
resounding across the ocean as the signal of many hundred thousand
terrible volleys, deeply affected the friends and companions of Prévost
Paradol's youth. Taine, who had been making a brief trip to Germany,
where he went to collect materials for an essay on Schiller, which
had been interrupted by the war, was profoundly moved by the thought
of the impending crisis. "I have just come from Germany," said he,
"and have conversed with so many industrious and excellent men. When
I consider how much trouble it costs to bring a human child into the
world, to tend it, bring it up, educate it, establish it in life; when
I, furthermore, consider how many struggles and hardships this child
must itself undergo in order to gain preparation for life, and then
reflect that all this must now be cast into a ditch as a mass of bloody
flesh, I can do nothing but mourn! With two regents of the nature of
Louis Philippe, we might have succeeded in escaping the war; with two
chieftains like Bismarck and Louis Napoleon, it became a necessity."
He was at that time the first Frenchman whom I heard take into
consideration the possibility of German superiority.

Then came a series of shocks in the first tidings of great defeats,
only varied by false rumors of victory directly after the battle at
Weissenburg. Dejected and sorrowful was the prevailing mood in the
city in those days, when the proclamations at the street comers told
of armies put to rout and lost battles; but more fearful still was the
mood on that 6th of August, when the first half of the day was passed
in the mad intoxication of triumph over victory, the last half in
mortified despondency. How great would have been the humiliation had
there been the slightest foreboding of the battle of Wörth, whose fate
was at the same moment sealed! When, early in the morning, the news of
great victories spread through the city, all Paris covered itself with
banners; the citizens walked the streets with little flags in their
hats; all the horses had little flags on their heads. I sat in front
of a café, opposite the "Hôtel de Ville," gazing at the houses about
the public square that were decked with hundreds of small flags, when
suddenly there appeared, at the window of a house near me, a hand that
hastily drew in the flag there floating in the breeze. Never shall
I forget that hand, or that act. Trifling as was the occurrence, it
startled me; for there was something so sorrowful about the movement
of the hand; something in its appearance testifying so plainly of
disappointment, that the thought immediately flashed through my mind:
"The news of victory must be false!" Soon hands were seen at all the
surrounding windows; the flags quickly disappeared, and in quarter of
an hour the whole banner decoration seemed as though it had been blown
away by the wind. A proclamation from the government had declared
that nothing at all was reported that day from the scene of war, and
that the police were on the track of the promulgators of false news,
in order to punish them severely. The promulgators of false news! As
though the hungering imaginations and the languishing yearning of the
great city were not the only guilty ones!

About a week later, on the 12th of August, I met Renan. He had returned
from the far North before the appointed time. I have never seen him
so deeply moved. He was desperate; this trivial word is the only
appropriate one. He was beside himself with exasperation. "Never," said
he, "was an unhappy people so governed by imbeciles as we are. One
might have supposed that the emperor had had an attack of insanity.
But the fact is, he is surrounded by the most contemptible flatterers.
I know officers of high rank, who were well aware that the Prussian
cannons far surpassed our much-lauded _mitrailleuses,_ but; who dared
not tell him so, because he had taken an active part in the preparation
of these machine-guns himself, had done a little drawing on the design,
which is expressed in official language by the statement that he is
the inventor of the _mitrailleuse_. Never was there so great a lack
of brains (_si peu de tête_) in an imperial ministry; he was himself
sensible of it. I am acquainted with a person to whom he said so,
and yet he undertook a war with such a ministry. Was ever such folly
known? Is it not heart-rending? As a people, we are vanquished for a
long time to come. And to think that all that we men of science have
been striving to build up for the past fifty years--sympathy between
nations, mutual understanding, fruitful co-operation--is overthrown
with one blow. How such a war destroys the love of truth! What lies,
what calumnies, will not for the next fifty years be eagerly believed
by one people of the other, and separate them from one another for
immeasurable time! What a delay of European progress! We cannot raise
up again in a hundred years what these people have tom down in a day."

No one could have been more grieved at the rupture between the two
great neighbors than Renan, who had so long stood in France as the
representative of German culture. Nor could any one have spoken with
greater gratitude than he, of German thought. One of his favorite
remarks was: "There is nothing that can hold so much as a German head."
He seemed to have little liking for the Germans personally, but he
spoke with respect of their noble intelligence. To the South German,
however, in every other respect than in a capacity for the affairs
of government, he ascribed a far higher endowment than to the North
German, an opinion shared by the majority of cultivated Frenchmen.

In speaking of his journey, Renan said: "We were in Bergen when the
first ambiguous tidings of the threatened war reached us from France.
None of us could deem it possible. The prince and I looked at each
other. He who possesses so rare and so keen an intellect merely said,
'It cannot be,' and gave orders to continue our journey. We sailed
to Tromsöe. When we reached that place two despatches awaited the
prince, one from his secretary in Paris, and another from Emile
Ollivier with these words: '_Guerre inévitable!_ 'We held a brief
council, but so irrational did the affair appear to us, since Leopold
von Hohenzollern had withdrawn his candidacy; so impossible did it
seem that this pretext could incite all Europe, and especially all
Germany, against us; and, finally, so great was our desire to sail to
Spitzbergen and see 'the great icebergs,' that we resolved to depart
the next morning. We went to bed. My room was situated next to that of
the prince's adjutant. Early in the morning I heard the valet awaken
the adjutant with a despatch. I rose, we went on board, the ship set
sail, and you may fancy my astonishment when I saw that we were taking
a southward course. The prince sat in despair, staring fixedly before
him. The first words he uttered were: '_Voilà leur dernière folie, il
n'en feront pas d'autres_.' He was a true prophet; this will be their
last folly." "I myself," added Renan, "was of the same opinion. I
knew how badly we were prepared, but who could have dreamed that the
crisis would come so soon! Do not say that we may yet be victorious.
We will never be victorious again; we have never, under this emperor,
conquered, in a definite way, any tribes whose subjugation could serve
as a happy omen, when Prussia was in question. The Arabs are the
poorest tacticians in the world." More than once he broke out with
the words: "Was such a thing ever heard of before! Poor prince! Poor
France!" He was so vehement that he exhausted himself in imprecations
on all the leading men; according to his words, at this time uttered
with little regard to shades of meaning, they were all weak-minded
creatures, or villains. "What is this Palikao?" he cried. "A thief,
a pronounced thief, to whom our best houses are closed; and does not
every one know that one of his colleagues is a criminal, a murderer,
who has only escaped capital punishment by flight! And in the hands of
such men lies our fate!"

I saw tears in his eyes, and I bade him adieu. I have never seen him
since that day. He quickly regained his composure and the control of
his grief; but in that sorrowful outburst Renan was another man than
when he wrote, "The savant is a spectator in the universe. He knows
that the world belongs to him only as an object for study; and even
if he could reform it, he would perhaps find it so curious an object
that he would lose all desire to do so." It is scarcely likely that
Renan was altogether in earnest when he uttered these audacious and
aristocratic words; but even if he was, the emotions he experienced in
the year 1870 would have inclined him to repudiate them.

It is difficult to estimate how demoralizing an influence, during the
second empire, life under the dominion and pressure of the "_fait
accompli_" exercised on the French savant. A tendency to quietism
and fatalism, to the approval of everything that had once been
accomplished, characterized beyond all else French moral science under
Napoleon III. Traces of its influence could be observed everywhere in
social life and in conversation. Entire freedom from enthusiasm was
looked upon as almost equivalent to culture and ripe scholarship. A
young foreigner had daily opportunity to marvel over the reserve and
the passiveness of even the best of these people, as soon as there
arose any question of a practical reform; and I remember well coming
home one evening in May, 1870, very much out of humor, and writing in
my note-book: "There was once another France." Once, indeed, there had
been a wide-awake, enthusiastic, poetic France, keenly alive to the
needs of humanity. It seems as though such a France must gradually
arise from the debasement, which, even if it brought with it no other
good, at least has given all aspiring souls a new impetus toward the

With changeful emotions Renan has watched the development of republican
France. Although the republicans almost immediately restored to him
his professorship, their demeanor toward him, as well as toward the
other friends of Prince Napoleon, was rather cool and reserved.
Thoroughly aristocratic in his views as he is, he gave the democrats
to understand in his "Caliban" how exceedingly little he esteemed
them; yet in a letter written shortly afterward to a German friend,
in explanation of his speech on entering the French Academy, he said:
"What now, if, while your statesmen are absorbed in this thankless
task of chastising and trampling under foot, the French peasant, with
his rude understanding, his unvarnished politics, his labor, and his
savings, should happily found an order-loving and enduring republic!
Would it not be droll?" He is patriot and philosopher enough to become
friendly, in the course of time, to any form of government which
satisfied the majority of his fellow-countrymen, and corresponded to
their intellectual standpoint.

Renan, as it is well known, is a native of Brittany, and has all the
peculiarities of his race. The Bretons, in modern French literature,
are distinguished by a common trait. Like Chateaubriand and Lamennais,
Renan hates the commonplace, the easy-going, frivolous tone; and
although a victim of doubt, he has the most ardent need of a faith
and an ideal. For his narrow fatherland he cherishes a most profound
attachment. In a hopeful moment he has even apostrophized his race
with the words: "O simple clan of farmers and seamen, to whom, in an
extinguished land, I owe the strength to preserve my soul alive!"
We must not place too literal an interpretation on this outburst of
feeling. No one realized more profoundly than Renan how far from
being extinguished was that France of which he wrote to Strauss, that
it was essential to Europe as "a lasting protest against pedantry and
dogmatism." But the remark is characteristic of the at once obstinate
and restless, enthusiastic and sceptical child of Brittany. If he
renounce his faith in any one particular, as he here lost faith in
France, it is only to adhere elsewhere with all the warmer enthusiasm
to an ideal. In religion, too, he has a Brittany in which he believes.

[Illustration: ESAIAS TEGNÉR]



Literary fame in the Scandinavian countries is for the most part a
matter of mere local importance. Works written in languages which are
spoken by a few million people only, and which in no portion of the
world are studied or read as polite languages, are likely to have every
chance of European and American renown against them. As a general
thing, but few poetic productions are translated into other tongues;
and, indeed, to a work that appeals to the sense of beauty, above all
to a metrical work, the outer form of language is what the enamel
is to the teeth: it invests it at the same time with durability and

Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that certain northern authors
have succeeded in finding more recognition in foreign countries than
at home; they represent, as it were, to the entire reading-world, the
poetic life of their fatherland, and their names are blended in the
public consciousness with the name of their native land. Such fame has
been attained by but one of the poets of Sweden,--Esaias Tegnér.

He is not the greatest among those who have contributed to the poetry
of the Swedish language; before him and after him another greater poet
produced in this tongue creations superior to his in clearness of style
and fidelity to life. With Bellman and Runeberg, however, he must be
classed; and, while inferior to them in poetic fancy, he may be said
to surpass both in intellectual vigor.

Three times in the course of history, the Swedish people has succeeded
in combining the classic and the popular in its poetry. The first time
was when Bellman, during the reign of Gustavus III., selected his types
from life among the people and in the inns of Stockholm, and sang "The
Songs of Fredman" to a zither accompaniment, with a mimic display of
masterly skill. The second time was when Tegnér, fifty years later,
turned back to the heroic life of the ancient North, found in an old
saga materials for a romance cycle, and gave Sweden a picture of Viking
life and Viking love in the North, as his contemporaries conceived
it. Finally this combination of the classic and the popular occurred
about a generation ago, when--forty years after Finland had been tom
from her old mother country--the greatest of Finland's sons, inspired
by recollections of his childhood, depicted the honorable struggle of
his fatherland against Russian supremacy, and thereby the national
characteristics of the Finnish people, in a more realistic style than
any one else had yet ventured to employ. Runeberg, in his soul-stirring
bivouac poetry, has compressed into the smallest limits war idyls and
tragedies of the battlefield.

Neither in a drama nor in an epic poem, therefore, has one of these
three Swedish poets found the possibility of presenting to the world
the best fruits of his genius. All three, however widely they may
otherwise differ, have triumphed in the same species of art, one that
is lyric in form, and whose contents compose an epic cycle of short
poems. The first of these poets has produced burlesque dithyrambs; the
second, old Norse heroic lays; the third, anecdotes of modern warfare;
but each one has arranged his choicest poems in a connected series,
and these three groups of songs alone invest Swedish poetry with
cosmopolitan rank.

The most celebrated of these three cycles is the "Fridthjof's Saga,"
and when Tegnér is mentioned outside of Sweden, it is exclusively
as its author. This work has become the national poem of the
Swedish people, and translations into all European tongues--among
others, eighteen different German, and twenty-two different English
translations--have spread it broadcast over the earth. Sweden has
not been lacking in gratitude to the man to whom she owes so much.
Such noble and eloquent words have been spoken, written, and sung
throughout Sweden, in honor of Tegnér, that no one could bestow on him
greater praise than has already been accorded him by the children of
his native land. Sweden has exalted the glorified form of the poet, in
supernatural size, upon a mighty pedestal, proved by closer scrutiny to
be a miniature mountain of massive eulogies, biographies, and festal
songs, while at the base incense without stint has been burned. What
then remains for the critic? Nothing, unless perchance to cleanse
from the beautiful face, with tender hand, the blinding fumes of the
incense, in order that the delicate features may stand out clearly,
and seem more human, more lifelike. Perchance, too, it may devolve
on him to compare the statue carefully with the original, and draw a
pen-and-ink sketch of the latter, in which it is plainly indicated
where the statue lacks precision or has a too abstract conception.
The writer of these pages, at all events, enters on his task with the
innate sympathy of the Scandinavian, the impartiality of one who is not
a Swede, and the honest purpose of the critic, to represent the form in
the sharp sun-light of truth.


The ancestors of Esaias Tegnér, both on his father's and on his
mother's side, were Swedish peasants. As in so many other instances
of the prominent talent of the north, his descent may be traced from
the peasant class through the ranks of the priesthood. This generally
comes to pass in the following way: the grandfather plows his fields
with his own hand, the son displays a thirst for knowledge, and through
many sacrifices on the part of his parents, and the support of kindly
disposed people, progresses far enough in his studies to enter on
a theological course; for during many centuries the priest was the
absolute representative among the peasants of the learned class. In
this son, the vigorous, untutored peasant-nature becomes subjected to
its first rude polish; the preacher no longer plows his own fields,
although he may supervise their cultivation; the preacher begins to
think, although the final result of his studies is not the consequence
of his thought. In the grandson, or great grandson, the original
fundamental nature finally becomes so refined, that it produces
scientific, technical, or poetic talent. Thus it was in the case before
us. The father of Tegnér was a priest, the mother a priest's daughter,
and these clerical progenitors were the children of peasants. The
aristocratic sounding name was formed when the father, Esaias Lucasson,
from the little village Tegna (Tegnaby), was entered in the Latin
register of the gymnasium as Esaias Tegnerus.

The parsonage was early blessed with sons and daughters, and at
Kyrkerud, on the 13th of November, 1782, was born the fifth son of the
house, the eventually so celebrated Esaias. He was only nine years old
when the home was broken up by the death of his father. The latter
left his family without means of support, and his widow, whose heart
was filled with anxiety for the future of her six fatherless children,
joyfully seized the opportunity offered her to place her youngest son
as clerk with a highly esteemed state official living in the vicinity.
In the office of Assessor Bran ting, through tasks in penmanship and
keeping accounts, the boy acquired habits of industry which lasted
through life; and of even greater value to the little clerk was the
opportunity afforded him, at the early age when all impressions are
the most profound, of making the acquaintance, from the travelling
carriage, of the picturesque, natural beauties of the home region,
during the extensive trips he was permitted to share with his worthy
chief, whose duties as assessor compelled him to traverse every portion
of Wermland. Although active and industrious when at work, young Esaias
was inclined to be forgetful and absent-minded at times, to become
wholly absorbed in his book, or waking dreams, and he would often be
found wandering along some solitary road soliloquizing in a low tone.
He read poetry, works of history, above all else northern sagas; and in
a collection of the latter, Björner's "Kämpadater," he discovered "The
Saga of Fridthjof the Bold," which lingered twenty-five years in his
fancy before it began to germinate.

These two impressions, that of Sweden's nature and of the old Norse
myths and sagas, were inseparable; they mingled together, gliding
softly one into the other in the young soul. Often, when perched on the
back seat of Branting's carriage, the future poet was driven between
forest-decked mountains, through deep ravines, along the banks of those
mighty waters that stream through the land, it seemed to him as though
Nature were vieing with him in freaks of fancy. Romantic indeed were
the landscapes presented to his view in the long summer days, when
twilight and dawn flowed gently together, and the roseate glow never
vanished from the horizon, while an old northern landscape charmed
him in winter, when the snow was piled in high banks, when the brooks
hung in long icicles from the rocks, and the youth felt as though he
actually saw, in the moonlight playing on the snow, winter personified,
in the colossal form of a god, with a snow-storm in his beard, and a
wreath of fir upon his head.

"Swedish poetry;" says Tegnér somewhere, "is, and ever will be, a
poetry of nature in the strictest sense of the word; for it centres in
our glorious natural scenery, in our lakes, rocks, and waterfalls;"
and when, shortly after the completion of "Fridthjof," he wishes to
explain the origin of the poem, he himself mentions, in addition to
his early, familiar acquaintance with the old Norse sagas, the fact
that he was born and brought up in a remote mountain parish, "where
Nature herself makes poetry in weird and gigantic forms, and where the
ancient gods still wander about in the flesh, of winter nights." "In
such surroundings," he continues, "left wholly to myself, it was not
singular that I acquired a certain predilection for the untamed and the
colossal that has never left me."

And not only the contents, but also the fundamental form of his own
as well as of all other Swedish poetry, Tegnér, in his riper years,
strove to trace to impressions of the peculiar nature of Sweden. He is
astonished at the exclusive preference of his people for the lyric, at
the tendency of this people to crowd the entire world of poetry into a
few strophes, and he inquires into the reason of this characteristic.
"Does it not lie for the most part in the nature itself which surrounds
us? Are not the mountains, with their valleys and torrents, the lyric
of Nature, while the gentler plains, with their calm rivers, are
Nature's epos? Many of our mountain regions are true dithyrambs of
nature, and man delights in making poetry in the same key as that
of the nature about him." And then boldly endeavoring to draw the
utmost inference of his thought, he bursts into the query, "Does not
a lyric vein permeate all Swedish poetry? Are not the most prominent
representatives of our national traits in ancient as well as in modern
times, rather lyric than epic characters?" He was evidently thinking
of such minds as Sweden's greatest kings and greatest generals, and
perhaps not least of all of himself.

It is an undoubted fact that the nature about him attracted him, as
a poet, far more through its phantastic than through its utilitarian
element. I say designedly "as a poet," for as a man he cherished a
healthy, practical interest in the means of subsistence and sources of
industry of his people. He has, however, never depicted this people in
its struggles with material nature. There cannot be found in his works
a single scene representing the great mining operations through which
Swedish iron is brought to the light of day; he has never presented a
picture of the hardy miner or the sturdy smith; never vouchsafed a view
of the blazing, steaming, glowing furnace in the midst of the snow.
These realistic impressions rebounded from his romantic fancy, inclined
as it was to view everything in the abstract, to symbolize. Sweden did
not present herself to his mind's eye as the workshop of the nation;
his Svea was a shield-bearing maiden, and her dower of iron was in his
eyes less the source of the natural wealth of the land than the broad
girdle about her waist and the once so mighty sword within her hand.


Very early it was discovered that the gifted boy possessed talents
which made it seem desirable to furnish him with higher opportunities
for education than those afforded in the office of Assessor Branting.
A conversation that took place one evening, during a long country
drive, when young Esse, as the boy was called, replied to the religious
reflections of his pious chief, concerning the signs of God's
omnipotence in the bright starry firmament, with an exposition of the
laws governing the heavenly bodies, that he had derived from a popular
work on philosophy, gave the first impetus to the step of entering
Esaias on a learned career. An instinct, to which the future bishop
ever remained true, led him to grasp with both hands the rational
explanation of the workings of the universe, and to cast aside the
theological in all cases where the latter seemed to him superfluous.

Under the guidance of his elder brother, he was now initiated into the
study of Latin, Greek, and French, and he taught himself sufficient
English to be able to read the poems of Ossian, at that time in the
height of their glory. Like a foal trotting at its mother's side,
he accompanied his brother to the various homes where the latter
officiated as tutor; and in the last family in which his brother
taught, Esaias, when but fourteen years of age, found in the youngest
daughter of the house his future wife. Like so many other precocious
youths, he avoided the boisterous sports of his comrades; his greatest
delight was to sit alone in his chamber, absorbed in Homer; and he
had to be dragged by main force to sleighing parties and skating
matches, although he was by no means an unskilful skater. In the
year 1799 he entered the university of Lund, devoted himself to the
ancient languages, philosophy, and æsthetics; and in 1802, according
to the pathetic custom of the land, was crowned with laurels as master
(magister) of philosophy. From 1802 to 1810 he lived in Lund as a young
instructor (docent) of good renown; from 1810 to 1825 he gave lectures
on Grecian literature that were very popular and well attended. In the
year 1812, in accordance with a very poor Swedish custom, he was at
the same time presented with a professor's chair, and appointed pastor
of several parishes in the vicinity of Lund; in 1826, finally, he left
the little university town in order to retire as a bishop to the rural
solitude of Vexiö.

Let us bestow a glance upon the young magister of Lund. He is pleasing
to behold,--blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, with yellow, curly hair,
vigorously built, and with a tendency to corpulency. As long as he
remained a bachelor he was a retired dreamer, who brooded over his own
fancies in solitude; but so soon as he had placed foot beneath his
own table, his intellectual powers unfolded, and he proved himself to
possess a light-hearted nature that was social in the highest degree,
and bubbling over with merriment. A child of the world, who knew how to
do honor to a good table and noble wine; an easily inflamed and by no
means seraphic Apollino; an adorer of all female beauty; a genius that
emitted brilliant flashes of well-considered and sparkling wit, rather
than the glowing flames of a deep-seated fire; an individual who was
tolerably unconcerned about his conventional dignity, but who was none
the less thoroughly well prepared to maintain the proud sovereignty of
his own personality; such is the phase of character Tegnér presented
to the outside world. Beneath this exterior are concealed his deeper
traits. These are partly of a poetic, partly of an oratorical, nature;
a lyric inspiration and a glowing style that are peculiarly his own.


The lyric inspiration of Tegnér early reveals itself as an innate
tendency to enthusiasm for everything that stands out in bold relief
from the gray and prosaic background of everyday life. All deeds of
heroic valor; all brilliant honors, let them be gained as they may,
attract him by their radiance, and he revels even in their tinsel. A
strong respect for the great names of history, a decided disinclination
to apply discriminating criticism to fame once established, form one
of the deepest and most unchangeable traits of his character. It is
the unusual climax attained by this fundamental tendency which impels
him to write poetry. Indeed, it is this which makes him a poet. In
order, however, the better to understand this tendency, we must go back
to the sources of his inspiration, investigate what ideal he seeks,
discovers, or creates, see in what sort of inner images he objectizes
the natural peculiarities or intellectual attributes which correspond
to the best of his native powers. He does not dream of Oehlenschläger's
Aladdin form; he is neither unsophisticated enough nor bold enough to
do so. Just as little is he inclined to mirror himself in a Hamlet or
a Faust. The heroes of scepticism and of thought are far too abstract
for his vigorous, boyish imagination; it dreams of sturdier ideals.
Still less do his conceptions concentrate about a Manfred type. Guilt
does not allure him, and the mysterious has for his frank nature no
charm. Brought up and developed amid idyllic conditions, and surrounded
by universal good-will in the little town which he himself named "an
academic village," he could not possibly give way to the cosmopolitan
prose pathos of the long repressed Schiller. The ideal which slowly
shapes itself in his mind is a national and northern romantic ideal.

It is a luminous image of stormily progressive and remodelling power,
partly of a warlike, partly of a civilizing nature. All of the forms
which Tegnér, in the course of years, has shown marked preference for
delineating, have been invested with it. In one of his university
addresses, for instance, he undertook to give a characterization of
Luther. In order to accomplish this he places his hero in the point
of view from which it is his wont to consider men of action. First he
emphatically declares that every word and action of Luther bore the
stamp of "overwhelming vigor."

"There was something chivalrous, in fact, I might almost say, romantic,
in his character, his every undertaking.... His action was like a
battle completed, his word like one just begun. He was one of those
mighty souls who, like certain trees, flourish only amid storms. His
grand, adventurous life always seemed to me like a heroic poem, with
its struggles and its final victory."

We are all the more strongly impressed with the character of the orator
from this very one-sided treatment of a many-sided theme when we note
that Tegnér has therein presented determining qualities which, with
slightly altered attributes, he can apply a few years later, almost
word for word, to King Gustavus III. of Sweden, whose personality
differs as widely as possible from that of Luther. Scarcely any proof
is needed to show that between the sturdy Saxon reformer and the
theatrical, Gallicized, and skeptical monarch there was no other bond
of union than that which Tegnér's admiration created for both. Tegnér
said of Gustavus, "In his nature there was not only something grand,
but at the same time something chivalrous; lofty heroic power was
displayed in him, not with shield and sword, but with the lightest
drapery of grace. He was a grand, romantic, heroic poem, with all its
adventures and fascinations, but at the same time with the tenderest
effusions of the heart and the most wanton gambols of joy."

Grandeur, strength, and adventurous romance, then, are the common
fundamental qualities for both Luther and Gustavus; both are knights
of chivalry, and the lives of both appear to Tegnér like a romantic
epic poem. What else and what more could he say about Fridthjof? What
else, in truth, has he said, when in his own characterization he called
attention to the fresh life, the bold defiance, and the haughtiness of
this hero and this heroic poem!

In this tendency we have the deepest, firmest foundation on which his
conceptions of heroic ideals gradually came to rest.

There are some youthful, innocent odes dating from the period of
Tegnér's sixteenth year, written on the occasion of the rumor of
Bonaparte's death in Egypt. In them the poet glorifies Bonaparte as the
hero of freedom, whose honor is not purchased through blood and tears,
yet who will bring enlightenment and joy to the whole world. It is an
echo from the refrain of the humanitarian period which rings from these
childish lips. They hail Napoleon with a categorical "Live for humanity
or perish!" The mature man views the subject differently. In the great
religious, political, and literary reaction against the period of
enlightenment, the anti-Gallican current which won Sir Walter Scott and
Oehlenschläger, was wholly obnoxious to Tegnér. The reaction, however,
struck an æsthetic chord which harmonized with his temperament. This
was its contempt for utility as a measure for the worth of a deed.
The fact was, ultra-utilitarianism, and the species of philanthropy
interlinked with it, had opposed itself to the conception of the
chivalrous and the romantic.

"The old chivalrous dream," says Tegnér, "of the honor of nations, was
either declared point-blank to be a freak of the imagination, or else
to be synonymous with their domestic welfare. Everything in history
was estimated, as in a counting-house, according to its practical
results; and no higher estimate placed on a house of correction, or a
threshing-machine, than on Alexander's adventurous expedition to India,
or the fruitless victory of Charles XII."

He does not exaggerate; poor Alexander the Great was ranked in
Sweden, by an inspired enlightener of the people, as far inferior
to that benefactor of mankind who invented the cheap and nutritious
Brunswick mum.[1] Tegnér's youthful conceptions of virtuous, useful
heroes now become modified by the prevailing controversies, and
are brought into harmony with the protest of the entire romantic
bent of his mind against the narrow-minded care for the welfare of
humanity as a main essential. Moral considerations give way before the
romantic-metaphysical adoration of the hero of fate.

    "Wherefore scorn me thus forever,
    Legions frail and transitory,
    Shorn of will, devoid of might?
    Catch the butterfly, but never
    Stay the eagle, crown'd with glory,
    As it seeks its mountain height.
       *   *   *   *   *   *
    "Ask the storm, amid its wailing,
    Ask the sky's majestic thunder,
    When earth quails 'neath its alarms,
    If the lily 'tis assailing;
    Tho' the grove be thrilled with wonder,
    If a loving pair it harms."

Thus he expresses himself in the poem entitled "Hjelten" (The Hero),
1813. These sentiments, to be sure, are far from being Tegnér's final
views. Accustomed as he was to gaze upward to individual personality
as the highest form of existence, he was only likely to be moved on
some special occasion and in a half defiant way to give vent to such
pantheistic notions as those in this poem. And, as a consciously
reflecting spirit, he was much rather inclined not to believe in
the unconscious than to overestimate it, making, for instance, a
large number of polemic attacks on the doctrine of a blind poetic
inspiration; yet his preference for the warlike stormy march of
progress was so deeply rooted in his heart that he did not recoil from
giving such bold expression to it as in the poem just cited.

Still more strongly than in the various lays to the honor of Napoleon,
does he express his contempt for material gain as the result of deeds
of heroism in his poem, "Alexander on the Hydaspes." The poet has
chosen the moment when the exhausted and dispirited troops implore the
great Alexander not to conduct them farther into Asia, but to lead his
army homeward. The king replies scornfully: "Do you think that I, as a
youth, came down from the Macedonian mountains to furnish you with gold
and purple raiment? I seek honor; honor alone and nothing else!"--a
reply which, in point of sharpness and precision, leaves nothing to be
desired. The disregard of human life and human happiness evinced by the
highly endowed and intrepid despot is represented as unconditionally

It is therefore very easy to understand how Charles XII., whom the
Swedish people, with justice, have never ceased to admire, could become
a hero without reproach to Tegnér. He scarcely even deems it a stain
upon Charles that, with all his brilliant qualities, he plunged Sweden
into such depths that it has never since been able to regain its place
among the great powers of Europe. It was no mere chance that it was
Tegnér, among all the poets of Sweden, who wrote the glorious poem on
this king, which, although composed merely as a poem for a special
occasion, became the national song of Sweden. An impractical rushing
into danger always fired his imagination; the stubbornness that, with
gaze fixed upon a self-written code of honor, despised prudent actions,
was in his eyes scarcely a fault, and consequently an indifference as
to whether a deed would lead to victory or destruction, if it were only
brilliant and noisy, was, in his estimation, a virtue.

"Northland's strength defies and never
Death can conquest from us sever,
For e'en should we fall at last,
Life in battle's sport was past,"[2]

are the words his "Gerda," in the epos of the same name, addresses to
Bishop Absalom.

The circumspection of the statesman and the lawgiver had no power
to rouse his enthusiasm; but he loved the royal youth "before whose
word the meshes of the statesman's wiles are rent asunder" (Tegnér's
"Charles XII."). The long-considered plans of the military commander
did not seem to him the true evidence of warlike genius; but he admired
beyond measure instantaneous inspiration on the battlefield, and the
courageous impetuosity which followed it.

This is apparent when Tegnér describes a hero so different from, and
so vastly superior to, Charles XII., as the Deliverer of Protestantism,
Gustavus Adolphus. What he commends in him is not so much his merits
as a political leader and warlike commander-in-chief, as it is the
qualities which place him, as much as possible, on a parallel with
a soldier-general like Charles XII. He lingers with enthusiasm over
the "sudden, lightning flashes of thought on the battlefield," which
characterized him, as "every other warrior-like genius." He extols
Gustavus because he loved danger for danger's sake, and delighted in
toying with death. In short, he holds fast to the narrow old Norse
measure of manliness, and endeavors to apply it even in cases where it
is far surpassed by genuine greatness. For instance, he considers it
almost ignominious in Wallenstein to have (for good reasons) declined
the battle that Gustavus, "his chivalrous opponent," offered him at

What gives this ideal of Tegnér its final _retouche_ is the candor he
demands of his heroes. His own honest and sturdy nature mirrors itself
therein. Of Wallenstein he says that he might have been called a great
man "had he been noble and candid." Magnanimity will not suffice;
candor is equally essential. The old Norse berserkers, in their martial
fervor, flung their shields on their backs, and this mode of action
found so much favor in Tegnér's eyes that he would gladly have seen it
transported to the intellectual battle-field. Indeed, frankness seemed
to him even a sort of guaranty for nobility of thought, and he regards
the former with more warmth than the latter; for in his derogatory
characterization of Wallenstein, he lays especial stress on his gloomy,
reserved nature, without charging him with a single really ignoble
trait. With him he contrasts Gustavus Adolphus, as the luminous, frank
nature, endowed with a candor which was less doubtful in Tegnér himself
than in the king who was, as a rule, retiring and little accessible.

Thus every form with which Tegnér's muse is occupied, receives a gentle
pressure which moulds it into the form of the ideal hero, ever hovering
before the poet's own mind.


Closely allied to the lyric inspiration with Tegnér is the supplemental
faculty which makes him witty in social intercourse, happy in epigram
and impromptu, prominent as a professor, remarkable as a letter writer,
orator and preacher, and beyond all else great in his metrical flow
of poetically constructed language; a faculty which cannot be called
outright a talent for rhetoric, but which provisionally, although
perhaps rather vaguely, might be designated, in his case, as the
intellectual faculty. His intellect was not the French _esprit_.
The latter, in its most characteristic form, as with Voltaire, is
pure understanding unadorned by imagery. The _esprit_ of Tegnér, on
the contrary, ran continually into imagery. He thought in figures,
consequently he spoke in figures. The gift of abstract thought was
lacking in him, indeed he was so wholly devoid of it that he did not
even believe in its results in others: metaphysics was to him an
abomination as a phantom of the brain, woven of threads which he could
not discern; dogmatics were his terror, as a tissue of absurdities,
to which his understanding could find no outlet. And he had a good,
healthy, self-reliant understanding which instinctively abhorred
all obscurity of thought and of speech. He had so lively an impulse
to render perceptible all that he thought and felt, that figure
after figure crowded upon him. It was this that gave his language
those electric flashes of sparkling light which so captivated his
contemporaries; it was this that rendered his epistolary style so
entertaining, and caused exasperated critics to compare his poetry
to gorgeous-colored empty soap-bubbles; it was this finally that
made him witty, for there is a certain kind of wit that depends
on the surprising succession of swiftly-dissolving images. This
intellectuality might be called the fruitfulness of form. The mood into
which he was transported by intellectual productiveness sprouted and
blossomed incessantly; it was only by way of exception that it could
project grand, wholly-completed images, or simple figures, formed of
a few main outlines, but it produced a continuous flow of miniature
figures which stood antithetically or contrastingly opposed to one
another, which glided one over the other, were united and transmitted
onward. His mind was loaded, revolver-like, with fancies, and they
followed one another in swift succession, shot after shot, all aimed at
the same point, striking surely, but each thrusting aside the one that
had preceded it. Idea and figure were not separated in his mind, nor
were their relations far-fetched, as Tegnér's opponents believed and
asserted; and yet they were not purely one and the same.

In his imagination, thought and figure were related in about the same
degree as the initial letters in the old monastic manuscripts were
related to the miniature paintings with which they were interwoven
and illuminated. If we call up before our mind's eye a manuscript in
which the overwhelming majority of characters, not single ones alone,
are thus illuminated, we can form a certain conception of the series
of harmonious associations of ideas and figures which Tegnér's brain
incessantly produced. Or if we recall one of those marble designs
from the early days of the Italian Renaissance, in which the artist
has executed at his pleasure small images on the larger statue, where
he has chiselled, for instance, on the helm fallen from the head of
Goliath, and lying at David's feet, a little bas-relief of a quadriga
in full galop, which forms, it is true, a part of the whole, but which,
owing to its loose connection with it, as well as to its independent
claims to consideration, dissipates the interest. If we think of a
poetic mind calculated to conceive such bas-reliefs, and of a diction
inclined to color these, we can form an approximately correct idea of
Tegnér's manner of treating his poetic motive. His style is a sort of
chromatic architecture and sculpture, and possesses the attractive
and the repellent qualities of both. Colored sculpture is generally
looked upon in our day as a species of barbarism; and yet the Greeks
have employed it, nor was it ever wholly discarded by them. It cannot
be called un-Grecian, and yet to most people in our day, it appears
tasteless and antiquated. Those poems and speeches in which Tegnér's
most characteristic manner stands forth with its utmost strength and
distinctness, may be compared to those Grecian and Roman statues that
produce quite as much effect through their exterior splendor as through
their ideal beauty. The goddesses had golden chains about their necks,
wore beautiful long veils, and ear-rings; they possessed a complete
wardrobe, and an entire casket of jewels. Precisely in the same way
have the jeweller and the artist worked together in Tegnér. In many
instances the result has been a successful and attractive whole, which
could be rejected by a pedant or a doctrinist alone. Not rarely,
however, the result has been an excessive exaggeration. A pamphleteer
of Tegnér's time (the witty Palmär), once censured this tendency in
words which suit the comparison just used. "Greet your muse," said he,
"and beg it not to overburden itself with metaphors, as is its wont.
These jewels, even when they are genuine, must be worn with moderation.
Let these trinkets be placed about the neck, in the ears, and on the
fingers, if you will, but--on the toes--fie, for shame!"

I can more accurately explain my meaning through examples. Mary, in
"Axel," resolves to follow the Russian army as a soldier.

              "Beneath a soldier's cap
    She hides away her ringlets, dark as night;
    In a buff vest her slender form is laced;
    Alas, for such fair form in such array!
    O'er shoulder, known by Grecian poet's song,
    Death's spy-glass, the dread carabine, is hung."[3]

The expression, "death's spy-glass," for the dread carabine, is
picturesque, and so far not bad; but none the less must it be said
that the figure is not altogether appropriate. Not only has it nothing
whatever to do with Mary's form, but it answers only to a gun in
general, not to the particular weapon on her shoulder; for this would
scarcely kill a Swede. Upon me this figure produces the same effect
as if I were to see on the margin of the text, a carefully executed
miniature of the dismal skeleton, with the scythe in one hand, and
holding the carabine to its eye with the other, in order to take aim.

In the "Children of the Lord's Supper," the old priest beseeches the
children he is about to confirm, to choose prayer and innocence as the
guides of their lives. Both are personified with a few strokes, and
then the figure is engraved in a small biblical relief, of the kind
that is seen in Italy on the bronze doors of churches and baptisteries.

    "Innocence, child beloved, is a guest from the world of the blessed;
    Beautiful, and in her hand a lily; on life's roaring billows
    Swings she in safety; she heedeth them not, in the ship she is

Or an example may be taken from Tegnér's epistolary style. He waxes
eloquent (1817) against the European reaction. "Gaze at the signs
of the times from the North, and from the South! Do you know any
vulgarity, any barbarism, any insane prejudice their regeneration
does not promise? The serpent of time often sheds its skin; but more
perverse than at this precise moment, it has never been, as far
as history extends, even though it hissed nothing but hymns, and
though its back were as completely covered with biblical texts as a
tombstone." Is there not in this energetic but thoroughly unaffected
effort at clear perception, something that reminds us of chromatic
sculpture. Do we not see before us, in due form, the serpent of time,
with its red outlines; and does not its back, all covered with peculiar
ciphers, look like the image of a god, in the shape of a beast, covered
with hieroglyphics, or tile inscriptions, on some ancient Assyrian or
Egyptian wall? And when finally the similitudes are read with which
Tegnér, in "Fridthjof," endeavors to paint female beauty, can it not
readily be comprehended why attention should be called to the hard
metallic glow of the coloring of an antique idol?

    "The bards praise Gerda's fair cheeks too high,
    Fresh snows which playful north-lights dye!
    I cheeks have seen whose daylights clear,
    Two dawnings blushing in one sphere."[5]

It would be unjust to cite this last stanza as an adequate specimen of
Tegnér's picturesque method; nevertheless there is something typical
in it. Most of the similitudes produced by the fancy of Tegnér, so far
exceed the brilliancy of nature, that to me they appear very much the
same as the image he makes his Ingeborg weave of Fridthjofs falcon:--

    "Here on his hand,
    Work I thy form on the cloth's broad band;
    Pinions of silver, and glowing
    Gold talons sewing."[6]

With a predilection of this kind, something conventional and stiff can
scarcely be avoided. The inclination to transform every idea into a
figure beguiles Tegnér, in uninspired moments, into a common-place use
of once-applied similes, which keep recurring in an almost stereotyped
way. Thus he has (merely to keep to the birds) a few bird forms which
he never wearies of dragging in eagle, nightingale, and dove. They
stand as equivalents for strength, poetry, and piety. The eagle used
for this purpose by Tegnér retains no more of the nature of the real
eagle than may be seen in the eagles that adorn royal escutcheons;
Tegnér's eagle is purely heraldic. In his poetry may be found lines
like these: "Alas! poor Psyche, fly as she will, on earth she is but an
eagle with butterfly's pinions"; or similes like the following: "Within
her throat a nightingale she carried, and a snow-white dove by night
and by day did linger in her bosom." An eagle with butterfly pinions
is a creature totally contrary to nature, and when a nightingale is
firmly fixed in a female throat, it does not exactly contribute to the
perspicuity of the thought.

In his address on entering the Swedish Academy, he defends himself
figurative language. He emphatically pronounces it to be the aim of
poetry to offer images, not ideas, to the imagination, and considers it
the character of language to be a gallery of faded pictures which the
poet must of necessity revive. In this he is far from wrong, although
he would have done well to take to heart the truly Hellenic remark once
made by the Grecian poetess Corinne to Pindar, that "seeds should be
sown with the hand, not with the sack." Fortunately for him the main
lack of his poetic endowment, the peculiar mingling of poverty and
prodigality, was so popular in its nature that, in his country and at
his time, it tended to smooth the path to fame rather than to obstruct


Tegnér was born about the middle of the reign of Gustavus III. The
assassination took place when he was ten years old; consequently he,
who in later years was so fond of styling himself a Gustavian, had
childish reminiscences alone of that period, and no other personal
impressions of the character of Gustavus than those gained at second
hand from a legend, embellished or idealized by tender hands. Even
this was scarcely needed to make the period seem like one of rare
brilliancy, in comparison with the leaden epoch which followed.
Gustavus III. was a man of great energy, endowed with remarkable
talents, unusual virtues, and dazzling vices; he was a vain despot, yet
had an enlightened mind; he was one of the many crowned followers of
Voltaire that were the product of the eighteenth century; he was full
of superstition and yet a free-thinker, frivolous yet intellectual,
in matters of trifling import displaying a petty spirit, but having
traits of true greatness; he was brave, magnanimous, a hero of the
stage, with genuine courage in his breast. During his whole life he
attracted about him, through the magic of his mental powers, all the
gifted literary men of his land, especially the poets, who saw in
him a colleague; not one of them could boast so distinctly marked a
dramatic talent as his. Thus it was that for a long time he imprinted
upon the manners, the forms of speech, the literature of Sweden, the
stamp of an exquisitely refined, light, frivolous culture; and it is
the conversational tone of his day that invested Tegnér's letters, even
in the reign of Charles John (Bernadotte), with their grace and their
soaring flights of fancy. His was a form that had remained fixed in
history, like one of Bernini's admirable statues; full of mannerism,
coquettish, affected, if you will, with airily rustling drapery, but
presenting an attitude that was bold and unflinching, and producing an
impression of the most profound significance. Nor could this be denied,
however little satisfaction might be taken in the figure. And what had
come after him? First, the regency of the brother of Gustavus, the
duke of Södermanland, which embraces the period from Tegnér's tenth to
his fourteenth year. The regent, a wretched imbecile, who had grown
prematurely gray in the service of Venus, and who was well adapted to
be the prey of every Phryne and every Cagliostro, was wholly governed
by his favorite Reuterholm, who represented the type of brutal and
incompetent passion for rule. Not from love of freedom, but simply
as an indirect way of censuring the murdered king, these empty-pated
men introduced freedom of the press into Sweden, and, without any
preparation or gradual transition, all the inflammatory writings of the
French Revolution now flooded the land. The long-continued ignorance
concerning what was transpiring in France and throughout Europe was
followed by a tumultuous and immature enthusiasm for freedom. During
the reign of Gustavus the word republican was still synonymous with the
word philosopher; so that in the year 1789 a courtier like Rosenstein
could commend his nephew to the king by stating that the young man,
although somewhat infected with republican views, had kept these so
well within bounds that they "only served to increase his love for
his _king,_ his fatherland, and honor." Later, as contrasted with the
pitiful wreck on the throne, the word became invested with a more
accurate significance. With eager suspense the people followed the
defensive war of the French Republic; its victory was decisive for
public opinion; the peaceful citizens of the small towns of Sweden
spoke in the same tone as the extreme left of the French convention.

No sooner had that misfortune occurred than the freedom of the
press, established half a year earlier with so much false pathos,
was abolished, and throughout Sweden the persecution of Jacobinism
became rife; even the loyal Swedish Academy, because it voted against
admitting to its membership the totally uncultured favorite of the
regent, was treated as a Jacobin club, and closed.

An act of baseness of the worst sort caused contempt to reach its
climax. The conspiracy of Armfelt, the Swedish Alcibiades, was
discovered, and the duke-regent endeavored to avail himself of this
opportunity to make the fair young Mlle. Rudenskjöld, one of the
ornaments of the court, cruelly atone for the obstinacy with which she
had rejected the gallant propositions of the aged married libertine.
Intercepted letters furnishing proofs that Armfelt had been her lover,
she was arrested, and accused of being a participator in his crime; but
when the duke, through his chancellor, judicially ordered her to be
whipped on the public market-place for her immorality, the exasperated
populace branded him with so deep a stigma that it could neither be
effaced by time, nor covered with the white hairs of old age; not
even the deportment of Bernadotte toward Charles XIII., with its wily
assumption of simplicity, could bury it in oblivion.

While all these events were taking place, Tegnér was still too young to
be able to enter into or understand them; but the after effects on his
mind were profound and strong. No remote corner of the land was too far
distant to be reached by the sparks from the crater of the revolution;
no youth, whose intelligence had once been aroused, was so absorbed in
his studies that he escaped hearing outbursts of contempt for royalty
and government, which he at once applied to his own land. Persecuted
"Enlightenment" became a magic, a beloved word to every youth. The
Swedish Academy, which under other circumstances might readily have
become an object of his displeasure, simply as an academy, as an
official and antiquated institution for the gilding of mediocrity, very
early appeared to Tegnér as a knightguard of the light, the worth of
which had been fully tested. The prevailing revolutionary spirit had
no power over his harmonious soul, and only led him to the conditional
royalism which is revealed throughout his writings. He was in favor of
royalty when the king was worthy of his throne, not otherwise.

In the year 1796 the regency came to an end, and from that time until
1809 (that is, from Tegnér's fourteenth to his twenty-seventh year),
Gustavus (IV.) Adolphus reigned as king. Pedantically honorable,
rigidly grave, rigorously frugal as this monarch was, he could not but
produce, when he first appeared upon the stage, a pleasing contrast to
his uncle. It soon became apparent, however, that this youthful form
was wholly unnational. The physiognomy proved to be rather Spanish
than Swedish. Gustavus IV. bears a striking resemblance to the type
of regents of the Spanish decadence, with character modelled after
the great, lamentable shadow of Philip II., who held sway in Madrid
so long after his death. The same petty adherence to etiquette, the
same haughty gloom, the same awkward formality, the same melancholy
piety, combined with fanatic faith in royalty by the grace of God.
The court which, ten years earlier, had presented the appearance of
a festal painting by Watteau, was now as quiet and as ceremonious
as the Spanish court under Charles II., and even the great Philip
could not have punished the crime of lèse-majesty with more severity
than Gustavus, the fault of neglecting to raise the hat in the street
to him. In Rosenstein he had had a noble tutor, with a thoroughly
independent mind. Gustavus III. had permitted this most honorable
instructor to have full sway. "Rosenstein has my full consent to
educate my son as a philosopher," said he; "the boy will be a royalist
as soon as he ascends the throne." This father, as a matter of course,
was in nowise responsible for that inflexible faith in revealed
religion which allowed his son to read in the Apocalypse prophecies
concerning his own destiny. The fact was, the reaction with which, amid
the fitful changes of the century, the air was everywhere freighted,
had stolen through secret by-paths into the mind of the crown prince,
and had completely overpowered it. The frivolity of the father, to
be sure, had served as a warning, and had given the first backward
impulse; the murder of the father gave the second. Soon Gustavus IV.
had gone farther in his ever-present consciousness of majesty than
any Bourbon. He forbade the daily papers to use the pronoun "we" in
such applications as, "We are waiting with impatience for news," "We
have had a severe winter," because this seemed to him equivalent to
an encroachment on that royal prerogative which is known as _Pluralis
majestatis._ All the publications that appeared in the land were
subjected by his orders to the strictest supervision; and personally he
cherished so great a horror of books that he burst into loud utterances
of delight whenever he heard that a printing-house had failed. He
himself never read anything except his Bible and the regulation work on
military tactics.

And this was the king, who, in the foolish war against Napoleon, never
rested until he had lost Stralsund and Rügen, and whose insane war
against Russia led to the definite conquest of all Finland by a Russian
army. Runeberg in his poem "The King" in "Fänrik (Ensign) Staal," has
erected for Gustavus IV. the monument he deserved. In the year 1809 a
couple of courageous officers compelled him to abdicate the throne.
The duke of Södermanland followed him as Charles XIII., and it was
shortly afterward, when the adopted son of the latter died, that the
French party in Sweden, through a mistaken idea of pleasing Napoleon
and the illusory hope of thus winning back Finland, had Bernadotte
chosen crown prince. His form emerged in a brilliant light from the
gloomy background of the shadows of his predecessors. During a period
of thirty-three years, the celebrated commander-in-chief guided the
politics of Sweden; and this king whose reign is contemporaneous with
Tegnér's most vigorous years, shares with Tegnér the honor of having
given the name to the generation he ruled over. The period from 1810 to
1840 belongs to Charles John, and to Tegnér.

Such are the pictures of the rulers who at that time, one after
another, imprinted their physiognomies on Sweden, and whose profiles
are stamped on the coins that passed through the fingers of Tegnér when
he was a child, a clerk, a student, and a _magister._


Tegnér is instructor (docent) at the University of Lund; he is
twenty-two years old, and is passing his summer vacation on the Rämen
estate in the Myhrmann family, with whose youngest daughter, Anna, he
is betrothed.

Here one day in September there appears, on a visit, the afterward so
celebrated historian and poet, Erik Gustav Geijer, a young man of
Tegnér's own age, who is freighted with the latest wisdom of the day,
and bubbling over with a youthful impulse to impart and discuss his
ideas. He makes attempt after attempt to approach Tegnér, but fails to
find common ground on which they can meet. The slender son-in-law elect
of the house is variable and full of moods, an enamored dreamer, a
laughing mocker. There is a glitter of merriment in his eyes, his words
are flashes of lightning. It is no more possible to follow the channel
of his thoughts than the course of the sunbeam through the foliage.
The two young people are taking a walk together and have entered into
a discussion on the way. Let us listen to what they are saying. The
leader of the conversation is Geijer, who asks,--

"What Tegnér really thinks of the civilization of this locality? If he
does not believe that all the so-called popular enlightenment is an
evil? He, Geijer, looks on the sound reason of the masses as the most
unfortunate delusion that it could ever occur to any one to venerate.
Only the chosen ones of humanity had the higher sense which enabled
them to grasp science in its full truth. Was not that the opinion also
of the _Herr Docent?_"

"No, not by any means; he would call that mysticism."

"Mysticism! What did Tegnér understand by mysticism?"

"Well, to lie flat on one's back, to take a little nap and allow one's
self to be shadowed by the power of the Most High."

"Seriously speaking, did Tegnér admit of no intellectual intuition?"

"No, he cared nothing for the Teutonic mania--but he cared all the more
for blueberries;" and just here there were growing some most excellent
ones in the enjoyment of which he became profoundly absorbed:
"Moreover, he did not doubt that Geijer understood the matter better
than he did; he (Tegnér) had always heard Geijer called a genius, and
such people only could meddle with philosophy. He, for his part, who
knew of himself that no more reason than was absolutely necessary
to carry him through the world had fallen to his lot, was not very
fond of playing blindman's-buff, except with pretty young girls, and
enjoyed least of all to do it with such learned gentlemen as Kant and

"But without mysteries and without mysticism there was no religion."

"Did Geijer recognize the faculty in Lund, or not? This honorable body
of pedants had accorded to him, Tegnér, the well-merited testimony
that he led a quiet, God-fearing life, something that in these latter
days was rare enough. On the other hand, so far as the dogma deemed
so highly essential to salvation, the doctrine of the Trinity, was
concerned, it was wholly beyond his intellectual horizon."

"Nevertheless, it could very easily be explained. There was no
contradiction in the idea of the Trinity; for the antithesis already
presupposed unity. God as the absolute being was not created, but had
been from all eternity, and yet, must be conceived as an existing
Being, for He is the creator of all things, and is in all things. The
simple solution of this seeming contradiction was, that the parts which
mutually presupposed one another were in reality one; the Redeemer
and the Father, speculatively comprehended, were one, although not a
unit.... Was not that clear to every nobly born mind?"

Tegnér, who was quite lost in the contemplation of the gambols of a
wagtail, replied absently, "That he did not recognize the privileges of

"In what sense not? Geijer, in the highest degree, advocated hereditary

"And I," replied his opponent, his mouth full of blueberries, "I was
always, from childhood up, a bit of a Jacobin."

This word had, as already indicated, a less terror-inspiring
significance in Sweden than in France, apart from the fact that from
Tegnér's lips it came half as a jest. But in the jest there lay the
earnest verity that he belonged to the honest friends of freedom in
civil life and in thought, who had not been intimidated by the bloody
deeds of the Revolution. With genuine horror he had perceived, in
the beginning of the century, the approach from the South of the
religio-political reaction in Sweden, and it was as yet an unenrolled
soldier in the army of the civilization of enlightenment that here ran
against one of the first and farthest removed outposts of romantic

Tegnér, in common with all the prominent men whose youth fell at the
close of the eighteenth century, came into the world early enough to
steer out into life with sails inflated by the great cosmopolitan
wind of freedom, then sweeping over the earth. His earliest reading
was the Gustavian classics of Sweden, which were based on Locke, so
far as their philosophy was concerned, and on Voltaire in regard to
their literary tendencies. Both Kellgren and Leopold were disciples of
Voltaire, and both were political liberals, who did not even attempt to
conceal their convictions at court. They were careful not to wound the
religious sentiments of the multitude by scoffing; but they cherished
all the traditions of the century, and fought in their behalf a
brilliant fight. Kellgren's satiric poem, "The Enemies of Light," was a
banner. In the same direction as the poetry of these men, only fraught
with even more poetic fruitfulness, Schiller's influence guided young
Tegnér. On the boundary line of youth, like Schiller, he celebrates
enlightenment in a poem on Rousseau, and he writes reflective verses,
in the spirit of the times, on such themes as religion, culture, and

Neither family tradition nor the force of education led the priest's
son to opposition to Christian dogmas. Together with all the rest of
his intellectually awakened contemporaries he had received, when yet a
boy, the cold douche of Voltaire. When sixteen years old he wrote: "I
am now reading Voltaire; but I do not see how I can get through even
the most important and most essential parts. It is all admirable, and
it is difficult to choose among so many beauties." Most of the young
men of his day who had entertained similar presumptions, were quickly
borne by the altered spirit of the times to religious conservatism. For
this Tegnér was too honest and too great. What insured him from losing
his independence in religious matters was that vigorous element of his
being, called by himself the pagan element, that was the natural result
of the solid structure and the genuine steadfastness of his character.
Two classes of men about him were swept onward in the reaction against
the eighteenth century, with such force that they were borne by it to
orthodoxy, and to feudalism. One class was composed of authors whose
natures were inclined to run through the whole scale of the emotions of
the Middle Ages, that is,--rather in fancy than in reality,--to give
way to contrition and self-contempt in order to be uplifted by the
supernatural aid of grace to everlasting bliss, and whose poetry was
distinguished by an excess of nervous excitability of all forms,--by
mystic Platonic devotion, sighing, melancholy, intensely sensual
erotic tenderness, alarming arrogance. This class formed the romantic
phalanx proper, called in Sweden the Phosphorists. The characteristics
mentioned are apparent in an unequal degree in Atterbom, Stagnelius,
Hammerskjöld, etc., but are found in all. The second class of men had
broader shoulders and healthier spirits; they were historic enthusiasts
who had been blinded by the national sentiment, by the love of the
faith and the institutions of the past, to all that was just and great
in the criticism of the preceding century; such men as Geijer, and the
Gothic union of Upsala, whose centre he was, and to whose national
efforts Tegnér lent his aid without entering into either the religious
or the political sympathies and doctrines of the society.

The pagan element that Tegnér discovered in his own nature, derived
its nourishment from two sources in his earliest studies; first from
his relations to northern antiquities, and second from his devotion
to Greek poetry. In a letter of 1825, he wrote: "A certain spiritual
kinship with our barbaric ancestors, which no culture can wipe out,
always impelled me to turn back to their grotesque but magnificent
forms." What he especially had in mind when he referred to this
spiritual kinship was that wilfulness of the ancient Norseman which
betrayed itself in his case in a challenging manner, and in that
tendency to melancholy which had been one of the characteristics of the
ancients. In Tegnér it was not revealed by romantic lamentations, but
by a grave and sometimes gloomy temperament, which, after his fortieth
year found such abundant food that it degenerated into weariness of
life and contempt for humanity. The poetic symbol for this Titanic
element in his composition, for gigantic strength of nature, for inner
unrest beneath the weight of a mighty pressure, he sought now among the
Scandinavians, now among the Grecians; and thus the old Norse and the
old Greek mythology became blended in his fancy. The old Norse giant
speaks to him in the same way as Goethe's Prometheus:--

    "I hate the radiant Asas
    And Ask's fair children,
    Who bow before the Gods
    That I despise."

And his lament, "The Age of the Asas" (Asatiden), is so nearly allied
to Schiller's "Gods of Greece" that the poet must unquestionably have
derived his ideas from this poem.

    "Ye lofty mem'ries, engraved on historic page,
      Like empty harness that no one can wear, all lonely;
    With shrinking awe ye're viewed by this trifling age,
      For hero life in the North is a saga only.

    "Sleep calmly, thou Past! In vain would I dun to-day
      Drag forth thy deeds from their graves as some rusty token;
    Here strangers only to unknown gods now pray,
      The sinews of song and the blade of action lie broken."

Here, too, Norse and Greek paganism are blended in the author's memory.

In fact, the pagan element in Tegnér's composition first attained
its higher consecration when he became acquainted with old Hellenic
literature. In it he found a pre-Christian culture, which gained its
climax in propitiatory beauty, not in defiant personal struggles. He
saw in it human nature rounded and polished in a manner that was at
once poetic and religious. Viewed from the standpoint of this world
of beauty, that supernatural element which had waged such passionate
warfare against the past century, no longer rose offensively before the
mind, but rather fell away as superfluous. Tegnér's deism overshadowed
his polemic tendency, and assumed the form of a Hellenic adoration
of reason and beauty. The purely human element, which had been the
source of beauty in Grecian poetry, soon became in his eyes the
essential poetic element, and this is the reason why throughout his
life he refused to recognize devotional poetry as true poesy. This
was made manifest on sundry occasions, as, for instance, in reference
to the poetic writings of Franzén. In 1823, he writes to Brinkman of
Franzén: "But the beautiful rests finally on the rational, precisely
as the dome, no matter how high it may arch, has its invisible points
of support in the temple walls. But the temple walls of our dear
Franzén are a trifle too well adorned with crucifixes which obscure
the impression." Of the "Columbus" of the same poet, he writes nine
years later, after he is bishop, therefore: "How much nearer to the
heart would be a fresher and more vigorous romantic tone, without
legends, without attempts at Conversion, and without missionaries. I
hate, God forgive me! the pious tone in life as well as in poetry,"
and with a significance closely allied to this, he expresses himself
in his last years (1840) in regard to a little volume of poetry: "Such
excess of piety always appears to me, poor heathen, a trifle sickly
and dull." For this reason, also, quite contrary to the custom of the
priesthood, he passionately protested to Adlersparre against allowing
the unchristian traits in the great modern heroes of genius, such as
Goethe or Byron, to be effaced. His open, thoroughly honest nature was
immediately on its guard against pious frauds.

Poetry in and for itself seemed to him a power of a religious nature;
or more accurately speaking, he called poesy the highest, purest, most
human expression of humanity, and all else that we are in the habit of
revering as high and noble, he pronounced mere modifications of poetry.
Religion itself is to him "a practical poesy, a branch of the great
parent stem of poetry, engrafted on the tree of life." In other words,
religion is a poesy which is believed; its dogmatic part, therefore,
forms a metaphysical poem, whose value depends on the worth of the
practical teachings that can be evolved from it,--an inference which
Tegnér, it is true, never draws without a proviso, but which can always
be read between the lines in his writings.

With all the more freedom from reserve he has given voice to his
unprejudiced humanism in expressions of sympathy for purely human
greatness, and for those pagan virtues which are condemned by the
church fathers as vices. To Geijer who, to be sure, was not strictly
orthodox, but who was an unconditional believer in divine revelation,
he wrote in the year 1821: "As concerns your opinion that a special
revelation, Christianity, for instance, is theoretically necessary
to the human mind, I must say a doubt may be entertained. It were
difficult to explain why the highest human development, the actual
years of jubilee of our race, should have occurred in the south, as
well as in the north, before the name of Christianity was ever heard.
Let us thank God for our purer faith, but do not let us forget that the
records of the nobility of the human race are full of pagan names."
Whenever Tegnér desires to glorify a character, he does not rest until
he has shown a side from which it appears truly Grecian or Roman. In
order to place this unconscious, purely instinctive effort in the
sharpest light, I choose two examples where he has depicted heroes of
the Christian faith as champions of the days of antiquity, and later
arrives at the conclusion that, owing to preconceived sympathies, he
has erred. In his reformation speech, he had incorporated in the person
of Luther everything that the champions of classic culture of that day,
an Ulrich von Hutten or a Franz von Sickingen, had fought for and
gained. Seven years later, when forced by his official position to more
emphatic historic-theological studies, he writes in deep dejection:
"The lofty conceptions which I cherished in former times, regarding
Luther and the reformation, are greatly modified. How many Luthers
are not yet needed?" In his Festival speech of 1832, he had said of
Gustavus Adolphus that his was "a heroic nature of the great and purely
human stamp of which Greece and Rome had presented so many prototypes,"
and these words, as a whole series of epistolary passages testify,
were chosen with a polemic design, because he knew that the other
orators would represent the king essentially as a theologian in armor,
and a "martyr of the concordance book." Five years later he himself
writes concerning Gustavus Adolphus: "To the height of the now current
cosmopolitan ideas, he was, to be sure, wholly incapable of soaring; as
a forerunner of a new epoch he can scarcely be considered. The freedom
of thought for which he did combat was nothing else than freedom of
conscience, and it is very doubtful if Protestantism ever presented
itself to him from any point of view but the purely theological." More
profound investigation had in this instance, too, brought the honest
poet to renounce the position he had once assumed. But this repeated
withdrawal from an audacious, yet passionately maintained attempt to
find the purely human, the colossal pagan element, in all heroes,--as
though they were every one cast in a perfect mould,--even in those
about whose brow orthodoxy had so firmly laid its iron ring, that no
room remained for Tegnér's free Grecian laurel wreath, conclusively
manifests how vigorously a free classic humanitarianism had penetrated
through every pore into the poet's soul.

He had begun by intense admiration for all that was knightly,
adventurous, or defiant, for honor, as such alone, with all its tinsel.
In this enthusiasm, which he never lost, his feelings were those of a
child of nature and a child of his people. "For," declares Tegnér's
poem to Charles John (Karl Johann), "beyond all else in the Swedish
mind stands honor, true or false, it matters not; it still lives in
the memory." Tegnér is not only a child of nature, however; he is also
a child of history, and history places him between the enlightenment
period of the eighteenth, and the religious reaction of the beginning
of the nineteenth century. He follows neither. With vigorous
individuality he makes his choice among the elements of culture that
are offered to him, until an independent mode of contemplation of
human life, especially the relations between religion and poetry, is
formed in his mind; and we see him, with his warm poetic temperament,
rousing himself to involuntary, and often fruitless, efforts to bring
reality into harmony with the great humanist ideal in which his method
of contemplation finds its outlet. What injustice Runeberg did Tegnér
when, in the year 1832, he wrote: "In him scarcely the glimmer of
an ideal can be seen, indeed, not so much as an inner struggle that
allows us to detect any traces of a dim foreboding that there is such
a thing." Forty-four years later, the great Finnish rival of Tegnér
indicated in a footnote that this assertion now seemed to him almost
too presumptuous, but this was not enough; it would have been a simple
act of justice had he contradicted his former statement.


From Tegnér's humanistic contemplation of the world followed, with
inner consistency, the political standpoint he took during the first
fifty years of his life, and from his combined religious and political
views followed, of a necessity, his literary party-standpoint.

He was not, like the majority of the poetic minds in Germany and
Denmark of that day (a Tieck, an A. W. Schlegel, an Oehlenschläger, a
Heiberg), indifferent to politics. While, for instance, a phenomenon
like the holy alliance scarcely embittered an hour of the lives of the
poets just named, the letters of Tegnér overflow with an indignation
and a scorn at this confederation of rulers, which can only be
distinguished from similar emotions of Byron by the fact that the proud
and independent Englishman gave public expression to his wrath in great
works of poetry, whose plain language lashed the despots of Europe with
scorpions, while the civil officer and professor at Lund was obliged
to confine himself chiefly to private outbursts of indignation: yet
not altogether. Throughout his entire youth, his political sentiments
find voice in fugitive poems, and even though they do not occupy much
space in his poetry, their significance can scarcely be estimated
highly enough; for it was the seething, fermenting element in his soul
that gave breadth to it, and prevented Tegnér from being made petty
by the petty circumstances amid which fate had cast his lot. Had not
the politics of Sweden and of Europe thrown his mind into a continual
state of oscillation between indignation and enthusiasm, his poems
would never have attained the grandeur of style which occasioned their
transmission beyond the borders of their native land.

His first political poems owed their origin to Sweden's debasement
under Gustavus IV. So it is with that "Svea," in which he writes:--

    "O Finland, home of truth! O Ehrensvärd's[7] monument!
    So lately like a bloody shield from Sweden's bosom rent!
    A monarch rules our fens, whose name is scarcely known,
    And where our herds once grazed stands now the stranger's

Yet very early the poet's gaze turned from the special concerns of his
fatherland to the world's politics. The fanatic hatred of Gustavus IV.
for Napoleon had evoked in the youthful soul of Tegnér only admiration
for the hated emperor; the alliance of Bernadotte with the armies in
league against Napoleon had no power to break the sympathy of the poet;
and while the romantic school, as early as 1813, allowed itself to
be transported to such outbursts of joy over the deeds of the crown
prince as: "In Charles John's footsteps walks Sweden's angel," or the
following absurd panegyric concerning the French-speaking Gascon: "At
the head of the army flashes Thor, with his mighty, luminous hammer,
and Charles John the god of thunder is called," Tegnér devoted a series
of poems to the defence of the revolutionary element in the mission of
Napoleon. At the final downfall of the latter he wrote that bitter and
severe poem, inspired by despair at the triumph of the reaction, "The
New Year, 1816." Hearken to its energetic finale:--

    "Huzzah! religion is Jesuit hight
    And Jacobin every human claim;
    The world is free and the raven is white;
    Long life to the Pope and him we'll not name!
    I'll go to Germany, famed in story,
    There sonnets I'll write to our age's glory.

    "Thou'rt welcome, New Year, with thy lies and deceit,
    Thy mysteries, murders, and dubious worth!
    A ball from thy arquebus now would be sweet,
    I trust thou wilt fire on our earth.
    Her brain is aglow, she is restless and dreary,
    One shot, and she need no longer be weary."

This public expression of opinion strictly corresponds to Tegnér's
private letters of the same period. In 1813 he writes:--"Whoever
fancies that Europe can be free helped by Russians and their consorts,
or that the success of the Cossacks is of advantage to Sweden, may
be right, but his views and mine widely differ. I was born and I
grew up in hatred of the barbarians, and I hope, too, to die in the
same frame of mind, untainted by modern sophistry." In 1814 he gives
vent to still greater dejection, as follows: "Who can believe in the
restoration of European equilibrium; or rejoice at the victory of
absolute worthlessness over power and genius?" In 1817, finally, with
marvellous accuracy, he characterizes the spiritual reaction, in the
following words: "Politics is the main essential; the inner revolution
of the tendency of thought is on the whole political; the religious
and scientific transformations we are experiencing, are both more or
less chance results and reactionary processes, and are, therefore,
without significance or permanence. When the masonry of a house is
completed, the scaffolding falls away. It is true that these results at
the first glance appear serious enough; but does not their exaggerated
and caricature-like nature, the hair-splitting tendency of science, and
the monastic flavor of religion, betray conclusively that they are
merely a reaction against the former practical and freethinking spirit?
Does it not seem now as though people were both profound and pious out
of spite, and because twenty years ago it was deemed boorish to be
either? ... The most important thing of all would doubtless be a change
of base in religious dogmas, for religious movements when genuine, are
also practical; but what reason have we to conclude that such a change
exists among the majority, except as a fashion and a grimace, and with
many perhaps from still worse motives?"

Meanwhile, this reaction had most emphatically made its appearance on
Sweden's own soil. In opposition to the old Franco-Swedish tendency
in literature, represented by the Swedish Academy, the "Phosphorists"
proclaimed, in all essentials, the principles of the German romantic
school; metaphysical proofs were furnished of the mysteries of
Christianity, the period of enlightenment was derided, the academy
was treated as an assembly of old powdered periwig blocks, and the
advocates of Alexandrines were pursued with sonnets. As for the rest,
there was the Madonna and the Calderon worship, incense was burned at
the altars of Schlegel and Tieck, contempt for Schiller and enthusiasm
for the kingdom by the grace of God, were the fashion.

When Charles John assumed the reins of government, he, "the Republican
on the throne," as he was at first called, the marshal of Napoleon,
with all the traditions of the Revolution behind him, could not
possibly feel warranted in entering into closer relations with the
men of the new school. They manifested _trop de zèle_; they did not
recognize the sovereignty of the people, by which both himself and his
dynasty must be supported; they had their friends abroad in the camp,
where endeavors were made for the restoration of the old legitimist
royal family to the European throne. The adherents to the romantic
school naturally desired nothing more ardently than to convince the
king that his doubts of their loyalty were wholly groundless. Count
Fleming, in order to prove the harmlessness of the young school,
translated into French for the king, an essay by Geijer. The king
declared that he did not understand it. "What is the true meaning of
this new school?" he asked. A courtier replied: "Nothing in the world,
your majesty, but this: when you ask any one in the old school, what
is two and two, he will answer, four; but if you ask a person in the
new school, his answer will be, it is the square root of sixteen, or a
tenth of forty, or something else that requires a little reflection."
"That is precisely what I thought," said Charles John. Atterbom was
appointed instructor in German literature to Prince Oscar; Geijer
filled precisely the same place to Charles John that Chateaubriand at
one time held toward Napoleon I. Ere long the unhappy influence of
the conservative youth of the _doctrinaire_ party became apparent.
The reactionary elements of society made use of the doctrines of this
party, and soon there arose in Sweden a bold and powerful reaction,
which, the moment it became apparent at court, frightened Charles John
from further attempts at reform, and drove him into paths which were in
disharmony with the previous course of his life. He was, for instance,
most unfavorably inclined at first to hereditary nobility, all the more
so because the earliest parliamentary opposition to his government had
proceeded from the nobility, but after his alliance with Geijer and
his comrades, he even wished to force a hereditary nobility on Norway,
where all aristocracy had long been abolished.

Under these circumstances, Tegnér felt himself, as it were, a member
of the great European opposition. He pronounces the holy "Mohammedan"
alliance to be a stillborn embryo, "whose burial on the gallows-hill
he had every hopes of living to see;" he calls the politics of the
period "infernal"; he writes to Franzén: "Concerning European politics
of the present day, no honest man, not even a German, can express
himself without a sense of shame and horror. In poetry it can be at
best but the object of a Juvenal satire. To name the truly diabolical
tendency of the obscurantism of the day, whenever there is a question
of anything noble or great, whether it be in verse or in prose, may
be designated a bitter irony." In the politics of the interior, he
demands ministerial responsibility, equality before the law, the right
of voting supplies, parliamentary representation,--in short, the usual
programme of the opposition in liberal Europe. Such were the views
to which he gave publicity in his great speech at the marriage of
Prince Oscar, in 1823,--a noble wine served in polished crystal. In
modern times, according to his conception of affairs, two powers were
confronting each other,--personal merit, which had no other support
than itself, and inherited rank; a plebeian and a patrician principle.
This contrast had appeared in its sharpest form during the struggle
between the despotism that arose from the Revolution, and that which
came from the legitimists. Tegnér calls attention to the fact that the
prince's young bride, who had but shortly before landed in Sweden,
combined through her birth the two contending elements, and thus, as
it were, united the past with the present. For her father (the son
of the Empress Josephine, Eugène Beauharnais), "like so many other
distinguished men, was a son of his own deeds, whose pedigree was an
outgrowth of his sword," and on the maternal side she was descended
from one of the oldest princely families of Europe (the mother of the
bride was Amalie of Bavaria, of the house of Wittelsbach).

It does not occur to me to see in this attempt to symbolize the
origin of the august lady anything more or less than a well-planned,
well-expressed compliment. But from the lips of Tegnér it is
interesting; for to him this marriage between the son of the general
of the Revolution and the daughter of ancient royalty had a profound
significance. At the time when he made this speech, he was engaged in
writing a poem designed to end with a similar reconciliatory union,
in the long-delayed marriage between the son of a peasant, Fridthjof
--who, through his deeds of valor, had fought his way up to equal rank
with the most renowned of heroes--and the king's daughter, Ingeborg,
who traced her origin to the gods of Valhal, and whose brothers,
in their princely arrogance, had denied Fridthjof her hand. In
"Fridthjof's Saga," the same two principles--that of personal merit and
that of the nobility of birth--form the two poles through which passes
the axis of the poem. Even in the second canto of this poem, where the
friendship between King Bele and Thorstein, Viking's son, is described,
the ancient yeoman says:--

    "Obey the king. With force and skill
    Shall one the sceptre sway."[8]

and the aged king on the other hand tells of that

    "Warrior-might which always more
    Was prized than royal birth."[9]

In the last canto the aged priest of Balder exclaims:--

    "Thou hatest Bele's sons! but wherefore hate them?
    Forsooth, because that to a yeoman's child
    They would not give their sister,--she, descended
    From Seming's blood, th' illustrious Odin's offspring!
    Yes, sprung from Valhal's throne is Bele's race,--
    Bright genealogy, just source of pride!
    But birth is chance, is fortune, thou observest,
    And cannot be a merit. Know, my son,
    That man still boasts of fortune, not of merit.
    Say! is't not gen'rous gods who were the givers,
    Should any noble quality adorn us?
    With haughty pride thou art thyself inflamed
    At all thy hero exploits, all thy fierce-nerv'd
    Resistless strength; but did'st thou give thyself
    This force?'"[10]

The speech on Oscar's wedding-day, and the final chord in "Fridthjof's
Saga," mark an epoch in the career of the poet, when his political
views of life had found repose in a fitful harmony, for which he had
struggled with unwearied persistence. A few years earlier and the
Revolutionary fermentation was seething with passionate impatience
within his breast; a few years later and his displeasure at the early
stages of Swedish liberalism drove him to the opposite extreme; but
on the dividing line that separated these two currents, there was
vouchsafed to him a bright and inspired moment, with a free poetic
horizon on either side.


"Man is the flower of the metallic race of the earth, and his language
is the magnetic fluid of this race, which, by the force of his will,
is shed upon the world. If all speech is at bottom music (the ear of
nature is of metal, and what the spirit of the world whispers into it
is music), we need to seek a long time before we can discover the kind
of kinship that transforms it into material substance for the poetic

This hard piece of eloquence is given here as a sample of the style
of which Atterbom, the leader of the romantic school, made use in his
youth. It contains so decided a challenge to parody that it is no
wonder Tegnér yielded to the temptation to aim some mocking darts at it.

The religious and political views of Tegnér, combined with his literary
standpoint, gave him a lofty watchtower, situated far above the two
contending parties of the old and the new school, but from which he
almost exclusively aimed his shafts at the latter. He who had entered
the new century in early youth, and who was but twenty years old when
he had experienced, in Lund, Sweden's upward soaring flight of poetic
fancy, could not possibly feel his poetic needs satisfied by the
insipid didactic and comic poems of the Gustavians. There was nothing,
however, that incited him to combat against them, and they passed
away all too soon, one after the other, until Leopold alone remained
as the last surviving representative of the ancient _régime._ When
Tegnér was in the full vigor of his manhood, Leopold was blind, and
even had he otherwise been inclined to attack the old man, it was now
impossible for him to do so. On the other hand, the first appearance
of the "Phosphorists" upon the scene had provoked his displeasure in
the highest degree. They discoursed in a philosophic idiom, which was
intelligible neither to himself nor to any other uninitiated person.
They opposed the academy as foreign,--that is to say, French,--and
were themselves German to the core. Moreover, to Tegnér the French
traditions were much dearer than the German. Not even his predilection
for Grecian lore had estranged him from the classic French rules of
taste. In his eyes Grecian characteristics very early became synonymous
with self-control in art, and French poetry was in every respect
well governed. It was no mere chance, therefore, that led him to the
remark that the French national spirit "in many instances is more
nearly allied to the Grecian than the Germans and their apes, since
Lessing's time, have been willing to admit." His admiring attitude
toward the old academicians during the sharp controversy against
the "Phosphorists" recalls vividly, indeed, strikingly, Byron's
contemporaneous enthusiasm for Pope and contempt for the lake school.
The causes were in part akin: fidelity to childhood's impressions,
delight in contradiction, partiality to intelligent lucidity and Latin
rhetoric; but this attitude had still deeper ground in the relation to
the Grecian peculiarities, and to the French studies of the antique,--a
relation which is not found in Byron, but which characterizes Tegnér.
Byron's art was employed in giving an organ to passion: Tegnér, like
the ancients, desired that passion might be clad in strict decorum, in
order to avoid a pathological effect. He had never liked reality, and
had as little fancy for metaphysics; but the ideal form he loved. The
inner schisms which he conceived to be the problem for art to solve
were not deep; at heart he did not wish to see more violent struggles
between body and soul, condition and desire, duty and happiness, etc.,
represented in poetry than could be reconciled with the harmony of
healthfulness. It was rather the pure, polished form that fascinated
him than the natural freshness of the Greeks, consequently the quality
which the French classic style had in common with the Grecian. All
these instincts brought him very near to the old school, and removed
him from the new.

His chief warfare against the latter was waged by the young instructor
(magister) in his great metrical speech delivered at Lund in 1820, the
celebrated "Epilog," in which he demanded of the young academicians the
banner-oath to the banner of light. The popularity of this poem was
so great that during the summer following its delivery no two young
students could talk together ten minutes without devoting at least five
of them to quoting and interpreting the "Epilog." Certain lines of this
speech have an almost proverbial force and truth.

    "Heed not, tho' indolence to you may whisper,
    That far too mighty is the strife for powers like yours,
    That 'twill be fought as well without your aid.
    Alone a general never wins a battle;
    'Tis won for him by solid ranks of soldiers."

He ends by placing the Temple of Truth, as the ancients conceived it,
face to face with the Tower of Babel, erected by the adherents to
the romantic school, the heavy, barbaric structure, "whose obscurity
peeps through the narrow windows." If we pay strict heed, however,
to the architecture of the Pantheon, which he describes as that of
the ancients, we shall observe that its style, with its singular
mingling of Roman and Gothic, far from being antique, is an involuntary
reproduction of Tegnér's own personal art ideal, which is the fruit of
so many classic and romantic combinations.

    "The ancients built to Truth a lofty temple,
    A fair rotunda, glowing as the firmament.
    The open dome let in from ev'ry quarter
    A flood of light, while through the pillared forest
    The winds of heaven with tender music frolicked,
    But now our people build a Tower of Babel."

A rotunda whose light is obtained from every quarter, not from above
alone, and which does not rest on simple masonry, but is combined with
pillared forests, is rather a reminder of St. Peter's church with its
complex style than of any structure built by the ancients. It was, in
truth, rather a temple for all mankind, like this church, than the
simple Roman house of gods, that floated before Tegnér's eye as the
symbol of truth. What he wished to extol was simply transparency and
lucidity in the realm of poetry, as in that of thought. The adoration
of the hidden roots of life, of the obscurity of night, the mother of
all things, and of the shadows, the source of color, as preached in
Germany by Novalis, in Denmark by Hauch, in Sweden by Atterbom, seemed
to him suspicious, indeed odious; he viewed it in the same spirit
with which an ancient Apollo worshipper might have attended a Moloch
service, and protested against it in the name of the light.

In the name of the light, and above all else in the name of poetic
art, of whose psychologic origin he had early formed an original
conception. By the romantic schools of all lands poesy was comprehended
as the dearly purchased product of suffering and sorrow, as the pearl
which is the result of diseased secretions. To Goethe it was the ideal
confession of the soul, the noblest means of salvation from impressions
and memories, that laid siege to the healthfulness of the character.
Kierkegaard compared the poet to the unhappy being who is tortured by a
slow fire in the brazen steer of Phalaris, and whose cries resound like
music in the ears of the tyrant. Heiberg has the poet sing that if he
had been good he would have produced poor poetry; but since he is bad
he has written good poetry, for that touches him the most deeply which
is denied himself. All these views accord in the one idea that poetry
has its origin in yearning, in regret, in pain; in short, in something

Tegnér traces its origin to healthfulness. Over and over again he
attacks in his letters what he calls the hysteric cramps of the
romantic school. "Nothing is so repulsive to me as this eternal
litany over the torments of life, which belongs to reality and not
to poetry. Is not poetry the healthfulness of life? Is not song the
jubilee of humanity, bravely streaming forth from fresh lungs?" And
this application is not the expression of a momentary mood with Tegnér;
it keeps recurring again and again as a stereotyped definition. He
does not comprehend how poetry, "which is nothing else than the
healthfulness of life, nothing but a leap of joy from the borders of
every-day life, can color the fresh round cheek with a hectic flush."

The definition assumed poetic proportions and melodious form in the
sportive poem "The Song," called forth by a romantic elegy of the same
name. It contains the programme of Tegnér's poetry, as follows: "The
poet has no cause for lament, he has never been driven from the Garden
of Eden. With heavenly delight he embraces life, as a bride,

    'For song is not eternal longing,
    'Tis one glad shout of victory.'

Disharmony that has no solution is unknown to him.

    'My golden harp shall never borrow
    Sad tones that I have brought to light;
    The poet was not made for sorrow,
    The sky of song is ever bright.'"

It was a hard and bitter Nemesis that condemned him, who, in the year
1819 possessed sufficient vital strength and flow of spirits to write
these lines, to become, only six or seven years later, wellnigh mute
as a poet, after he had produced one of the most despairing poems
of all literature; yet both before and after his "Ode to Melancholy"
(Mjeltsjukan) was written, the doctrine of the inner equilibrium of the
poet and of poetry's consciousness of victory was still realized in the
writings of Tegnér. As his soul passed through crisis after crisis,
as disappointment and sorrow undermined his cheerful and sanguine
temperament, he preferred silence rather than to permit the depressed
state of his soul to have a depressing influence on his art; and if he
still intoned an occasional song, it was in order to reveal himself in
poetic composition as the mobile, youthful nature he no longer was in
actual life.

The muse of Tegnér never had that melancholy fundamental quality that
is common to the folk poetry of all northern lands. It has, indeed,
nothing corresponding to the folk-song, nothing of its naïveté,
nothing of its simple minor chords. Tegnér admired popular poetry; he
did not believe his songs superior to it, as the artistic poets of
the preceding century had felt; but he considered it, and justly, an
unattainable model. The artistic type of his lyric muse, therefore,
is not the folk-song,--neither that of the Finns, as in the case of
Franzén, nor that of the Servians, as with Runeberg, nor that of the
Swedes, as with Atterbom,--but the cantata, now in the style of the
heroic song, and now in the style of the bravour-aria. The last word is
not used in the sense of a vocal selection calculated to shine through
its embellishments alone, but is meant to represent the abundantly
ornamented and full outburst of an overflowing vital courage. All the
art forms of which Tegnér avails himself,--the hymn, the ballad, the
love-song,--receive under his treatment a character which I know not
how to characterize more sharply than with the word, _bravour._


We find the poet in the humble white house at the corner of Franciskan
and Kloster streets in Lund, pacing the floor of his spacious
two-windowed study, murmuring and humming his verses to himself, and
now and then pausing before an open cabinet that serves him for a
desk, to write down his strophes as he completes them. In the room two
canary birds are warbling; accompanied by their song he is composing
his "Fridthjof." He is at this time about forty years old; neither
passion nor disease have as yet imprinted their traces on his visage
The furies are lurking on his threshold; but it almost seems as if they
purposed to await the completion of the main work of his life before
they crossed it, and seized upon him for their prey. His brow is clear
and arched; his gaze bright and free.

    "Both earnest and profoundly true
    Is every feature of his noble face,"

as he says of his Axel.

He has chosen his theme, or more correctly speaking, his theme has
emerged from the memories of his childhood and presented itself
so alluringly before him that he has designed the outlines of its
treatment, and commenced his work within them. He wishes to furnish
a picture of life in the ancient north. With full conviction he had
formerly joined the "Gothic" union; for he saw in the national historic
and poetic tendency of this society the true medium course between
the cosmopolitan rationalistic culture and the exaggerated Teutonic
enthusiasm of the "Phosphorists." He soon experienced the grief,
however, of seeing how his worthy and ardent ally, Pehr Henrik Ling,
who had taken a position in the intellectual life of Sweden similar to
that of Arndt and Jahn in Germany, drove the Swedish public in alarm
from the poetry of northern antiquity by his boasting language and his
colossal disregard of form. His awkward touch on harp strings made of
northern bear sinews destroyed the superb material which, in the hands
of Oehlenschläger, had won all hearts in Denmark. Tegnér concluded
to take one single saga as a central point about which to gather all
the most characteristic images of the ancient north: viking life and
brotherhood in arms, the wisdom of the Hávamál and the vows made on
Frey's boar at Yuletide, the heroic song and the election of kings at
the Thing, the self infliction of wounds with the point of the sword
and the runic stone, the poesy of life and of death in ancient times.
There must be a good, pure atmosphere in the poem; a sharp, fresh
breeze must blow through it; Scandinavians should feel at home in it;
but beyond all else there must be none of the icy temperature of the
old Norse poems of the worthy Ling! This saga was, of course, a love
story, and with the yearnings and sorrows of love the hard web of his
material must be permeated. The material was Norse, but the treatment
must be Swedish; Norway and Sweden which not long before had been
divided, must now be blended together in song. There was a rustling
in his mind's ear as of the clash of shields and the whizzing of a
shower of arrows, the rattling of quivers and the clinking of foaming
beakers, the stamping of fiery coursers and the restless flight of
hooded falcons, blows on the sword and strokes with the sword, and
through it all the long, languishing, cooing, dreamy nightingale note
and the still more thrilling call of the quail in the stillness of the
summer night. As regards the scenery he truly had no need to transplant
himself in fancy into its midst; he had become too thoroughly familiar
with it in his childhood and youth in the country to require any such
effort. He knew them well, these trees with white trunks and drooping
crowns; one of them bore two characters in its birch trunk: were these
the letters, "E" and "A," or was it an "F" and an "I" in runes? He
knew, between fir-overgrown coasts, this smooth icy path over which the
steel-footed warrior sped, while behind him came rushing the sledge in
which sat that fair young queen who would soon pass over her own name
on the ice.

    "And many a rune, too, on the ice he engraves;
    Fair Ing'borg drives o'er her own name on the waves."[11]

And when the springtime came, when the billows beckoned enticingly,
when the sea spoke aloud of deeds of valor, while the boats along the
coast seemed most urgent in their invitations to come on board and seek
a knowledge of the world, he was well aware what a viking must have
felt at such a moment.

    "Ellide, too, now has no sport on the sea;
    Now ceaseless her cable she jerks to get free."[12]

But it was not possible to journey forth into the world. At the
foster-father's house, at Hilding's,--at Myhrman's, on the Rämen
estate,--dwelt the fairest of the fair, the beloved one whom it was
impossible to forsake. And all the memories of youth, sweet and
childlike, overpower him at this thought. He remembers how it was his
wont to carry to Anna the first anemone that blossomed and the first

    "The first pale flow'r that spring had shed,
    The strawberry sweet that first grew red."[13]

And he dreams of so many good times when he and she (or was it
Fridthjof and Ingeborg?) paused in their wanderings by the rustling
waters of the forest streamlet, and there was no other way for Ingeborg
to cross than to let him bear her over in his arms, and smiling he

    "So pleasant feels, when foam-rush 'larms,
    The gentle ding of small white arms!"[14]

And unconsciously there blends with these memories another erotic
enthusiasm of a more recent date, another form, that of the fully
matured Ingeborg--not Anna Myhrman, whose footsteps are heard in the
adjoining room. The footsteps of the excellent housewife who is now in
the meridian of life do not reach his ear; no, it is a younger, more
attractive face, a slenderer form, another, more musical voice; he dare
not love this woman, it were contrary to divine and human law; she is
married to King Ring, to Fridthjof's friend, whose confidence in him is
unbounded. Fridthjof must away, far out to sea, to deaden his yearning
with deeds of valor and victories. But one day--late though it may
be, one day will come the hour of atonement, and the stormy heart of
Fridthjof will find repose.

The old Norse Fridthjof's Saga is a narrative written in Iceland
about the year 1300; it is assumed that the historic portions of the
incidents took place about the year 800. Fridthjof, the son of a
bonde, who was brought up with the king's daughter Ingeborg, sues for
her hand and is rejected. In order to be revenged on her brothers, he
refuses to give them his powerful aid in the war against King Ring,
and avails himself of their absence to enter into a betrothal with
Ingeborg, who has been shut up by her brothers in Baldershage a place
consecrated to Balder, where it was forbidden man to embrace a woman,
for it was supposed that Fridthjof would not dare seek a rendez-vous
in that sacred spot. But Fridthjof defies the gods, visits Ingeborg,
and violates the temple. Meanwhile peace is concluded with Ring on
condition that the brothers give the aged king their sister to wife.
Of Fridthjof they demand that he go forth on their errand to collect
tribute from Angantyr, on the Orkney Islands. During his absence they
set fire to the home of his fathers. Fridthjof returns, finds the
king sacrificing in Baldershage, and casts the purse of silver he has
brought with him into Helge's face with such force that Helge falls
down in a swoon. Through an accident Balder's image is cast into the
fire, and the whole house becomes wreathed in flames. Fridthjof flees,
returns, visits King Ring, saves the life of the old king, and, when
finally the latter dies, marries Ingeborg.

In this plot Tegnér's poetic eye detects the main features of an object
of universal human interest, and susceptible of generalizing symbolism.
Fridthjof struggles for his love with reckless defiance; in spite of
all the powers that be, he is determined to conquer his happiness amid

    "His good sword pointing to the norn's fair bosom,
    Thou shalt,' saith he, 'thou shalt give way!"'[15]

He refuses to obey a royal mandate. In the prime of his manhood he
becomes, first a violator of the temple, then a temple burner, then
the outlawed, proscribed "Wolf in the Sanctuary" (_varg i veum_). He
flees and does penance, renounces and is purified, and receives at last
the hand of the beloved object of his affections as a reward, not for
his struggle, but for his persistent fidelity. Not the maiden but the
widow, not happiness itself but the pale reflection of happiness, he
embraces as his bride. Was not this in itself a symbol of human life?

One step more and the symbol stands completed in all its radiance.
There was a central point to the saga which, beneath the poet's gaze,
must necessarily become transformed to a fruitful germ. This was the
sanctuary of Balder. About a Balder's temple everything revolves; here
Ingeborg is imprisoned; here Ingeborg and Fridthjof meet; here the
kings offer sacrifice. The temple was honored; it was violated; it was
burned to the ground.

Balder was a peculiar god; in him paganism, as the contemporaries
imagined it, was brought into contact with the Christianity many
would gladly have adapted to it. Balder represented paganism without
fierceness, Christianity without dogmatism. The Jesus in whom Tegnér
believed, like him whom Oehlenschläger acknowledged, had more of the
nature of a Balder than of a Christ. And it was the temple of Balder
that Fridthjof, in his youthful arrogance, had burned. This burning of
the temple must necessarily be made the main catastrophe of the saga;
it determined, with overwhelming force, a highly spiritual conclusion.
Fridthjof must necessarily end by rebuilding the temple which he had
burned to ashes.

For is not youthful vigor in its uncurbed impetuosity always a violator
of the temple, and do we not all end in our years of maturity with an
honest effort to atone for the profanation committed in the heat of
youthful passion? Do we not all, to the best of our ability, build the
temple larger, stronger, more beautiful than we found it? As it was
with that emperor who found a metropolis of wood and left behind him
one of marble, so it will be at all times with energetic and earnest
natures who discover their surroundings to be swayed by a hallowed
temple of poor wood; they will bum it to ashes, and leave behind them
another Balder's temple, and the strongest among them one like that of

    "Of granite blocks enormous, joined with curious care
    And daring art, the massy pile was built, and there
              (A giant work intended
              To last till time was ended)
    It rose like Upsal's temple, where the North
    Saw Valhal's halls fair imag'd here on earth."[16]

Thus conceived, the poem grouped itself about a grand, simple,
fundamental thought, and with this before his eyes Tegnér proceeded,
first of all, to plan the final romance.

Of course, every feature of the old narrative could not be used. But
of the changes he undertakes, only those have psychologic interest in
which his poetic character is to be recognized.

First of all, he removes everything that from an erotic point of view
could give offence to a reader, above all, to a lady reader of his
day. For this reason all family bookcases were thrown open to his
poem. According to Tegnér's own confession, he gained the idea for
his "Fridthjof" from Oehlenschläger's "Helge," and in Denmark people
have never been quite able to comprehend how it was that the imitation
attained so much greater fame than the vigorous original; but how
was it possible that a poem which, like that of Oehlenschläger, from
beginning to end treated of a northern Vendetta, of fratricide, arson,
drunkenness, rape, tarring, and incest, could ever vie for public
favor with a poetic work like "Fridthjofs Saga," which was made, as
it were, for a birthday or a Christmas present, and which, in fact,
for more than twenty years, has been a standing confirmation gift
for young girls in Germany? To be sure, Tegnér keeps up an incessant
play (with a relish, too, that to me personally is very distasteful)
on words and expressions, with which, according to accepted literary
standards, the idea of something sensual is connected; he compares
Ingeborg's bosom to "budding roses" and other protuberances, which a
female bosom is as wholly unlike as it is possible to be; but in this
harmless dalliance of the poet is exhausted all tendency to sensuality
in the poem. His Scandinavians of old love like a well-bred couple
of affianced lovers in modern Sweden. Yet, while they do not for one
instant forget themselves, the poet is less strict, and we sometimes
feel his eye fixed on Ingeborg's white neck. It would certainly have
been better had the poet's eye been more chaste and had Fridthjof been
more human. From the way in which the sexual element of this love story
is treated, we are strongly reminded that the poet is not only invested
with an academician but with a priestly office, and is about to mount
to a still higher one. Plainly enough Tegnér has wished to make the
poem conform thoroughly to modern views of heroic virtue and female
chastity. Therefore, although he allows Fridthjof to pass the night
with Ingeborg in Baldershage, it is done in all propriety and honor,
and he has Fridthjof, when accused in the Thing, solemnly declare
that he had not broken Balder's peace. Thus Tegnér does not hesitate
to rob his poem of its actual ideal centre of gravity, the conscious
and defiantly executed desecration, if by so doing he succeeds in
preserving the decorum of his narrative. Fridthjof declares that his
love belongs rather to heaven than to earth; at his rendez-vous with
Ingeborg he wishes that he were dead, and, with the pale maid in his
arms, could wander to Valhal--certainly a most unnatural thought for
an impassioned lover in the hour of his bliss.

    "To that far heaven my love belongeth,
    More than this earth,--receive it then;
    In heav'n 'twas nurtured, and it longeth
    To reach its starry home again."[17]

Strange words from the lips of a poet who, moreover, was never weary
of pursuing Platonic love with mockery, and with pretty sharp mockery
too. His own was a fiery, passionate temperament. Notwithstanding
his marriage, his years, and his office, he was an ardent and, as
rumor declared, frequently a successful adorer of the fair sex. His
conversational tone with ladies was often so loose as to scandalize
people; and in letters, aphorisms, and poems published after his death,
he made no concealment of his realistic conception of love. He does not
even pay homage to the spiritualistic presentation of the relation of
the sexes in poetry. He writes, for instance:--

"_Aeneadum genitrix, hominum divumque voluptas_ is not only poetized
by the ancients, but deified as well. Our sentimental, nervous
contemplation of love is by no means the only one, still less the most
vigorous. How pale and weak, even from a purely poetic point of view,
are most of the modern erotics with their water-colored tintings when
compared to the eternal fresco paintings of the ancients!" And yet I
should hesitate to believe that Tegnér would allow himself to be guided
in this point exclusively by conventional motives. He was educated in
far too idealistic doctrines ever to draw, with full consciousness,
from a model, nor has he had a defined model for Ingeborg, as can
plainly be detected in the poem itself, which on that account lost
in individual realistic life what it gained in typical grandeur. Yet
wholly without a model no artist can paint, and entirely without
remodelling the dispositions and impressions of real life no poet can
compose, least of all so subjective a poet as Tegnér. In the beginning
of the poem he was inspired by the memories of his intercourse with
his betrothed bride on the country estate of her parents; the idyllic
element of Fridthjofs love undoubtedly arises from these memories,
but not its dreamily enthusiastic pathos. Numerous indications point
to the fact that Tegnér, who, like most poets, was always half in
love, was thoroughly enamored during the years when he was writing his
"Fridthjofs Saga."

At the time when the canto in which Fridthjofs love attains its highest
lyric expression was written (1824), Tegnér's affections may perchance
have still been in a state of ecstatic, half-unconscious frenzy, now
intersected with budding desire, now with that languishing for death,
which sometimes accompanies even prosperous love, when an excess of
passionate yearning, filling and torturing the soul, calls forth the
wish that the heart might break:--

    "How bless'd were he already yonder!
    How bless'd who now with thee could die,--
    And, conqu'ring, 'mong the gods could wander,
    Embracing his pale maid on high."[18]

Perhaps he was simply not in a condition to carry into poetic practice
his own poetics of love. As there are, undoubtedly, poets who, with
full justice, can take for their motto the line,--

    "_Vita verecunda est, Musa jocosa mihi,"_

so, too, there are poets who, especially at the time when romantic
idealism governed poetry, have felt themselves constrained by an inner
impulse to realize the formula of the opposing ranks.

The second modification of his materials--in which Tegnér's literary
individuality vigorously betrayed itself--is the removal of all that
might strike us as burlesque in the ancient narrative. The burlesque
features appeared to the idealistic poet simply disturbing and odious.
I choose a prominent example.

The ninth chapter of the old saga, in which Fridthjof brings the
tribute to the sacrifice-offering kings, represents Balder-worship
in the following vivid manner: "Then Fridthjof went in and saw that
there were but a few people in the hall of the dises; the kings were
there at the time sacrificing, and sat drinking. Fire was burning on
the floor, and the wives of the kings sat at the fires and warmed the
gods, whereas other women were anointing the gods and wiping them with
napkins. Fridthjof went before King Helge, and said, 'Here you have
the tribute.' Herewith he swung the purse wherein was the silver, and
threw it at his nose so violently that two teeth were broken out of his
mouth, and he fell into a swoon in his high seat; but Half-dan caught
him, so that he did not fall into the fire.... But as Fridthjof walked
over the floor toward the door, he saw that goodly ring (which he had
given Ingeborg) on the hand of Helge's wife while she was warming
Balder at the fire. Fridthjof took after the ring, but it stuck fast to
her hand, and so he dragged her along the floor toward the door, and
then Balder fell into the fire. But when Half-dan's wife caught after
him quickly, the god that she had been warming also fell into the fire.
The flame now blazed up around both the gods, as they had previously
been anointed, and thence it ran up into the roof, so that the whole
house was wrapped in flames. Fridthjof got hold of the ring before he
went out."[19]

The objections that may be raised to the historic reliability of this
presentation are not unknown to me. But what a superb piece of prose
from an ethnographic and picturesque point of view! How plainly the
narrative brings the whole naïvely burlesque scene before the mind's

Whoever has beheld in the Berlin museum the little clay image of
an old Norse goddess, can form a vivid conception of these odious
little idols which the pious women hold on their laps, anointing them
and warming them by the fire. Everything is admirable here; the old
northern piety which leads the people to see a Balder in the puppet,
with the same burning faith that in our day leads men and women of the
people in the South to see the Queen of Heaven in another puppet, and
the surrounding scenery with the smoking wood-pile in the centre and
the drinking knights in the adjoining hall. A more modern poet with a
lively appreciation of the coloring of time and locality would not have
had the heart to alter the slightest trifle in such a scene; he would
have viewed it as a treasure-trove. I do not speak of the realists;
realists do not write romance cycles; I have in mind the great stylists
among the poets of the present day. It is a scene which might have been
introduced into Victor Hugo's "_La légende des siècles_" (The Legend
of the Centuries); but still better adapted would it have been for so
rigid an artist as Lecomte de Lisle, who might have interwoven it in
his "Poèmes barbares." To Tegnér, however, this scenery only seemed
rude, odious, wholly unavailable for poetic art. The sharp contrasts
between barbaric and Hellenic poetry did not exist for him; he strove
to the best of his endeavors to Hellenize his barbaric material. From
principle he refrained from mingling the wild burlesque element with
a pathetic or beautiful whole. Instead, he painted--and with profound
art--a night in which the midnight sun stands high in the heavens; in
which Balder's pyre, the symbol of the sun, bums on the consecrated
stone, while pale priests, with silvery white beards, stand with
flint-knives in their hands around the temple wall. The statue of
Balder towers up on a pedestal, with Fridthjofs ring entwined about
its arm, and the king, with his crown on his head, is busied about the
altar. This scenery is far more beautiful than that of the saga, but it
is abstract and much less individual.

Besides the scandalous and burlesque elements in his material, there is
a third thing which Tegnér recoils from and avoids. It is guilt.

It belongs to Tegnér's poetic system to shun all sharply pronounced
guilt, no less than all that is decidedly odious or quaint. His hero
is too benignly good to be carried to extremes of passing rage,
revenge, or fierceness. He makes an assault and controls himself at
once. He does not take revenge, as in the saga, for the mortification
and grief the kings have inflicted on him; he does not scuttle their
ship on his return home in order to punish them for the injustice they
have done him; his weapon-brothers sink the vessel later, in order to
facilitate Fridthjofs flight. We saw, furthermore, that Fridthjof,
in his relations to Ingeborg, according to Tegnér's treatment, was
guilty of no actual profanation of the temple. But most strikingly
does the poet's solicitude to avoid profound guilt reveal itself where
Fridthjofs relation to the burning of the temple is described. In
the saga Fridthjof always displays a haughty spirit towards Balder.
He declares that he rates the favor of Ingeborg of more account than
that of Balder. When the return of the kings compels him to give up
his nightly visits in Baldershage, he speaks with a certain irony
concerning Balder to Ingeborg, saying, "Well and handsomely have you
treated us, nor has the bonde Balder been angry with us."[20] And
finally, when through his heedlessness fire has arisen in Balder's
temple, in his destructive rage he flings a flaming firebrand at the
roof. Tegnér gives the scene quite differently. The state of mind of
his Fridthjof toward Balder is most pious; he kneels before him at
Ingeborg's side, and commends to his protection their mutual love; he
makes energetic efforts to extinguish the fire in the temple, and when
these fail, he moves away weeping and full of anguish.

Thus transformed, the character as a whole is more human and more
noble, although undeniably less primitive, but the idealizing and
modernizing process rendered it impossible to avoid a certain conflict
between the character as it was represented by the poet, and several
of the energetic traits that were attributed to it by the saga, and
that passed unaltered into the poem. During the completion of the work,
the poet must many times have queried within himself, whether it were
after all worth while to treat ancient materials, when the antiquarian
and the poetic elements could not be harmonized without incessant
and useless compromises. His letters are full of evidences of this
doubt; when the work was at length finished, after a struggle with the
materials that lasted fully five years, they criticise "Fridthjof"
most severely; they remind the admirers of the poem that poetry must
be a "growing and not a preserved fruit"; they ring continued changes
on the theme that "Fridthjof" is too much of an ancient saga to be a
modern poem, and is in too high a degree modern poetry to be an old
Norse saga; they declare that all poetry must be modern, "in the same
sense that flowers are so in the springtime," and they condemn all that
is archæological in the poem, as newly built ruins. Nevertheless, the
universal critical mood has not erred when it rather took umbrage at
the too modern than at the too antique element of the poem. A rigid
stylist would not have had Fridthjof forbid the presence of women on
board ship in his "Viking Code," with such a sentimental play of words
as the following:--

    "For the dimple deceives on her cheek, and her tresses
    Would net-like entrap thee above."[21]

Tegnér himself draws a parallel between his work and such studies as
Goethe's "Iphigenia" and Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake." The
last parallel has more truth than the first, although Tegnér himself
says, "the Scotch particularism in Scott, like the Judaical tone in
the Old Testament, limits and suppresses what might otherwise have
freer and higher flight." Tegnér finds himself in a literary-historic
station, which is half-way between the two extremes, Walter Scott and
Byron. Half a century of his life falls within the lifetime of Goethe,
and he witnessed the whole of Byron's life. From Goethe, whom it was
difficult for him to understand, he learned but little; he showed
himself most susceptible to his influence when it approached him
through Oehlenschläger; for the Byronic impression his temperament was
more open, yet he held himself bravely above all contamination, and
the effort to do so was facilitated in a higher degree by the romantic
idealistic vaccine with which he had early been inoculated. As a poet
he was too filled with his own _ego_ to comprehend the impersonal
element in the creative powers of Goethe; on the other hand, his
egotism was not sufficiently profound to enable him to follow Byron
on his voyages of discovery within subjectivity. Like Scott and
Oehlenschläger he is national, closely bound to his country, his people
and its heroic past; but there is in his nature a tendency against
distinctly marked personality: he approaches the Byronic type at a
certain remoteness.

As soon as the sixteenth to the nineteenth cantos of "Fridthjof"
appeared in the year 1820, a universal cry of admiration rang through
Sweden. Even the members of the romantic school, deeply moved,
extended their hands for reconciliation. Before the entire work was
completed (1825) Tegnér's fame had spread to the neighboring countries,
especially to Germany, where Tegnér's first translator, Frau Amalia
von Helwig, so well known as the friend of Goethe, made the aged poet
acquainted with fragments of "Fridthjof," and won for it his favor. He
called the attention of the German public to the poem, and although
what he wrote about Tegnér in the vigorless style of his old age
scarcely amounts to a dozen lines, it can readily be understood what
an event a recognition on the part of Goethe grew to be in a small
country like Sweden. Goethe's words read as follows: "We need not
enter into any detailed statement to prove to those readers already
friendly to the North, how admirable these cantos are. May the author
as speedily as possible complete the entire work, and may the excellent
translator continue to take pleasure in her labors that we may possess
this sea-epic complete in the same purport and tone as what has already
appeared! We would only add the brief remark that the vigorous,
gigantic, barbaric style of antique poetry, approaches us, in a manner
nearly incomprehensible to ourselves, with a new, musingly tender, yet
undisfigured and highly agreeable form." To this day the Swedes never
weary of referring to these words of praise. The admiration for Tegnér
in his fatherland increased with the growing popularity of the poem;
indeed, after his death it became so strong that it drowned almost
all criticism, and finally reached its climax in such exaggerations
as that of Mellin, who proclaimed Tegnér to be the "greatest poet of
the Teutonic race." That homage to the man, however, which is and will
always remain the best, is that which is at the same time homage to the


    "On life's exalted summit, where the waters
      Of living streams are parted, once I stood,
    And watched the current seeking divers quarters;
      Around me all was bright and fair and good.
        *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
    "A melancholy demon then did waken,
      Who suddenly my heart's warm blood did taste;
    And lo! the scene grew gloomy and forsaken,
      The sun and moon extinguished were in haste,
    My glowing landscape autumn hues had taken,
      Each flow'r was withered, ev'ry grove a waste;
    All vigor from my frozen senses vanished,
    All courage, all rejoicing now was banished."

While Tegnér was still occupied in putting the last touches to his
"Fridthjof," the furies that had been lurking on his threshold shook
their snaky locks before his eyes and stretched forth their long, lank
arms to embrace him. They were the furies of disease, of passion, of
life-weariness, and of dawning insanity, and they joined hands and
danced round him in a circle.

The year 1825, the same in which "Fridthjof" appeared and proclaimed
his fame to every quarter of the globe, was the year that marked the
great crisis of his life. Physical as well as mental was the crisis.
It has, to be sure, a purely bodily side; yet apart from the fact that
this must be obscure even to a physician, it is only the mental and
emotional side that the critic can study, and in it seems undoubtedly
to have been the prime cause of the disorder. The mental and emotional
catastrophe, however, is almost as obscure as the physical. It has
hitherto remained unnoticed, chiefly because the editions of Tegnér's
poems have been made, _in usum delphini,_ by his surviving relatives.
Their division into periods is thoroughly confusing; the poems are
sparingly dated; indeed, as I have discovered, most of the love poems
are pre-dated twenty-five years, in order to make the reader believe
they were intended for Tegnér's wife when she was his betrothed bride.
"The Ode to Melancholy" (Mjeltsjukan), the poem of which a strophe and
a half have just been given, is inserted in the last edition, not dated
between a poem of 1812 and another one of 1813. Tegnér's letters prove
that it dates from 1825.

This year begins for Tegnér with violent illness; even on New Year's
day of the year he is so ill that he believes death to be nigh at
hand. In March he writes that his mind becomes every day more and more
clouded. "God preserve me from melancholy and misanthropy," he says.
In July he writes: "Blindness seems to me one of the most horrible of
earthly misfortunes--next to one which I myself have experienced."
Everything that formerly gave him pleasure is now distasteful to him.
His disease continues as an inner restlessness, yet without any actual
bodily pain. "My fancy, which was very excitable at the outset, is now
like a whirlpool, that casts into swift rotation and soon destroys
everything it can draw into its vortex."

The physicians think his liver is affected. "The fools! the soul is
affected, and for it there is no medicine but that which is obtained in
the great universal drug-shop beyond the grave." He declares that he
cannot impart to his friends the cause of his sufferings. In November
the violence of his malady seems to yield to a certain repose. He
makes, so he says, fine daily progress in indifference, in which the
happiness and wisdom of life consists. The destiny of the wise man,
he thinks, is to become ever more and more of a tortoise. As long as
he has a single exposed nerve, his whole being is a prey to torture.
He feels "how thoroughly the dregs of contempt for the biped race are
lodged in the depths of his soul." "Ah!" he exclaims, "genuine inner
grief that attacks the strong soul nourishes itself, just as it does
with war when it is rightly organized, or a wild beast when it has
attained its full growth." On his birthday, Nov. 13, he sinks into
the deepest melancholy; he thinks it would be better to celebrate,
as do the Egyptians, the day of death. What puts him especially out
of tune is the fact that this birthday is the last one that he will
pass in Lund, where he has made his home for twenty-six years; having
been appointed bishop he will be compelled to hold intercourse with
strangers who will not understand him; as bishop he will come into
possession of a disorganized diocese, and will be decried as a despot.
In former times this would have been a matter of total indifference to
him, nor would he have concerned himself in the least about the mob;
but now he is nervous, hypochondriac, and out of tune, and he begins to
comprehend the meaning of fear of man. "And yet this is not my only,
not even my greatest, sorrow. Night, however, keeps silence, and the
grave is mute; it behooves her sister, Sorrow, equally well to hold her
peace." When finally, on the last day of the year, he draws the balance
of what he has learned and gained in it, he writes:

"Ah, the old year! what I have suffered in it no one knows, unless it
be the Great Recorder above yonder clouds. Nevertheless, I am indebted
to the year. It has been more gloomy, but also more earnest, than
all the others combined. I have learned at my own expense how much
a human heart can endure without breaking, and what power God has
deposited beneath the left side of a man's breast. As I said before,
I am indebted to the year, for it has made me rich in what is the
standing capital of human wisdom and independence: a vigorous, deeply
rooted contempt for the human race." The excitability of his nervous
system permits him to have no rest by day or by night. "My mind is in
an unchristian state, for it has no Sabbath.... I cannot drink mineral
water in the coming summer. But is there not a mineral water that is
called 'Lethe'?"

What has happened? That bodily pain and disease exist here in a high
degree is undoubted. Esaias Tegnér had had an elder brother, Johann,
whose brain was diseased, and who, at thirty-nine years of age, died of
insanity; the younger brother was continually brooding over the thought
that insanity was a family inheritance. Thomander, later a bishop, who
visited Tegnér in March, 1825, writes of him: "He has now more gloomy
hours than formerly; many a one, but no one more than himself, fears
for his reason; it is a fixed idea of his that he will become insane,
because his brother and other relatives have been so." No one, however,
can doubt that the melancholy which so suddenly warped the cheerful and
fresh disposition of Tegnér had other causes than bodily disease; too
many utterances point to a defined, concrete fact,--a fact, to be sure
that Tegnér himself will not communicate, but the nature of which is,
nevertheless, plainly indicated. It is "the heart" that is affected.
It is contempt for humanity that has overpowered him. It is contempt
for "the character" of another person that is the first cause of his
weariness of life, and this person "is or has been dear" to him. We
need not have studied Tegnér very profoundly to conclude that there is
a woman behind all this, and that every one of these outbursts may be
traced back to an unhappy or an unsatisfied erotic passion.

Among the letters of Bishop Thomander there is one dated 1827, in which
it is mentioned that Tegnér, while he was still in Lund, cherished warm
sentiments of affection for the beautiful wife of one of his friends.
From her piano he never moved when she was singing. "Lovely Rose,"[22]
by Atterbom, was his favorite song. Thomander writes that in a house
where he met Tegnér, he warned the elder daughter not to sing "Lovely
Rose," because he knew that if she did "the evil spirit would come over
Saul"; but owing to a misunderstanding the forbidden song was sung, and
Tegnér's good humor was banished for several days. In one of Tegnér's
letters of May, 1826, we read in corroboration of this: "To listen
to singing was something to which I had become especially accustomed
during the last years of my stay in Lund, where I had daily opportunity
of hearing a female voice that still echoes in my heart." To the lady
here in question, Tegnér had written for his friend, in 1816, a sort
of versified love-letter, in which her beauty, her goodness of heart,
and her singing are extolled to the skies. He speaks in it of the
danger of looking into her eyes. It appears that what was then called
a danger in jest became a real danger for Tegnér several years later.
His admiration for the disposition and talents of this beautiful woman
seems gradually to have kindled a flaming passion, and this passion
was evidently reciprocated. Local tradition has not a little to tell
of his relation with her, which, moreover, could not have left his
domestic happiness undisturbed. At all events, it certainly added
much to his grief at parting from Lund. Still living contemporaries
of Tegnér have, furthermore, communicated to me an occurrence which
served as an essential motive for his contempt for humanity, especially
his contempt for woman. He discovered that a very distinguished
lady, with whom he was captivated, had yielded to the advances of a
wholly unpolished, boorish man. Did it so greatly shock him who was
himself faithless to find faithlessness everywhere, that he gave way
completely to weariness of life? Did he simply tell himself that he
was scorned because he was old and almost gray, and was he cast into
a state of despair because the happiness of youth was at an end for
him? Was he so agitated at finding animal passion where he had honored
the crown of female culture and beauty, that in his morbid condition
this indignation at a single individual grew to universal loathing of
life? I cannot decide the question. I can only see that the bitter
melancholy bored, in the once so trusty ship of his destiny, the hole
through which the black waters of misanthropy and of insanity rushed in
and deluged everything. During the shipwreck he wrote the melancholy

    "For thee, mankind, with praise I am o'erflowing,
    God's image, thou, of true and perfect plan!
    And yet two lies betray thy record glowing,--
    The one is woman hight, the other man.
    From songs of old were truth and honor flowing,
    They best were sung when cheating erst began.
    Thou child of heav'n! One truth thou ownest now,--
    The mark of Cain, deep branded on thy brow.

    "A fiery mark, by God's own finger given,
    Why did I never heed the sign before!
    This smell of mould beneath yon starry heaven
    Doth poison vernal bloom for evermore;
    And by the grave alone the smell is given,
    Tho' wardens strict may guard the marble door.
    Alas! corruption is the soul of life,
    No pow'r can crush it; ev'rywhere 'tis rife."

The state of discord into which the soul of Tegnér sank during the
latter part of the time when "Fridthjof" was in the course of progress,
has left its traces even in this cheerful and harmonious poem. One of
the last-written cantos is that which bears the title "Fridthjof's
Return." Its contents, by way of exception, are not modeled after the
old Norse poem. Fridthjof returns home, learns that Ingeborg has been
persuaded to become King Ring's wife, and in the first burst of his
indignation exhausts himself in a stream of wrath at the faithlessness
of the beloved object of his affections. No critical reader can fail
to see how nearly related the following outburst is to the just-cited
strophes of "The Ode to Melancholy."

    'O woman, woman!' cried Fridthjof, madly,
    'When thought with Loke first sheltered gladly,
    A lie it was! and he sent it then
    In woman's shape to the world of men!
    Yes! a blue-eyed lie, who with false tears ruleth,
    Enchanteth always, and always fooleth;
    A rose-cheek'd lie, with rich swelling breast,
    And in spring-ice virtue and wind-faith drest.
    With guileful heart she, deceitful, glances,
    And perjury still on her fresh lips dances!
    And yet how dear to my soul was she--
    How dear was then, ah! yet is, to me!
    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
    "'In human bosom all faith is spent,
    Since Ing'borg's voice has to guile been lent;
    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
    "'Where sword-blades scatter the barrows' seed,
    O'er hill, o'er dale shall my footsteps speed;
    All crown'd, perchance, I may meet a stranger,
    I'd know if then I shall spare from danger!
    Some youth, perchance, I may meet, all calm,
    And full of love 'mid the shields' alarm,--
    Some fool on honor and truth depending,
    From pity I'll hew!--his poor life quick ending;
    I'll save from shame; he shall glorious die;
    Not guil'd, betray'd, nor despis'd--as I!'"[23]

We detect here in Fridthjofs inner being the same spiritual process
we have just observed in the character of Tegnér. Not content with
condemning the one woman for her faithlessness to himself, he extends
his condemnation to the entire sex. "Woman is a lie," says Fridthjof,
as well as the author of the "Ode to Melancholy." He who builds on
"fidelity and honor" is a fool, are Tegnér's words in one instance
as well as in the other. One single bitter experience increases in
proportions with Fridthjof, as well as with his author, until it
becomes contempt for the human race, and weariness of life. No wonder,
since they are more nearly akin than are father and son.

From this time forth the chapter of woman's faithlessness as woman is
the standing theme with Tegnér. His letters are variations on this
theme. It is impossible for him, for instance, to mention a good or a
bad translation without either remarking that beautiful translations,
like beautiful women, are not always the most faithful, or that
fidelity and beauty are rarely good friends. He cannot speak of a gift
from a woman without calling her heart the worst, the most dangerous,
present she could make. Woman in general he regards henceforth as a
sort of "society machine or musical box that sounds very nicely indeed,
when properly wound up." As for love, it becomes so inclined to suicide
that the moment it is no longer compelled to sigh in vain, it dies by
its own hand. Of Ingeborg, he writes, "In the nature of the heart of
woman, there certainly exists reason sufficient for her faithlessness
to her lover, yet this fact must receive some sort of gilding from
a poet who desire to behave politely to the fair sex." Indeed, so
confirmed did Tegnér gradually become in this habit of describing woman
as unreliable and fickle that many years later, when in the capacity
of bishop he made his school addresses, he was unable to refrain from
edifying the schoolboys with his theory. In an address of the year 1839
he calls the boys happy because of the wealth of hope that belongs to
their youth. Then he adds, "Hope, in all languages known to me, is of
the feminine gender, nor does it deny its sex. True, it deceives; but
believe gladly, believe long in the fair deceiver, and clasp her to
your bosom." Tegnér must undeniably have been very full of bitterness
to give vent to it at so inopportune a moment and to so very unsuitable
a public. But not this single passionate disharmony alone can be dated
from the crisis indicated in the life of the poet; from this period, a
more vehement, more passionate tone altogether began to manifest itself
in his letters and in his poetry. Indeed, a truly Shakespearean tragic
passion may be found in them. The world is out of joint, and how can it
ever be set right again by Hamlet's arm. He no longer places reliance
on Ophelia; she must get her to a nunnery if she will remain pure.
For, frailty, thy name is woman! What is life? "A brief reprieve under
the gallows." And what is the history of the world? "A dog's dance."
A loathsome comedy is everything that Hamlet sees about him: "painted
decorations for the stage with paper roses and theatrical sunshine." He
could easily go mad over it; very likely it will at last make him mad;
but first the lie and pitiful wretchedness of life must be unmasked,
without mercy, without forbearance.

There is a wild recklessness in Tegnér's letters of 1825, never before
detected in him. He is asked, for instance, about his colleagues, the
theologians. They are "Hesekiel's cherubs with the heads of oxen, yet
without wings." And the bishops? "Born or manufactured imbeciles."
And the Apostle Paul himself? "Grecian sophistry engrafted on Judaic
crudeness." What does he say about royalty? "The power is as absurd
as it is abominable when it falls into the hands of trivially,
helplessness, or stupidity,--look at the state calendars of Europe."
And what about providence? "'Providence is a conception without the
slightest support.' I know very well what Lessing and the other Germans
have maintained: that the world's history is the universal doom of
providence. That is a pretty poetic fancy, and I, too, could well give
expression to it in verse; but I do not seriously believe it."

It seems to me as though in all these despairing words regarding human
worth and female fidelity, regarding kings and bishops, Christianity
and history, I heard an under-current of that thrilling elegy, "The Ode
to Melancholy":--

    "Ho, watchman, tell! How late may be the hour?
    Will this dark night forever find no end?
    A blood-stained moon peeps forth from clouds that lower,
    In tearful mood the stars their presence lend.
    As though in league with old-time, youthful power,
    My mocking pulses through my veins the life-blood send.
    With ev'ry throb how boundless is the anguish,
    Alas! my torn and bleeding heart must languish!"


No feature better illustrates Sweden's stage of civilization in the
lifetime of Tegnér than the manner in which science and religion were
connected. The relations between State and Church were so intimate, I
had almost said so naïve, that a professor, simply as such, was at the
same time a priest, and the natural, the looked-for advancement for
a capable professor in Greek, botany, or history, was that he should
be--made a bishop. It was a kind of government household arrangement
that was a vivid reminder of the private housekeeping in Molière's
"Harpagon." The university teacher, whose desk in Lund was exchanged on
Sunday for the pulpit in the country, was a sort of Maître Jacque with
his vestment above his professor's coat, and was in a position to ask
the State, in the event of any perplexity, a question similar to that
of the celebrated servant of the miser, who said: "If you please, is it
your coachman or your cook whom you are addressing? I am both."

The original cause of Tegnér's desire for advancement was of a purely
economic nature; he had debts, and the increase of income served him
in very good stead. Like all the cultivated people of his day, he was
accustomed to draw a line of distinction between the esoteric and
the exoteric side of religion; and although in point of character
he deemed himself a pagan, his frame of mind was often a most pious
one. He was too thoroughly a poet not to yield to frequent and
changeful impressions, and thus it was that he failed at first to
consider his convictions any hindrance to his acceptance of the office
of bishop. Yet scarcely did he bear the title of bishop before he
began to despise, from the bottom of his soul, all the ambiguity and
incompleteness in which he found himself involved, and to which his
duty toward his family held him bound. And so his misanthrophy and his
distaste for life, which had arisen during the years of the crisis
indicated, increased more and more. Energetic and loyal to duty as he
was, he threw himself with all his might into the exterior affairs of
his office; he became the civilizer and organizer of his bishopric, an
ardent and enterprising school director, a superior and daring educator
of his clergy. The purely civil standpoint he took in his conception of
the Church is very similar to that assumed at the same time in England
by Coleridge, who was upon the whole far less of a freethinker. "The
former religious significance of the Church can, of course, never be
re-established," says Tegnér, "for the system on which it depends
has now slumbered during three centuries of history, and it would be
of no avail whatever for one or another to act as though he believed
in the somnambulist. But the Church has also a civil significance,
and this can and must be supported as an integral part of the human
social order. If this significance, too, be allowed to fall victim to
torpidity and lethargy, I see no reason why the clergy, together with
the entire religious apparatus, be not suppressed for the benefit of
the state treasury." In order to comprehend how strong he must have
felt the demands upon him to be the low degree of culture and morals
of the clergy in Sweden of that time must be fully realized. On him
it devolved to impart to die priests under him the elements of human
culture, and to remove from office the worst drunkards among them.
There had been given to him an Augean stable to clean.

His dull, spiritless occupations wore on his already shattered health
and spirits. "The examinations are now at hand, and I shall have to
pass a whole week," he cries, "in the gymnasium. Then come the clerical
examinations and the ordinations. After this there are no less than
eight new churches to be consecrated during the summer. And through all
this, addresses must be made,--continual addresses about nothing and
for nothing. 'Words, words, words,' says Hamlet. Pity me; I am wearied
to death with speeches and discontent, and yet must continue to torment
myself without cessation. No one pays heed to what I say, nor do I
myself take any interest in it, for that matter. That is what I call
talking to the winds, and dissipating one's life in ceremonies." There
came moments when everything of a priestly nature seemed an abomination
to him. In such a moment he wrote jestingly to a friend, whom he was
asking to purchase him a pair of horses: "Not black ones; I cannot
endure the parson's color." It was a sorrowful mistake that so modern
a spirit should be thus enveloped in a costume of the middle ages; the
vestment had no power to transform him as it has transformed so many
others; but it tormented him, slowly devouring his vitals, like some
poisoned garment.

And yet the days of his brilliancy were not past. Before his sun
set, a glorious rose-tinted sky was yet in store for him. The many
scattered clouds that had gathered above his head and in his horizon,
only served, as is so apt to be the case, to make his sunset richer
and more glowing. The period of lyric enthusiasm was forever past
for Tegnér; faith in the future and in progress, which is the source
of life's courage, had long been exhausted. But one faculty he had
yet in reserve, one talent which had hitherto been subordinated
to the creative fancy and to lyric inspiration, and that was the
poetic-rhetorical gift. This attained its highest bloom during the time
that he officiated as bishop.

As Tegnér's talent for the production of what are by himself styled
"lyric" characters, is closely allied to the lyric propensity of the
whole Swedish nation, so, too, this second faculty of his harmonizes
marvellously with fundamental qualities of his people. The Swedish
nation has a peculiar gift for representation. The Swedes love what
looks well, and understand better than the Danes and the Norwegians
how to make advantageous arrangements; in customs, social life and
speech, they have more form and, at the same time, a more formal manner
than other Scandinavians. Their language itself is ceremonious; the
word "you" is wholly lacking as a mode of polite address, so that the
name or title of the person addressed must be incessantly repeated.
No northern people understand as well as the Swedes how to conduct
a procession, a festival, a public ceremony, a grand entrance, or
a coronation, with the _tout ensemble_ requisite to secure a good
effect. To this national love of representation, whose nursery
gardens, from readily intelligible reasons, were always the Church and
the universities, corresponds a peculiar kind of national, festive
eloquence. Swedish eloquence is at the same time more pathetic and more
pompous than that of the other Scandinavian people. It has something of
an ecclesiastical vibration, which the Church contributes, something of
the professor-like stamp which the universities preserve, and finally,
after the Swedish Academy was founded, it assumed an academic element
of its own, which may be designated a proclivity for euphemism, an
inclination to paraphrase thought and to call things by beautiful
names. Of the deficiencies of this school Tegnér had but few, but he
possessed all that vigor and richness of language, all the clearness
and figurative splendor of diction, all the faculty to express
different phases of sentiment and to bring an entire assembly into
accord with them that had been developed by it. All this attained its
finest bloom in Tegnér's festal addresses and poems. His most renowned
festal poem was produced in the year 1829.

The students at Lund had invited Oehlenschläger to be present at their
Commencement, and when Tegnér learned this he resolved to avail himself
of the opportunity to crown Adam Oehlenschläger with one of the laurel
wreaths destined for the _magisters_ of the day. A Swedish idea, and a
poetic one, too! Moreover, the idea of a noble, not vain poet! So far
removed was Tegnér from every exaggerated effort to obtain recognition
that it seemed to him quite natural to crown another as his master.
He had finished his address and called upon the rector to confer the
degrees of master of arts, when turning to Oehlenschläger, who stood
by the high altar in the cathedral, he once more took up the word, and
thus accosted the rector,--

    "Ere you begin to distribute your laurels, hand one to me;
    Not for myself, but for one through whom I to all would pay
    The Adam of skalds is here, the king of Northern poets.
    Heir to the throne in poesy's realm, for the throne is Goethe's.
    Oscar, if he but knew it, would surely sanction my action;
    Now not in his name, far less in my own, but in that of song
    That illustrious name, resounding in Hakon and Helge,
    Would I proffer this wreath; it grew where Saxo lived.
    Past is the age of division,--in realms of the free-born spirit
    It should never have been,--and familiar tones now ringing
    Across the Sound enchant us all, and yours more than others.
    Therefore, Svea offers this wreath, I speak in the name of Svea;
    Take from a brother's hand this gift, and wear it this day to

And amid the din of kettle-drums, trumpets, and cannon, he placed the
wreath on Oehlenschläger's head. May the ceremony belong to the moment
alone, and the kettle-drums, trumpets, cannon, the entire janizary
music vanish on the instant! It was, nevertheless, a grand and a
beautiful moment, and the remembrance of it has tended to fraternize
the northern peoples as little else could have done.


The year 1830, that brought the July Revolution to France, led to
a change in the political temper of Sweden, and soon in the entire
political situation; it was a year that gave to liberalism a new
impulse, significantly modifying its aims and altering the language
of its press. Before 1830, the ideal of the Swedish liberals had
been freedom; now it became democracy. As a matter of course, the
advance of liberalism drove the conservative groups to the opposite
extreme. Upsala was the headquarters of the reactionary party; here
Geijer held sway, and the loyal students followed him so faithfully
that, in a serenade to Charles John they thus designated their party:
_"obéir, mourir, et se taire"_ (to obey, to die, and keep silence). In
retaliation the Stockholm liberal press called Upsala a foul nest of
Tories, and the university professors, dried-up moles. A new style of
journalism developed itself, which, owing to the prevailing absolutism,
could only obtain a hearing through a personal, unrestrained tone. The
style of this press was frivolous and sharp; it wounded with pin pricks
and _persiflage._ Neither the court nor the person of Charles John was
spared. If this tone pleased in certain circles of the metropolis, it
excited lively displeasure elsewhere, especially in the provincial
towns, and no one was more thoroughly annoyed by it than Tegnér, whose
shattered mind was too thoroughly out of tune to permit him to see
the good that might possibly arise one day from all these sins against
good taste and against respect for the name of the old king. He offered
a passionate protest against it, and the liberal papers attacked him
like a swarm of wasps. The consequence was that he soon turned wholly
against the liberal press as well as against the doctrines promulgated
by it. Intellectual aristocrat as he was, the demagogic tendency was
repulsive to him; an ideal conception of the people he had never
attained in his best days, and now, after all faith in human purity and
spiritual beauty was destroyed in him, he was less able than ever to
acquire it. Amid these circumstances he was obliged to come upon the
scene as a professional politician, his position as bishop compelling
him to take part in parliamentary affairs at Stockholm. It cannot be
wondered at that this was done in a conservative direction; indeed,
Tegnér came forward as a true _enfant terrible_ of conservatism, for
when the old martial spirit came over him he spared neither friend
nor foe. Henceforth, through all his writings, as well as through his
speeches in parliament, ring bitter sallies against the new form of
journalism, which seems to him a symptom of Sweden's decay. Listen to
his words:

    "The Swedish colors were yellow and blue,
    And strength and honor of yore in them were clad;
    But now the mire is your national hue, falsehood
    Your Epic Song, and slander is set free
    Six days each week, nor scarcely rests the seventh.
    Its eye doth pierce the life of every mortal,
    At every key-hole it doth place its ear.
    Ye men of Sweden, is this your boasted freedom?"

His illness, from the first outbreak, had given him no peace. A trip to
the baths at Carlsbad in the year 1833 brought him no relief, to say
nothing of recovery. The most substantial value of the journey was the
purely intellectual result that Tegnér became rather better acquainted
with Germany than he had hitherto been. He had but little sympathy for
this country, its obscure philosophy of that time being repellant to
him, and he thought that it had spent its energies in the appropriation
of foreign literary productions without having the ability to impart
to these an individual stamp. He compares the Germans with the Caspian
Sea, which is watered by a number of streams, yet being without
an outlet, evaporates in mist. On his journey, during which great
attention, both from private sources and from orders of the king,
Friedrich Wilhelm IV. himself, was shown the poet whose fame had spread
throughout Germany, he received at least a superficial impression of
the positive qualities of the people. He writes, among other things:
"Germany, in spite of her chaotic nebulous state, has undeniably
been for a long time the seat of learning of Europe, and Prussia is
undoubtedly the present centre of intelligence of the civilized world."
He was too old, however, to begin his school-days afresh; and doubly
weary of life, now that all hopes of improvement were at an end, he
returned to his stultifying calling and his vain struggle against the
political development of Sweden.

His loathing of the press, which he sought in vain to subdue, went so
far that his heart finally became estranged from both the government
and the people of Sweden. He writes: "O my poor fatherland! At the
public leaders themselves I do not wonder; they live by their calumnies
just as the executioner lives by his heads, and the flayer by his
scourge; but what shall be said of a people, of the body of most
worthy Swedish people, that not only endures this miserable, paltry
state of affairs, but encourages, bribes, permits, admires it? It
can only be explained by the supposition that our nation, with a few
rare exceptions, has degenerated into a vulgar mob. As far as I can
see, nothing remains for us but to bid farewell, if not to the land
of Sweden, at least to the Swedish language, and to write Finnish,
or Lappish." In another place we read: "My dream of the honor and
sound reason of the Swedish people is long since ended and forever
dissipated." And with a turn that is interesting, because it proves how
nearly related, in Tegnér's own estimation, to his opposition to the
romantic school was his warlike attitude to the liberals, he writes:
"You can readily fancy my opinion of the royal Swedish public. The
thought--it was but a dream--that anything great could be accomplished
by such a mob, I have long since abandoned. These people are and always
will be degraded. In whatever form folly may appear, political or
literary, as Phosporism or Rabulism, the masses are always ready to
fall into it. So pitiful a race is not worth wasting powder on."

These utterances all date from the year 1839 and the first month
of 1840. Such a burden of hopelessness and misanthropy might cause
the strongest spirit to succumb; how much more one that was already
undermined by sixteen years of disease! When Tegnér was in Stockholm
during the session of parliament of 1840, the catastrophe occurred.
Insanity broke out. He gave vent partly to wild outbursts of sensuality
in the height of delirium, partly and most frequently he occupied
himself with colossal plans, gigantic financial operations, schemes of
emigrations on a large scale, and magnificent conquest. His star was

It was kindled anew, to shine with a milder, fainter light for several
years longer, but its red Mars-like glow was never seen again. What
must not the unhappy man of genius have suffered before insanity came
to a decisive outbreak! As early as 1835 he told Adlersparre that his
soul was on fire and his heart was bleeding, but that his malady to
which people were wont to give the pet name of hypochondria, should be
called by its real name, madness. "It is an inheritance," he added,
"and it is beyond my power to free myself." On the occasion of his last
visit to Wermland, he said: "I am the personification of Antisana; I
stand with my feet in the snow, but my head bums and I spit fire."
He prophesied that he had not long to live, but spoke with a wail of
anguish of the manner in which he was doomed to die. It was: "to be
devoured bit by bit by that thousand-tongued monster hypochondria."
What did he not suffer? I made use of the expression that the furies
had crossed his threshold. He himself saw his calamity under a similar
form. "You do not know the influence of the fury to whom I have been
wedded, without the aid of parson or bridesmaid; indeed, without
the slightest wooing," he wrote. "She is begotten of the union of a
nightmare and a vampire; and even when she is not riding on my breast
or sucking my heart's blood, she gives me to understand that she is
near, and meditates honoring me in a short time with a visit." Actual
delirium, after such a preparatory state, must have come almost as
a deliverance. The physicians ordered a journey to a hospital in
Schleswig, then in high standing.

The sojourn at the insane asylum did not last long; but it is
interesting to follow the poet even there, so beautiful and peculiarly
individual were the ravings by which he was tormented. A person who
accompanied him to the place has preserved for us the following
outburst of his while the malady lasted: "The whole confusion arises
from the damnable zeal of the people here about the diadem they wished
to put on my head. You might otherwise think it was a superb affair:
pictures in miniature, not painted, but living, truly existing
miniatures of fourteen of the noblest of poets, formed a wreath. There
were Homer and Pindar, Tasso and Virgil, Schiller, Petrarch, Ariosto,
Goethe, etc. Between each pair there glowed a radiant star, not of
tinsel, nor yet of diamonds, but of actual cosmic material. In the
centre of the brow there was a diadem in the form of a lyre, which had
borrowed something of the sun's own light. As long as this lyre stood
still all was well; but suddenly it began a rotary motion. Swifter
and swifter became its movements, until it made every nerve in my
body quiver. Finally it fell to whirling round with such speed that
it was transformed into a sun. Then my whole being became agitated
and broken; for, you must know, the diadem was not entwined about my
head, but about the brain itself. And now it swung round with a wholly
incomprehensible violence, until all at once it burst. Darkness,
darkness, darkness and night spread over the whole world, whichever
way I might turn. I became bewildered and feeble; I who have always
despised weakness in men, I wept and shed hot, scalding tears. All was

Is not this rather the poetry of insanity than insanity itself? And how
the true nature of the poet comes out even in this singular dream,--the
youthful dream of wreaths and crowns, heated red-hot in the forge of
insanity! In place of the cool laurel wreath which he had wound about
Oehlenschläger's head, the norns had now placed this fiery ring about
his brow. Happily, it grew cool again, and in the spring of 1841 the
poet was able to return home.

In his last great poem, "The Crowned Bride" (Kronbruden), in which he
has described himself, we see the aged bishop as a village patriarch
surrounded by a venerating parish. The years glide by in that milder
frame of mind which age brought with it; a stroke of paralysis in the
year 1843 announced that death was not far distant, and Nov. 2, 1846,
the weary poet breathed his last.

If we take a retrospective view of the development of this nature
in whose rich soil the germs of genius and insanity lay as close
together as in a double nut, we shall see the vigorous and cheerful
temperament burst forth like a spark of fire from the flint-like
ground of the Swedish peasantry. He draws nourishment from the natural
beauties of Sweden and from the old sagas of Scandinavia. He raves
about deeds of valor and combat, and expresses his enthusiasm in
language of flame-gilded imagery. He makes the acquaintance of the
spirit of antiquity, and the innate defiance of his character becomes
softened into a Greco-religious harmony. His religious freethinking
leads him to political freethinking, and his religious conciliatory
spirit brings with it an attempt at the political conciliation of the
opposing tendencies of the century. His spiritual standpoint determines
his literary standpoint, the promulgation of the Gospel of lucidity,
of light, and of song, as the expression of spiritual healthfulness.
From this lofty height he completes the most important work of his
life, the ideal picture of northern antiquity, as it was dreamed by
its own contemporaries. In order to be just to his work, we must bear
firmly in mind the period in which it arose. If we compare it with a
northern master-work of our own day (with Björnson's "Bergliot," for
instance), we shall find it neither Norwegian nor characteristically
northern. It is only relatively northern, but its most beautiful
cantos are unconditionally beautiful. This work, which was destined to
afford, in the great struggle of the day, the decisive testimony of the
significance of poetic healthfulness, was scarcely completed before
it became apparent that the germs of disease in the poet's soul had
attained such vigorous growth that some great spiritual crisis alone
was needed to wither all the life-courage about which the ill-favored
parasite had entwined its tendrils. The summer of life was over. The
late autumn yielded yet a few beautiful fruits, and the tree was dead.

The impression I most desire to convey is that the man who gave
world-wide fame to the name Esaias Tegnér, was beyond all else entirely
human, in faults as well as in virtues, a thoroughly conscientious,
upright soul, highly excitable, but with a radiant love of beauty and
truth. His human earthly presence is so full of worth that in spite of
all its weaknesses it is of profound interest even to foreigners, while
the purely ideal image of Tegnér as a poet, will always stand forth in
glorified outlines before the people in whose language he wrote, and
upon whom he has acted like a radiant beam of the sun of the nineteenth

[1] A strong kind of beer, first brewed by Chr. Mumme, of Brunswick,
Germany, in 1492. Pope says: "The clamorous crowd is hushed with mugs
of mum."--TR.

[2] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 143.

[3] Translated by J. S.

[4] Longfellow's translation.

[5] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 159.

[6] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 240.

[7] Referring to Sveaborg, Finland, built according to the plans of
Field-Marshal Count Augustus Ehrensvärd, whose name is hewn in gigantic
characters on the granite rock from which the great ship-basin is

[8] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 171.

[9] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 175.

[10] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 356-7.

[11] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 308.

[12] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 196.

[13] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 157.

[14] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 157.

[15] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 237.

[16] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 341.

[17] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 213.

[18] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 213.

[19] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, pp. 97, 98.

[20] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 82.

[21] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 292.

[22] "Lovely Rose" is a passionate love-song, whose interest centres in
the anguish of a butterfly at being removed from the rose at night, and
only being permitted to caress her during the day.

[23] R. B. Anderson's Viking Tales, p. 269-271.

[Illustration: GUSTAVE FLAUBERT.]



Gustave Flaubert was born at Rouen, in the year 1821. When, in 1880, he
was snatched away by sudden death, he did not leave European literary
art in the same condition in which he had found it. No artist, as such,
could desire to hand down to posterity a better renown. The work of his
life marks a step in the history of the novel.

He was a prose author of the first rank; for several years indeed no
one stood higher than he in France. His strength as a prosaist reposed
upon an artistic and literary conscientiousness, which was exalted
almost to the dignity of genius. He became a great artist because he
was unsparing in his efforts, both when he was making preparations to
write and when he was engaged in writing; he collected the results
of his observations, facts, and illustrations, with the painstaking
of a mere savant, while striving, with the passionate eagerness of
a mere adorer of form, to fashion his materials in a plastic and
harmonious manner. He became a master of modern fiction because he was
sufficiently self-denying to be willing to represent real psychological
events alone, and to shun all effects of poetic eloquence, all pathetic
or dramatic situations which appeared beautiful or interesting at the
expense of the truth. His name is synonymous with artistic earnestness
and literary rigor.

He was not a savant who was at the same time a writer of fiction,
or who, in the course of his life, became a writer of fiction. His
literary work is based on earnest, slowly acquired preparatory studies.
His books have nothing in them that is juvenile or frivolous, nothing
that is smiling or versatile. These books are the results of a slowly
developed and late maturity. He did not make his début until he was
thirty-five years old, and, although he devoted his whole time to
literature, he left behind him in his fifty-ninth year but seven

His was a profoundly original, but by no means elementary character.
His originality was dependent on the fact that two literary currents
united in his temperament and there formed a new well-spring. In
his youth he received simultaneously, or almost simultaneously, two
impulses, which determined his intellectual career.

The first current that reached him was the romantic-descriptive
tendency in literature originating with Chateaubriand, a tendency
characterized by a style fraught with lyrical emotion and brilliant
coloring, which charmed the French reading public for the first time
in "Atala" and "Les Martyres," and which later gained a far firmer and
more powerful rhythm, as well as a far superior picturesque vigor, in
Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales," and "Notre Dame de Paris." Like all
poets, indeed like all human beings, Flaubert was inclined in youth
to the lyrical, and his lyric muse, through the historic development
of French poesie, became a varied-hued and melancholy homage to
the religion of beauty. The second current directed into his inner
being, was the tendency of Balzac's novels against the modern, their
employment of what was hideous and brutal as characteristic, their
passionate realistic bias, and their fidelity of observation.

While these two currents flowed at one and the same time through his
inner being, and after the lapse of some time became blended together,
they received a new coloring and a new name.

As a youth he had composed for the drawers of his writing-table many
descriptive and pathetic lyrics, in Hugo's, Gautier's, and Byron's
style; but justly feeling that his originality could not assert itself
in this direction, and that, upon the whole, there was no longer room
for anything original in this department, he withheld his productions
from the public, and reconciled himself to the idea of appearing
comparatively ungifted, or, at all events, unproductive. About the
same time he made literary efforts in an opposite direction; he spoke
himself sometimes of a tragi-comedy on the smallpox; but this attempt,
too, he refrained from publishing. Not until Chateaubriand and Balzac
had fostered in his mind a new poetic form, did he feel sure of his
originality, and made his first public appearance.


Even to those who have read little or nothing of Flaubert, it is well
known that in the year 1856 he created an extraordinary sensation in
Paris, and very soon throughout Europe, with a novel entitled "Madame
Bovary." An absurd lawsuit,--the state attorney prosecuted both author
and publisher, on the plea of the immoral tendencies of the work, and
a unanimous verdict of acquittal on the part of the jury, could do
little to increase the attention which the strongly individual new
talent had excited. The book appeared singular and scandalous, as is
apt to be the case with new attempts in literature. It was a token of
opposition. People compared it with the literary productions of earlier
times, and asked themselves if it was poetry. It was rather a reminder
of surgery, of anatomy. Very much later, in Parisian literary circles
where fidelity to a former conception of poetry was maintained, it was
said: "Will you please excuse us from reading M. Flaubert's skeletons."
The author was called an ultra-realist; people found in his novel only
the merciless, inexorable physiology of every-day life in its sorrowful

In the first moment of excitement, people overlooked the fact that now
and then there escaped from this physiologist a thoroughly impersonal,
it is true, yet figurative, richly colored expression, which seemed
freighted with a message from quite a different world than that of
vulgar life. The half-cultured literary public did not perceive that
these descriptions of simple provincial circumstances and provincial
misfortunes, of pitiful errors and of a wretched death, were produced
in a style which was at once as clear as a mirror and as pleasant to
the ear as harmonious music. There lay buried in the book a lyric poet,
and ever and anon there burst from the grave a word of flame.

It was precisely the epoch when the generation born between 1820
and 1830 was assuming the mastery in literature, and revealing its
physiognomic type by an analysis of real life, executed with harsh
hands. The new generation turned from philosophic idealism, and from
all that pertained to romance, and wielded the dissecting-knife with
genuine enthusiasm. In the same year in which "Madame Bovary" appeared,
Taine, in his work "Les philosophes français du 19e siècle,"
dissected the prevailing spiritualistic doctrines, annihilated Cousin
as a thinker, and declared, with the utmost nonchalance, and without
entering into any controversy with the romantic school, that Victor
Hugo and Lamartine were already classic writers, who were read by young
people rather from curiosity than from sympathy, and who were as far
removed from them as Shakespeare and Racine. They were "admirable and
worthy remains of a period which had been great, but which no longer
existed." His friend, Sarcey, wrote, not much later, in "Figaro," that
article which was so often quoted and so much derided by Banville, the
disciple of the great romantic school, and which culminated in the
words: "Forward, my friends! Down with romance! Voltaire and the Normal
School forever!"[2] In dramatic poetry, opposition to the romantic
school appeared to have been frustrated by the unfruitful little _École
de bon sens._ Ponsard and those who were intellectually allied to him
had not been able to maintain long what people had once expected of
them; but the more modern realistic dramatic writers at this juncture
combined with them. Augier, who had dedicated his first poetry to
Ponsard, and who had at first followed the sentimental, _bourgeois_
tendency of the latter, entered on a new career, in 1855, devoted
to drastic description of the immediate past. The way had just been
pointed out to him by the bolder, hardier Dumas, with whom, in spite
of all his respect for the generation to which his father belonged,
had commenced the direct and pertinent derision of the romantic
ideal; this can be seen in the _rôles_ of Nanjac, in "Le Demimonde"
and of Montègre, in "L'ami des femmes." The answer that Montègre,
bewildered by the superiority of Ryon, makes the latter, _"Vous êtes un
physiologiste, monsieur_," was in reality the sole reply that the elder
generation could offer to the critic of the younger.

Augier was born in 1820, Dumas in 1824, Sarcey and Taine in 1828. The
author of "Madame Bovary," who first saw the light in 1821, evidently
had kindred spirits among his contemporaries. He differed from them in
his secret, unshaken fidelity to the ideals of the past generation;
but he united with them so unhesitatingly in their attacks on the
caricatures of these ideals that, without further ceremony, he must be
classed in the group of these anti-romantic writers.

And yet, through his harshness and coldness, he was much more of a
reminder of Mérimée, who stood alone in the past generation; to many,
indeed, he appeared but a heavier, broader Mérimée. For the first thing
noticeable in him was that he was a cold-blooded poet; and these two
epithets, cold-blooded and poet, had previously been united in Mérimée

A closer study, however, would have shown that the cold-blooded
deliberation of Mérimée was of quite a different character than that
of Flaubert. Mérimée treated romantic material in an unromantic, dry,
and meagre manner. His tone and his style corresponded, for the tone
was ironical, the style lacking in imagery, and cold. With style and
tone, however, the wildness of the theme and its barbaric, impassioned
character were at variance.

Flaubert, on the contrary, harmonized theme and tone. With infinitely
superior irony he pictured the vapid and the absurd; but with theme
and tone his style was at variance. He was not, as Mérimée, rational
and meagre; he was all radiant with coloring, and harmonious, and he
spread the gold-wrought veil of this style over all the commonplace
and sorrowful incidents he narrated. No one could read the book
aloud without being astonished at the music of its prose. The style
contains a thousand melodious secrets; it aims the keenest satire at
human weakness, powerless yearnings and aspirations, self-deception
and self-satisfaction, to an accompaniment of organ music. While the
surgeon in the text, without the slightest manifestation of sympathy,
is lacerating and tearing to pieces, a beauty-loving lyric poet is
sobbing out a low, wailing accompaniment. If we should turn to a page
in which a village apothecary utters his half scientific prattle, in
which a diligence tour is depicted, or an old casket described, we
would find it, viewed from a stylistic standpoint, as highly colored
and enduring as a mosaic, owing to the freshness of its expressions and
the solid structure of its sentences. Each clause is so carefully put
together that no two words could possibly be removed without destroying
the entire page. The assured refinement of the imagery, the metallic
ring of the musical flow of words, the rolling breadth of the prose
rhythms, invested the narrative with a marvellous power that was now
picturesque, now comic.

There was evidently something singularly dual in his temperament. His
character was composed of two distinct elements which were complements
of each other: a burning hatred of stupidity and an unbounded love of
art. This hatred, as is so often the case with hatred, felt itself
irresistibly attracted to its object. Stupidity in all its forms, such
as folly, superstition, self-conceit, and illiberality, attracted him
magnetically, and inspired him. He was compelled to depict it trait
by trait; he deemed it, in and for itself, entertaining, even when
others could not discover it to be interesting or comical. He made
a formal collection of stupidities, absurd pleas for law-suits, and
vapid illustrations; he collected a mass of wretched verse, written
by physicians alone; every evidence of human stupidity, as such, had
its value to him. In his works, indeed, he has done nothing else than
erect monuments with a masterly hand to human limitation and blindness,
to our misfortunes, so far as they depend upon our stupidities. I
almost fear that the world's history was to him the history of human
stupidity. His faith in the progress of the human race was exceedingly
wavering. The mass, even the reading public, was to him "that
everlasting blockhead which we call they (_on_)." If we wished to label
this side of his character, and absolutely stamp him with one of those
popular, but to him so detestable, words ending with "ist," it could
not with full justice be pessimist, nor yet nihilist; imbecillist would
be the word.

To this unremitting pursuit of stupidity, whose embittered character
was shrouded in its purely impersonal form, corresponded, as before
stated, a passionate love of literature, which to him signified beauty
and harmony, which was considered by him the highest, in fact the only
true, art, and which he cultivated with a yearning for perfection that
first kept him long silent, then caused him at a late day to become
a master, and finally rendered him early unfruitful again. When he
depicted the commonplace, it caused him more distress than others; he
therefore endeavored to elevate his materials through the artistic
manner of his treatment, and since in his eyes the most important
attribute of authorship was the plastic power, he strove beyond all
else to attain perspicuity. He has said so himself, and we feel it to
be true when we study him through his style.

In his very first work all the merits of this style came to light.

Read the following passage from "Madame Bovary," where Emma, yet
unmarried, accompanies Bovary to the door, after his medical visit to
her father: "She always went with him to the first step of the outside
stairs. If his horse had not yet been brought forward they remained
there. They had said adieu, they attempted no further remark; the
fresh air encompassed her, played with the downy hair of her neck,
or blew about her side the strings of her apron, which twisted and
twirled like a little flag. Once when a thaw had set in, the water was
trickling down from the bark of the trees, and the snow was melting on
the roofs of the buildings. She stood on the threshold; she went back
to get her parasol; she opened it. The parasol was of a changeable
green and blue silk, and the sun shining through it lent a radiant and
flickering lustre to her white complexion. She smiled beneath it, while
the soft zephyrs played about her, and the raindrops were heard to come
pattering down, one by one, on the outstretched silk of the parasol."

So insignificant a matter as this ordinary leave-taking becomes
interesting through the loving care bestowed on the description, and
the separation obtains individual life from the prominence given to a
single day, when, after all, nothing of moment transpires. The accuracy
with which this commonplace situation is portrayed, transforms it into
a painting of high rank, one that reproduces simultaneously the visible
and the audible, the tableau and the mobile life.

Or recall the passage where Emma, after her marriage, falls in love for
the first time:--

"Emma grew thin, her cheeks became pale, her face lengthened. With her
smoothly brushed black hair, neatly tied with a ribbon, her large eyes,
her straight nose, her birdlike walk, and always silent as she was,
she almost seemed to glide through existence without touching it, and
to bear on her brow the indistinct impress of some sublime destiny.
She was so sorrowful and so calm, and at the same time so gentle and
so reserved, that in her presence people felt as though seized by some
icy spell, just as a shudder is apt to run through the frame in church
where the perfume of flowers is mingled with the chill of the marble."

The comparison is new, is striking and brief. We here detect the poet
in the narrative.

We detect him still more clearly when he continues thus:--

"The ladies of the city admired her housewifely taste, the patients her
courtesy, the poor her benevolence. But she herself was full of desire,
full of rage and hatred. Her dress, with its rigid folds, concealed a
troubled heart, whose pangs these chaste lips of hers did not reveal.
She was in love with Léon.... She investigated his every footstep; she
searched his countenance; she invented a whole history in order to have
a pretext for a visit to his room. She esteemed the apothecary's wife
happy because she slept under the same roof with him; and her thoughts
were continually alighting on the house, precisely as the doves of the
'Golden Lion' that were always flying there to moisten their rosy feet
and their white wings in the muddy water of the eaves."

This is not a striking general comparison; it is a comparison borrowed
from a positive occurrence in the village where Emma lives. So vividly
does this village present itself to the mind's eye of the author.

Sometimes he condenses an entire description into one powerful
poetic phrase. So it is in the passage where he introduces the old
maid-servant who has been summoned to a meeting of the agricultural
union in order to receive for her faithful service of fifty-four years
on one farm a silver medal valued at twenty-five francs.

Katharina Niçaise Elizabeth Leroux, a little old woman who looks all
shrivelled up in her poor garments, appears upon the estrade. We see
her thin face with its deep wrinkles beneath her cap, and her long
hands with their knotted joints, which had been coated by the dust of
the barn, the grease of wool-picking, and the potash of the wash-tub,
with so hard a crust that, although they had been washed in pure
spring water, they still seemed dirty, and which could no longer be
wholly closed, but always remained open, as though in testimony of too
much toil. We see the nun-like rigidity of her expression, the animal
stupidity of her wan visage, her motionless bewilderment at the unusual
spectacle of banners, flourish of trumpets, and smiling gentlemen in
black coats, decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honor. Then
Flaubert condenses the picture into this one sentence:--

"Thus stood in the presence of these well-to-do old fogies this
half-century of slavery."

Trivially accurate as are the details of the description, the style of
this recapitulating sentence is grand and finished. We feel plainly
that for this author the art of literary composition was the highest of
all arts.

Not only was literary composition his unconditional, his sole calling,
but, as may be stated without any undue exaggeration, his conception of
the world was equivalent to the thought: The world exists in order that
it may be described.

He once gave expression to this opinion of his in a thoroughly
suggestive manner. In his introduction to the posthumous poems of Louis
Bouilhet, alluding to his friendship with the author, he addresses the
following words to youth:--

"And since upon every occasion a moral is demanded, here follows mine:

"If there be anywhere two young people who pass their Sundays in
reading the poets together, who confide to each other all their efforts
and their plans, all the striking similes and every pertinent word
that may occur to them, and who, although otherwise indifferent to
the opinion of the world, conceal this passion of theirs with virgin
modesty, I would give them this advice.

"Go, side by side, into the forests, repeat verses to each other, take
into your souls the sap of the trees, and the everlasting might of
the masterworks of creation, yield to the impression of the sublime.
Should you ever progress so far that, in all the occurrences about you,
as soon as they fall under your observation, you see only an illusion
that is to be described, and this to so great a degree that nothing,
not even your own existence seems to you to have any other purpose than
to serve as an object for description, and you become firmly resolved
to make whatever sacrifice the calling may demand, then come boldly
forward and give books to the world."

Rarely has an author, without making a direct effort to that effect,
more keenly characterized his own peculiarity. He has consecrated his
life to the calling of describing illusions. I know very well that,
in his estimation, everything that transpires is for the true author
an image, merely a phantom to be held fast by art. We can, however,
unhesitatingly invest his words with the wider significance that life,
as a whole, is to be conceived as a series of dissolving phantoms, and
then the sentence applies accurately to himself. Take a mental survey
of his materials from the first unworldly and worldly dreams through
which Emma Bovary strives to rise above the emptiness of provincial
life and the insipidity of her marriage, to the hallucinations of a
St. Antonius,--what else have they all been to him than illusions for

An illusion has the dual character that corresponds to Flaubert's
temperament. The phantom, apart from its delusive attribute, is
beautiful; it has coloring and perfume; it fills the mind and
communicates to it an increase of life. Thus tempered, it attracted
the adorer of beauty in Flaubert. But an illusion is, furthermore,
hollow and empty, is often foolish and hideous, is not rarely, at the
same time, comic; and thus conceived it captivated the realist in
Flaubert, the man whose gaze penetrated the soul's life, and who found
satisfaction in dissolving the air-castles of fancy into their simplest


How did he become what in his first novel we learned him to be?

His father was a celebrated surgeon in Rouen, a strictly upright, and
kind-hearted man, who brought up his son independently and well. That
his first home was the house of a physician is felt in his books. He
studied medicine himself for a little while, later took up the study
of law, but even in his school-days cast himself passionately into
literature; and in this enthusiasm of his he met a friend of his own
age, who became a friend for life,--the poet Louis Bouilhet. Without
doubt there are autobiographical elements in the description of the
friendship between Frédéric and Deslauriers in his novel, "L'éducation
sentimentale." Flaubert, like Frédéric, went to Paris when nineteen
years old, to pursue his studies. His father purchased the villa
Croisset at Rouen, which he afterward inherited; he passed his life
alternately in Rouen and in Paris, a life in which there were but two
external events,--a journey to the Orient, which he undertook when he
was thirty years of age, and a later journey to northern Africa, which
preceded the completion of "Salammbô." In Rouen he took delight in
shutting himself up for months at a time, to study and to write; in
Paris he chiefly sought diversion. He was in youth persevering in his
labors and violent in his pleasures.

His temperament corresponded to his exterior. I only saw him in his
later years, and then I had but a cursory view of him. But no one
could forget this large-eyed, blue-eyed Hercules, with his rosy-hued
complexion, his high, bald brow, and his long mustache, which concealed
the large mouth and the vigorous jaws. He carried his head high and
slightly thrown back; his abdomen protruded somewhat. He was not fond
of walking; but he inclined to violent gestures; and he beat the air
wildly with his arms, when hurling forth monstrous paradoxes in tones
of thunder. Like all blustering giants, he was good-natured. His wrath,
says one of his friends, boiled over and fell like milk.

He had, indeed, grown up at the time when the French romantic school
was in its prime. He had received his first stamp from this school,
and retained traces of it in his style and in his manner of abusing
the _bourgeoisie,_ which recalled Théophile Gautier's "truculent" form
of speech, as well as in his mode of dress. He was fond of wearing
large, broad-brimmed hats, enormously wide pantaloons, and coats that
were made to fit tight at the waist. In the summer time he went about
his own dwelling in broad, white and red striped breeches, and a sort
of jacket that made him resemble a Turk. There was a report among
his friends that the citizens of Rouen, when preparing for Sunday
excursions into the country, would promise their children to let them
see M. Flaubert in his garden if they were good.

I said that some journeys were the main events of his life. Women have
taken less place in it than in the lives of most men. He had, when
he was twenty years old, loved them as a troubadour. At that time
he had repeatedly walked several miles in order to kiss the muzzle
of a Newfoundland dog that a lady he admired was in the habit of
caressing. Later he accustomed himself to a more matter-of-fact mode
of contemplation and practice in erotic matters. He was a friend of
anecdotes and stories of the manner of Rabelais, and in his books the
erotic illusion was grasped by him with quite as hardy hands as all
other illusions.

Nevertheless, in this point, as in so many others in the character
of Flaubert, there was an abiding duality. He, the old bachelor, the
passionate tobacco-smoker, who held intimate, friendly relations with
men alone, and who felt at ease in no other female society than in that
of certain pretty but not over-fastidious ladies,--held the belief,
apparently the result of personal experience as well as of a deeply
rooted abstract conviction, that it was the natural, so to say proper,
thing for man to cherish for life one grand amatory passion, which must
forever remain unrequited.

Fully in accord with this, we find in a letter to a lady, dating from
the last year of Flaubert's life, the playful, yet at the same time
mournfully true, words: "We poor laborers of literature! Why is that
denied to us which is so readily granted to commonplace people? They
have a heart! We have none at all! So I repeat to you once again that
I, for my part, am an uncomprehended soul, the last _grisette,_ the
sole survivor of the old race of troubadours."

This "uncomprehended soul," however, was not in the habit of turning
to women for comprehension. He dreaded love as a danger and a burden.
Friendship alone was to him a religion, and among his friends there
was no one who stood so near to him as that first and enduring friend,

I do not exactly know if there have been times that were especially
propitious to independent minds. But this much I do know: these two
young men, who stepped forth into life when the _bourgeoisie_ under
Louis Philippe had gained the dominion and acquired a poetic expression
partly from the feeble and righteously inclined _École de bon sens_,
and partly from the "Vaudevilles" of Scribe, found the period it was
their destiny to live in, the worst of all times. The romantic school
had outlived itself and produced its own caricature. It was the fashion
everywhere to praise common sense and to deride poesy. Inspiration and
passion were out of date, and consequently laughable. Everything that
was not commonplace was found tiresome. The two youths conceived the
age in which they lived to be that of the sway of mediocrity and of the
commonplace; they saw the victorious mediocrity, like a monstrous black
water-spout, absorb all things, and whirl all things away with it.

This gave them both a fund of melancholy and deep earnestness, an
under-current of contempt for humanity, a sensation of spiritual
isolation, and through it an inclination for productions of an
impersonal, objective kind.


As the result of such a frame of mind it was that Flaubert, in mature
manhood, resolved to come forward as an author, and wrote "Madame
Bovary." There was wafted from this book a breath of icy coldness.
It seemed as though the author at length had succeeded in drawing
forth the truth from the deep, cold well where it had been lying, and
as though it were now standing on its pedestal and freezing, having
brought with it all the cold, shuddering horror of the abyss. A
singular book, written without the slightest degree of tenderness for
its subject! Others had depicted the simple life of the country and
of the province with melancholy, with humor, and at least with that
attempt at idealizing which contemplation from afar is apt to bring
with it. He regarded it without sympathy, and represented it as insipid
and spiritless as it was. His landscapes were devoid of so-called
poetry, and were painted briefly and yet completely. In his severe,
masterly style he contented himself with reproducing the chief outlines
and coloring, but gave thus an accurate presentation of the landscape.
And he was wholly without tenderness for his principal character,
a rare phenomenon in a poet whose principal character is a young,
beautiful, and exceedingly attractive woman, who passes her life in
yearning, languishing, and passionate desire, who errs and is deceived,
is ruined, and finally perishes without properly sinking beneath the
level of her surroundings. But every dream, every hope, every delusion,
every naïve and unhealthy desire that floated through her brain was
investigated; and brought to light without agitation, indeed with an
overwhelming irony. There was scarcely a phase of her existence in
which she failed to appear ridiculous or morally repulsive, and not
until she dies a hideous death does the suppressed irony wholly recede,
and she breathes her last, not as an object of sympathy, it is true,
yet not as an object of contempt.

The author seemed thoroughly cold, even in the description of the hour
of her death. That this appearance was deceptive is proved by a letter
from Flaubert, which may be found in Taine's work, "De l'intelligence"
(I., 94), and in which he says, "When I wrote the poisoning scene of
Emma Bovary, I had so strong a taste of arsenic in my mouth, I was
so thoroughly poisoned myself, that for two consecutive days I could
digest nothing; indeed, I found it impossible to keep a morsel of food
on my stomach." How deeply the author was affected, body and soul,
was concealed in the novel, owing to the supreme self-control he had
exercised while engaged on the work.

Throughout the entire book there appeared not a single personage with
whom the author could possibly have anything in common, or with whom
he could, in ever so slight a degree, be supposed to wish to change
places. His characters were all, without exception, commonplace,
unlovely, vicious, or unfortunate. Nor did he attempt the slightest
deviation from the standpoint taken. The young wife, for instance,
dangerous though her instincts were, in her yearning for the beautiful,
her aspirations after the ideal, and her persistent faith in the
romance of love, possesses attributes which, if portrayed differently,
or with a more sparing hand, might have rendered the character noble,
even in its errors. What would not George Sand have made of her!
But Flaubert is determined not to fall into the old ruts, and so he
assiduously robs the so-called fascinating sins of every trace of
poetry. The betrayed husband, likewise, notwithstanding his lack of
skill as a physician and his awkwardness as a man, is kind-hearted,
patient, upright, and truly devoted to Emma, and thus has elements
which, under other circumstances, might have produced a most touching
effect. Moreover, he develops, at her death, qualities, such as
profound attachment and self-forgetfulness, which a slight pressure
from the finger of the author might have made seem significant and
worthy of respect. But the creative artist refuses to give the clay
this slight pressure; his love of truth compels him to keep the
form within the limits that to him appear the correct ones, and so
he permits Bovary to remain, from beginning to end, a good-natured,
undignified, inefficient, and unattractive person.

There is in the novel but a single character with whom we are made
to feel partially in sympathy, and that is the little apothecary
apprentice, Justin, who adores Emma from afar. There is one situation,
after her death, in which the author almost seems inclined to idealize
him. When all the other mourners have left the churchyard, Justin draws
near her grave, and we read:--

"On the grave among the fir-trees there knelt a weeping child, whose
heart was ready to burst with the sobs that; shook his frame; and
there he remained, in that shaded! spot, groaning beneath the weight
of an immeasurable anguish, which was milder than the moon, and more
unfathomable than the night."

We marvel to think that these lines have Flaubert for their author.
But then we read in continuation: "Suddenly the wicket gate turned
on creaking hinges. It was the grave-digger Lestiboudois; he came in
search of his spade, which he had forgotten a little while before. He
recognized Justin, as the boy clambered over the wall, and knew at once
who was the offender that had stolen his potatoes."

This passage is the only one that remained in my mind ten years after
my first perusal of "Madame Bovary," and it is a most admirable
passage. It is not arbitrarily ironical, _à la_ Heine; irony, in this
case, is simply keen pénétration, the work of a versatile mind. It is
quite natural that Justin should be stirred to the most profound and
poetic emotions by the death of the lady whom he adored; but it is none
the less natural that he should previously have stolen potatoes, and
that the grave-digger should intuitively discover in the fact of his
clambering over the wall of the churchyard an indication of his potato
theft. But that Flaubert should have these two circumstances, these
two sides of life, before his eyes at the same time, is proof of an
intellectual vigor and a command of his subject which, as far as I am
aware, have never before appeared in a similar form.

The artistic irony of Flaubert is here impersonal, necessary, true, and
profound, in quite a different way than that of Mérimée. It is merely
a stereoscopic view, by means of which reality is set forth in bold

It is no wonder that at first people scarcely discovered anything else
in the work than this mode of contemplation, and the fidelity to real
life that was its product. If we leave out of consideration the brief
period when the absurd notion was afloat that Flaubert was an immoral
writer, it may safely be said that the prevailing idea concerning him
was that he was what is called a realist. He copied the insignificant
and the important with equal conscientiousness, but with an evident
predilection for the commonplace and the morally repulsive; in fact,
everything with him centred in one plan, vigorous but harsh. The
admirers of the book found it a most remarkable work; the fault-finders
pronounced the tendency introduced by Flaubert photographic, but not
artistic. People expected, or rather dreaded, a new "Madame Bovary"
from his hand.

But they waited for it in vain, for nothing further was heard from him.
Years passed, and he still remained silent. Finally, after the lapse of
seven years, he appeared before the public with a new novel, and the
reading world proclaimed aloud its astonishment. This new book bore
the reader far away from the villages of Normandy and the nineteenth
century. The vanished author of "Madame Bovary" was found again amid
the ruins of ancient Carthage. He represented, in "Salammbô," nothing
more or less than Carthage in the days of Hamilcar; a city and a
civilization of which people had scarcely any reliable knowledge,--a
war between Carthage and the hireling troops of the city, which did not
so much as offer general historic, or even so-called ideal interest. A
Parisian novel, whose plot centred in violated marriage vows, had been
looked for, and in its stead was received one whose scenes were laid
amid ancient Punic culture, Tanit's worship, and Moloch adoration,
sieges and battles, terrors without number or measure, the death of
an entire army by starvation, and the slow martyrdom of an imprisoned
Lybian chieftain.

And the strangest part of it was that all this subject-matter, about
which no one knew anything, or could in the least control, this whole
extinct barbaric world, was produced with a clearness and a minute
accuracy that was in no respect inferior to that of "Madame Bovary."
People discovered that Flaubert's methods were in no wise dependent
upon the character of his materials, that they were the same in regard
to this colossal, foreign subject as they had been in dealing with
his former commonplace theme. He had played a prank on the public,
manifesting in a striking manner how little he had been understood. Any
one who had looked upon him as a realist servilely bound to the clod,
could now learn how thoroughly at home Flaubert felt in tropical lands.
Any one who had thought that the petty affairs of every-day life, in
their ugliness and their absurdity, were the sole objects that had
power to captivate him, must now discover that Flaubert in his youth
had shared the enthusiasms of the men of 1830, and that he, as well as
they, had been attracted by primitive passions and barbaric customs.
Yet to how great a degree Flaubert actually entered into the sympathies
and naïveté of the extreme romantic school, very few had the most
remote idea, even after reading "Salammbô." The sun of Africa and the
life of the Orient had been made hallowed to him by Byron and Victor
Hugo, and his personal impressions in the Orient had only confirmed the
poetic ones. The aroma of coffee gave him hallucinations of wandering
caravans, and he swallowed the most horrible dishes with a sense of
piety, if they but had an exotic name.

Flaubert had done his utmost to produce something that resembled
ancient Carthage. He was artist enough, however, to know that the
main point was not the outward truth, but the inner truth which makes
probability. His descriptions were to many unconditionally convincing.
A doubt concerning their conformity with a long since vanished reality,
was once answered in my presence by one of the first critics in France
with a simple "I am quite sure it is true." Flaubert himself came
out openly and boldly against the doubters, in his defensive reply
to an attack of Sainte-Beuve, with the following words: "I believe I
have produced something that resembles Carthage. But that is not the
question. I don't care a straw for archæology! If the colors are not
harmonious, if the details do not accord, if the morals cannot be
traced to religion or the occurrences to passion, if the characters are
not well sustained, if the costumes do not correspond to the customs,
or the buildings to the climate, then my book is, of course, untrue.
Otherwise it is true."

These words hit the nail on the head; we are impressed by them with
the master's good conscience and the authority with which it invests
him. His work was not, as were so many later archæological novels, a
masquerade, in which modern emotions and views of life are brought
forward in antique costumes. No; everything here was on a par, and
had the same wild, formidable stamp. Love, stratagem, revenge, piety,
strength of character, all were unmodern.

The poet's love of truth was evidently as ardent and as vehement as
it had been when he had written his first novel. Now, however, in the
presence of this victory over death and the past, it seemed absurd to
speak of Flaubert's photographing. Therefore this new book yielded
a more correct standpoint for the "realism" of its predecessor.
That Flaubert could not be classed among those who were copyists of
accidental truth, became clear. It was seen that his accuracy of
description and information was rooted in a peculiar precision of
imagination. He evidently possessed in an equally high degree the
two elements that constitute the being of the artist: the gift of
observation and the power of investing with form. He had the bias
and the capacity for the study of nature and for historic study,
the scrutinizing eye which no relation between details escaped. To
speak now of photography in connection with him was impossible. For
study implies activity, ardor, and an eye for the essential; while
photography, on the other hand, is something passive, mechanical,
and totally indifferent to the distinctions between essential and
non-essential matters. And Flaubert, furthermore, had the temperament
of the artist, that condition of mind which heats red-hot everything
acquired by observation, marking it with its own stamp, and which
reveals itself as style through the impress given. For what is style
but the sensated result of the temperament, the medium by means of
which an author compels the reader to see as he has seen! Style marks
the difference between the artistically truthful delineation and a good
photography, and style is omnipresent with Flaubert.

No sooner had he collected his observations, and made his preliminary
studies for a book, than they ceased, as such, to interest him.
Thenceforth the chief matter of import to him was to write this book in
perfect language. And language became everything, while the carefully
prepared notes dwindled into wholly subordinate affairs. That he
was accurate and reliable he was in the habit of declaring to be no
merit on his part, simply the justice an author owed the public; for
truthfulness, in and for itself, had nothing whatever to do with art.
"No," he would cry, in tones of thunder, flinging out his arms as
he spoke, "the only important and enduring thing under the sun, is a
well-formed sentence, a sentence with hand and foot, that harmonizes
with the sentences preceding and following it, and that falls
pleasantly on the ear when it is read aloud." So he wrote very little
each day, at the utmost not more than two or three pages, weighed each
word in order to avoid repetitions, rhymes, and crude expressions, and
relentlessly pursued a repeated word, even at a distance of thirty or
forty lines; indeed he could not so much as endure the recurrence of
the same syllable in one sentence. Often a single letter vexed him,
and he would search patiently for words in which it was not found;
sometimes he devoted considerable energy to an eager chase for an
"r" when he needed a rolling sound. He always read aloud what he had
written, singing it out in his stentorian voice, so that the passers-by
would stand still in front of his house to listen. Many called him the
advocate, and believed that he was practising a speech for court.

He suffered torments during his efforts to attain perfection. They
were the pangs of childbirth which every author knows, but his were so
agonizing that he was many times forced to spring to his feet, shriek
aloud, and call himself a blockhead, an idiot! for no sooner was one
doubt overcome than another had already arisen. At his writing-table
he sat as one magnetized, wholly absorbed in his work, and lost in
silent contemplation of his subject. Turgenief, who was his faithful
and intimate friend, and saw him very often, declared that it was
exceedingly touching to see Flaubert, the most impatient of mortals,
so patient in his struggles with language. One day, after he had been
working uninterruptedly the whole day at a single page of his last
novel, he went out to take a meal, and when he returned late in the
evening he thought he would edify himself by reading his page in
bed; but alas! it failed to satisfy him. He sprang excitedly out of
bed,--tall man of over fifty years of age as he was,--began to rewrite
the page, clad in no other apparel than his night-shirt, and wrote and
rewrote the whole night long, sometimes working at his writing-table,
sometimes, when driven from it by the cold, continuing his labors in

How he loved and how he cursed his language! Is it not highly
characteristic that in "Madame Bovary" he only forgets himself and
speaks in his own name in a single place, and that is in the passage
where, in referring to Raoul's _blasé_ indifference to Emma's
declaration of affection, which proceeded from a genuine passion,
however commonplace it may have sounded, he indignantly exclaims, "As
though the abundance of the soul did not at times overflow in the most
vapid similitudes, as though any one could reproduce the exact measure
of his needs, conceptions, or sufferings, since human language is but
a cracked kettledrum, upon which we hammer out melodies that sound as
though they were played for a bear-dance, when it is our wish to move
the stars!"

Such a lament from such lips is, nevertheless, what it declares human
words not to be: the exact _measure_ of the agonized striving of the
great stylist for artistic perfection.

When an aspiration of that kind has once appeared in an art, it cannot
become extinct. None of the initiated who have written after Flaubert,
and who understood his literary ideal, have been able with clear
consciences to make essentially smaller demands upon themselves than he
made upon himself. Therefore the friends, the spiritual kindred, the
disciples of Flaubert, are the most severe, the most original stylists
of our century.

Not that Flaubert himself theoretically favored originality of style.
He cherished a naïve belief in one ideal, absolutely correct style.
He called this style, which he strove earnestly to realize, wholly
impersonal, because it was nothing but an expression of his own
personality, which had not occurred to him in what he had written.

Guy de Maupassant has wittily remarked that the trite saying,
"The style is the man!" admitted of being reversed in Flaubert's
case. He was the man who was the style. In other words, he was the
personification of style. It is no unimportant or indifferent matter
that the author who beyond all others represents the modern tendency
and the modern formula of French literature, far from being an
imitator of chance nature, or, as the reproach was usually worded, a
photographer, was, on the contrary, an artist _sans reproche._


Flaubert, personally, has never made the slightest revelation to the
public concerning himself. He has maintained the same silence in regard
to his artistic principles as in reference to his private experiences.
Under these circumstances we must examine all the paths that are open
and that might lead us into his inner being. One of the nearest and
best of these that presents itself to us is a careful study of the
works of his fraternal friend and companion-in-arms, Louis Bouilhet.
These two men, superficially considered, appear very unlike in their
tastes and in their endowments. Flaubert was an epoch-maker in French
literature; Bouilhet, a second or third rate poet. Flaubert was a novel
writer; Bouilhet, a lyric and dramatic poet. But this dissimilarity
does not affect the character of the friends. They were fond of each
other because they were spiritually akin. Not without cogent reasons
did Flaubert dedicate his first book to Bouilhet, and the latter all
his best productions to Flaubert. A careful comparison shows such
striking analogies between the poetry of Bouilhet and the prose works
of Flaubert that it puts the eyes keenly on the alert to detect the
more suppressed of the peculiarities of the greater of the two friends.

One of the most remarkable of Bouilhet's poems, "Les fossiles," opens
with an ambitious picture of prehistoric scenery and animal life,
followed by a portrayal, in poetic form and scientific spirit, of the
development of the globe until the appearance of the first human pair,
and ends with a glowing vision of the humanity of the future.

We encounter this predilection for the colossal and marvellously
prodigious once more in the author of "Salammbô." In Flaubert's
excavation of vanished nations and religions we detect the same
proclivity for fossils displayed by Bouilhet, and finally, there is
plainly revealed in Flaubert the tendency manifested by his friend, in
more poems than one, to blend science and poetry in one perfect whole.

As Flaubert was absorbed in classic and Semitic literature, so Bouilhet
studied Chinese, and treated Chinese themes and plots in a long
series of poems. Through these investigations, and the poetic efforts
that were their results, both hoped to escape from a period that was
distasteful to them, and both were unconsciously following the example
of Goethe. They were both, moreover, satisfying one and the same
impulse to show the reader the relative nature of all life-forms, to
teach him not to pride himself on the glorious progress the world had
made, and to impart to him some idea of the fact that our civilization,
excavated and described after the lapse of centuries, would not make a
much more reasonable figure than that of far-off antiquity.

Both desired to bring forward antiquity in its historic and prehistoric
purity, without any disturbing modern additions, and were deterred
by no difficulties. As though it were not difficult enough in itself
to depict the antediluvian world, with its singular vegetation,
its formless, stupendous animals, Bouilhet has deprived himself of
every expression that might recall modern ideas. He describes the
pterodactyls, the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, the mammoths and
mastodons, without calling them by name; we only recognize them by
their form, their bearing, their demeanor. In a similar way Flaubert,
in his "Salammbô," has refrained from making the most remote allusion
to the modern world; he seems to be wholly unacquainted with it, or to
have forgotten its existence. The artistic objectivity here accords
with the scientific.

And this, with both authors, is the main point. They obeyed,
consciously or unconsciously, a new idea of the relation of poetry to
science. They wished to contribute their share toward creating a poesy
built wholly upon a scientific foundation.

The highest ambition of Bouilhet was to write a poem which should
embrace the results of modern science, and be to our age what that
most admirable poem of Lucretius, "De rerum natura," was to antiquity.
Flaubert had apparently a similar dream. But in his case the desire
was more decidedly stamped with his hatred of human stupidity. He
brought it into realization negatively, and in two different forms;
in his work, "La Tentation de Sainte Antoine" (The Temptation
of Saint Anthony), where he allowed all the religious and moral
systems of humanity to pass in review before the reader's eye, as
the insane hallucinations of the hermit; and, in his last story,
"Bouvard et Pécuchet," where the numerous errors and blunders of two
poor blockheads gave the author a pretext for furnishing a sort of
encyclopædia of all the departments of human knowledge in which they
had made mistakes. In "La Tentation de Sainte Antoine," he gave the
tragedy of the human mind, which here reveals itself in magnificent,
frantic, and wailing madness, a King Lear on the world's heath. In
"Bouvard et Pécuchet" he delineates caricature, naïve ignorance,
and the bungling of dilettanteism in all scientific and technical
provinces, as personified by two ludicrous old bachelors. The work
is posthumous, and only the first part exists, even that being in an
unfinished state; but highly characteristic of Flaubert was his design
to supplement this first part with a second, in which the two poor old
bachelors, who begin and end their career as clerks, carry out the
idea of taking notes on the blunders of all the well-known writers (M.
Flaubert included), and collecting them into a volume.

Both Flaubert and Bouilhet, therefore, were spurred on in their labors
by the powerful impulse to preserve in their works, in one form or
another, either positive or negative, the results of modern science.
What Flaubert said of Bouilhet is equally applicable to both, that
the fundamental thought, the innate element of his mind, was a sort
of naturalism, that was a reminder of the _renaissance._ But while
Bouilhet dissipated his best powers in mediocre and traditional
romantic dramas, Flaubert has not paid homage to tradition in a
single one of his works; on the contrary, he has always made profound
scientific study the preparation for literary composition; and for this
reason the relation between science and poetry is with him the nerve
and sinew and the main interest of the work.


It almost seems as if, in our day, the time were past when the novelist
would sit calmly down before a large sheet of white paper some fine
day, and, without further preparation, begin the execution of his work
of fiction.

Flaubert, at all events, has introduced a method which places poetic
production very nearly on a scientific basis. It was his wont to pass
whole weeks in the libraries, that he; might gain light on some single
point in his subject; and he would devote hours to a careful study
of a mass of engravings, in order to acquire a thorough knowledge of
the costumes or bearing of a former generation. In the course of his
preparatory studies for "Salammbô," he read ninety-eight volumes of
ancient and modern literature, and undertook, besides, a journey to
Tunis, in view of studying the landscapes and monuments of ancient
Carthage. Indeed, even in order to paint phantastic landscapes, such as
those in "La Légende de St. Julien," he visited regions calculated to
give him an impression similar to that of which he had dreamed.

As soon as he had sketched the plan for a book, he began to seek
reliable facts for each separate chapter; each had its own individual
outline, which must be gradually filled in. He read through the entire
collection of the "Charivari" from the time of Louis Philippe to the
latest date, in order to supply the literary Bohemian, Hussonet, in
"L'éducation sentimentale," with witticisms in the style of his period.
He made a study of not less than one hundred and seven works, in order
to be able to write the thirty pages on agriculture in "Bouvard et
Pécuchet." His excerpts for this last novel, if printed, would fill no
less than five octavo volumes.

During all these preliminary studies he apparently lost sight, for
a time, of his novel, and merely kept in view the desire to increase
his knowledge. His fondness for accumulating information was almost as
intense as that for fashioning the psychic contents of his work, or
rather it gradually became so.

If we take a survey of his productions, in chronologic order, we shall
find an ever plainer transfer of the centre of gravity from the poetic
to the scientific element; in other words, from the human, psychologic
element to historic, technical, and scientific externalities, which
fill an unwarranted amount of space. Flaubert was always in danger of
becoming a tedious author, and grew more and more prolix as time went

He was actuated by a belief--in my estimation a correct one--that the
writer of fiction in our day cannot be a mere writer for amusement,
or a _maître de plaisir._ He felt that the ship of poesy, without
scientific ballast, ran great risk of being capsized. It was soon
proved, too, that with this ballast it sailed better, more securely,
and with a prouder bearing. By degrees, however, as his development
progressed, the passion for overcoming difficulties took complete
possession of him; he wanted to carry the heaviest loads, the largest
stones he could find, until gradually his vessel became freighted with
so enormous a cargo that it grew too heavy, sank too far into the
water, and was stranded. His last novel is little else than a wearisome
series of abstracts from a couple of dozen different scientific
discoveries and technical methods. As a work of fiction it is scarcely
readable, and is only interesting psychologically as a consistent and
definite expression of a remarkable personalty and of an erroneous
æsthetic standpoint.

The general tendency to the study of externals is not peculiar to
Flaubert; it characterizes the entire group of creative minds to which
he belongs. It sprang from a justifiable aversion to the rationalistic
conception of man as an abstract rational being, and from the bias
of our age toward determinism, which aimed at explaining the psychic
life of the individual from climatic, national, psychological and
physiological causes. This endeavor is found in various phases in the
most noted of the contemporaries and fellow-countrymen of Flaubert;
in his friend and teacher, Théophile Gautier, in Renan, in Taine, and
in the Goncourt brothers. Different as these minds are, they have
in common this very modern stamp, and, moreover, nearly all of them
possess, also, the no less modern quality of displaying too decidedly
marked traces in their artistically executed works of the labor that
lies behind these and the pains with which they were created, often
producing an extremely distressing impression of being over-freighted.
Renan, to whom this is less applicable than to the others, not
infrequently portrays matters which lie wholly beyond his framework.
Gautier is, perhaps, the only one of these great artists from whose
brain word and image seem to flow without constraint, and even he was
rarely without the dictionary and the encyclopædia in his hand.

With Flaubert the encyclopædia gradually supplants the emotions.
Gautier, as years passed, grew to be less of a poet and more of a
picturesque delineator. Flaubert, with the lapse of years, became ever
more and more of a savant and a collector.

If we cast a glance over his entire literary production, from its first
beginning until its close, we shall find that the human element, which
originally bubbled over and fructified everything, gradually ebbed,
withdrew, and left behind it only the arid, stony soil of historic or
scientific fact.

In "Madame Bovary" all is yet life. The descriptions are infrequent
and brief. Even the description of Rouen, the birthplace of the author,
which occurs in the part where Emma journeys in the diligence from
Yonville to meet Léon, is given in a very few lines, and is, moreover,
enlivened by the account of the dizziness that ascends to Emma from
this throbbing mass of thousands of existences, as though the fumes of
the passions she attributed to them had been wafted toward her. The
direct description of the city, the picturesque point, gives place
at once to the psychologic analysis of the impression the great city
makes upon the main character of the book,--a tendency which becomes
more and more rare with Flaubert. In "Salammbô," the previous study and
all that is purely descriptive must necessarily assert themselves more
vigorously. There are long passages of this work which would be far
more likely to lead us to think we were reading a scrap of the history
of ancient warfare, or some archæologic treatise, than a novel, and
which, therefore, are exceedingly tedious. Nevertheless, "Salammbô" was
rich in purely human themes and delineations. Read, by way of example,
the chapter that tells about how the priests resolve to propitiate
Moloch through the sacrifice of the first-born son of each house; how
some of them knock at the door of Hamilcar, and how he strives to
rescue his little son Hannibal. The state of public sentiment here
represented by Flaubert is precisely what must have existed in a
Tunic city the moment such a wholesale slaughter of the innocents was
commanded, and this single incident stands forth from the background of
this sentiment in a manner never to be forgotten. Hamilcar rushes into
his daughter's room, grasps Hannibal with one hand, and with the other
a cord that is lying on the floor, binds the boy hand and foot, thrusts
what still remains of the cord into his mouth for a gag, and hides him
under the bed. Then he claps his hands, and calls for a slave child of
eight or nine years of age, with black hair and protruding brow. There
is brought to him a poor, wasted, yet at the same time bloated child,
whose skin is as gray as the cloth about its loins. Hamilcar is in
despair. How would it be possible to make this child pass for Hannibal?
But the minutes are precious, and, in spite of his repugnance, the
proud Suffet begins to wash, to rub, and to anoint the wretched
slave child. He attires it in a purple robe, which he fastens at the
shoulders with diamond clasps, and the little fellow laughs, delighted
with all this splendor, and skips about the room with joy. Hamilcar
leads the child away with him. When, with feigned anguish, he is giving
it up to the priests in the court below, there appears, between the
ivory pillars on the third floor of the house, a pale, wretchedly clad,
dreadful looking man, with outstretched arms. "My child!" he cries.
"He is the foster-father of the boy," Hamilcar hastens to say; and, as
though to make the parting brief, he pushes the priests from the door.
When they are gone, he sends the slave the best that his kitchen can
afford,--meat, beans, and conserves. The old man, who for a long time
has not tasted a morsel of food, pounces upon the bounteous supply,
and devours it amid tears. Coming home in the evening, Hamilcar finds
the slave, surfeited and half-intoxicated, lying asleep on the marble
floor of the great hall, through the crevices of whose dome a flood of
moonlight streams. Hamilcar gazes at him, and something akin to pity
stirs within his soul. With the tip of his foot he pushes a rug under
the slumberer's head.

Here is the essence of human universality extracted from a specific
Carthaginian situation.

"Salammbô," as already intimated, created not a little sensation, but
was none the less of a disappointment to the reading world and the
critics. People did not share the author's fondness for colossal and
tropical themes; they did not enjoy wading through long descriptions of
antique catapults, battering-rams and sieges, and they begged Flaubert
to write a new "romance de passion," a love story.

Toward the close of the year 1869, he finally yielded to their
solicitations by issuing his novel "L'éducation sentimentale," his
most characteristic and most profound work, which, however, met with
a decided failure. From this time forth he experienced nothing but
literary defeats. The public favor which had been cooled by "Salammbô,"
now wholly forsook him.

The new novel was a new style of book altogether. The almost
untranslatable title (the approximate meaning being "The education of
the heart") is not a correct one; for no one and nothing is educated
throughout the work. The novel treats, to be sure, of an emotional
life; but it deals rather with the gradual drilling and final
extirpation of the emotion of love than with any development of the
latter. It might more justly be called, "The illusion of love and its
eradication." It is one of Flaubert's main efforts to distil absolute
nothing in the form of pure illusion out of all the aspirations and
pursuits of ordinary, every-day human life. In "Salammbô" everything
revolves about a sacred veil of the goddess Tanit, known as Zaimpf.
This veil is radiant and light; the city from which it is stolen goes
to ruin; the mortal who wears it is invulnerable as long as he is
enveloped in it; but whoever has once been shrouded in it is sure to
perish. Illusion is like this veil. It is as radiant as the sun and as
light as the air; it imparts the security of the somnambulist, and it
consumes as surely as a Nessos robe.

I said that Flaubert believed in a passionate love which, although
never gratified, was capable of enduring throughout life. Such a love
he has depicted in the affection of Frédéric for Madame Arnoux. It is
utterly hopeless; utterly bashful; it is suppressed; it only finds vent
in certain unwise sacrifices for the husband of Madame Arnoux, and in
certain half-uttered Platonic assurances of mutual sympathy. Nor does
it lead to anything beyond a promise that is withdrawn by the lady, a
few attempts which fail, and finally, after the lapse of twenty years,
a fruitless confession and one single embrace, from which the lover
recoils in terror, as the object of his affections has, meanwhile,
grown old, and, with her white hair, inspires him with repugnance.

The peculiarity of this novel, in a still more striking way than in
"Madame Bovary," is that it has no hero, and is quite as devoid of
claims to a heroine. In the antiquated epithet "hero" lies the entire
traditional usage of old-fashioned poesy. For centuries authors had
paraded a hero before the public; he was characterized by his manly
strength and beauty, was grand in his virtues or his vices, and was in
every respect an example to be imitated or shunned. There had at length
arisen a poet who was willing to deal with a young man of the average
type, and who, without expressing either disapproval or regret, showed
how completely null and void was the life of such a young man, and
how disappointments were showered upon him. These were neither great
nor unusual disappointments; to be sure, there was nothing great or
unusual in the young man's experiences,--no, they were all those petty
disappointments that go to make up the sum of existence. A long chain
of petty disappointments, intermingled with a few great ones, is to
Flaubert the definition of human life. The charm of the book, however,
does not rest chiefly on the prevailing sentiment of its pages. Its
main charm to me is the graceful, chaste manner in which the pen is
wielded in passages descriptive of Frédéric's great love. This profound
comprehension of the young man's dreamy devotion denotes personal
experience. Nowhere has Flaubert written more directly from the depths
of his own soul and gained less from the five or six artificial souls
which he, in common with every critically disposed and critically
endowed nature, had the power to give himself.

Frédéric loves without any ulterior thought, without hope of reciprocal
affection, with a feeling that is akin to gratitude, with a positive
need of utter self-renunciation and complete self-sacrifice for the
sake of the object of his devotion, which is all the stronger because
it finds no requital. As the years pass, however, a feeling of a
similar nature develops in the breast of the woman whom he loves. It
is a settled thing between them that they can never belong to each
other; but their tastes, their judgment, is in harmony. "Often one of
them, listening to words of the other, would exclaim: 'I too!' and very
soon the other in turn would also cry: 'I too!' And they dream that
if Providence had so willed, their lives would have been filled with
love alone, 'something as sweet, as glittering, and as sublime as the
twinkling of the stars.'

"The greater part of their time was passed on the veranda in the
open air, while the trees, with their autumnal crowns of glory, were
spread in rich masses before them, gradually sloping up to the pale
horizon; or they sat in a pavilion at the end of the alley, whose sole
article of furniture was a sofa covered with gray linen. Black spots
defiled the mirror; the walls exhaled a mouldy odor; yet the two sat
undisturbed, chatting of themselves, of others, of anything whatsoever,
in a state of mutual rapture. Sometimes the sunbeams, working their way
through the Venetian blinds from the ceiling to the floor, formed the
strings of an enormous lyre."

This lyre, I am quite confident, was the genuine lyre of old, dating
from the days of the troubadours, and the days of Flaubert's youth. At
this point, it actually seems as though Flaubert had wakened it from
its slumbers.

"L'éducation sentimentale" appeared just as the empire was entering
upon the epoch of its last crisis. The book had but a moderate sale.
The press unanimously pronounced it tedious, and, of course, immoral.
The most painful thing of all to Flaubert was the long silence that
followed. The work of seven years seemed lost.

The cause of this was simply that the author had labored too hard. In
order to portray the Paris of the forties, he had studied old pictures
and old plans of the city, had reconstructed vanished streets, and had
searched through several thousand newspapers for references to public
speeches, and descriptions of street life and street fights. It had
been his desire to give an absolutely perfect picture of the times, and
he had made it too elaborate. The historic apparatus is most wearisome
in its effect. Flaubert's hatred of stupidity, as in so many other
instances, had led him too far. Even in his youth it had belonged to
the amusements he and Bouilhet had entered into together, to make as
faithful copies as possible of official speeches, of poems written for
special occasions, such as the dedication of a bell, or the burial of
a monarch, of festival addresses and popular orations of every kind.
Great quantities of such things were found after Bouilhet's death. In
"Madame Bovary" Flaubert had entertained himself by communicating the
entire speech of a _chef de bureau_ at the agricultural exposition,
with its feigned enthusiasm and stylistic naïveté; in this last work
he furnished _in extenso_ and, furthermore, in Spanish, a liberal
speech delivered by a "patriot from Barcelona," in the year 1848, at
an assemblage of the people in Paris. The speech is unsurpassed as an
example of the phraseology of freedom and progress; but both the speech
I and the entire assemblage before whom it is delivered, are out of
place owing to their very slight connection with the main personages
of the book. The picture of the times exceeds its proper limits: here,
as well as in "Salammbô," the pedestal has become too large for the
figure. Flaubert must undoubtedly have felt this himself, for while he
was still at work on "Salammbô" he wrote dejectedly to a friend: "The
study of costumes beguiles us to forget the soul. I would gladly give
the half-ream of paper I have been filling with notes for the past five
months, merely to feel truly moved for three seconds by the passions
of my characters." But he was unable to keep in the background his
descriptions of the surroundings of his theme and the general state
of public sentiment and conditions in the country and period where
the scenes were laid. We feel that his studies follow ever closer and
closer on the tracks of his imagination, precisely as the monster
Maanegarm (the moon-swallower) in Norse mythology pursues the moon, and
the poor moon is continually in danger of being devoured.

The three stories, "A Simple Heart," "The Legend of St. Julian the
Hospitable," and "Herodias" are a triology of master-works: a novel
of the day, a legend of the Middle Ages, and a picture of antiquity.
"Herodias" gives, in the style of "Salammbô," a gloomy, vigorous
portraiture of Palestine in the time of John the Baptist, from which
the inquisitive and gluttonous visage of Vitellius gleams upon the
reader as he gazes into the fading eyes of the decapitated head of
John. "The Legend of St. Julian" is a model of a regeneration of the
spirit of the Middle Ages. No monk has ever written a more genuine
Christian legend than has this freethinker. Nothing can be more
strictly legendary in style than the conclusion about the leprous
beggar who devours Julian's last morsel of bacon and last crumb of
bread, pollutes his plate and cup, and finally not content with
stretching himself upon Julian's couch, demands that Julian shall warm
him with his naked body; When the former prince, in the lowliness of
his heart, humbles himself to do as he is asked, the leper embraces
him with violence, and at the same moment the form of the leper is
transfigured: the eyes become as luminous as the stars, the hair as
long and glittering as the sunbeams, the breath as fragrant as roses.
The roof of the hut flies off, and Julian floats upward in the blue
ether, face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ, who bears him in his
arms to Heaven.

In "A Simple Heart," Flaubert has, so to say, related the history
of the old serving maid to whom the prize was awarded in "Madame
Bovary." It is a touching narrative of an old worn-out maid-servant,
who, forsaken by all, at length bestows the entire love of her heart
upon a parrot. She admires this parrot beyond all else in the world;
it seems to her, in her simplicity, to resemble the Holy Ghost as a
dove in the altar-painting of the village church, and gradually it
comes to occupy in her consciousness the place of the Holy Ghost. The
bird dies and she has it stuffed. In her dying hour, she sees it in
colossal size, with outspread wings, waiting to receive her and bear
her upward into Paradise. This is like a profoundly melancholy parody
on the conclusion of the legend. In one, as in the other, all is vision
and illusion. Owing to the frailty of our nature, our capacity for
being deceived, our need of consolation, and our readiness to sink into
despair,--Flaubert seems to say,--one straw will serve us quite as
well as another in our extremity.

These three stories met with no success whatever. In them study had
made one step forward at the cost of life. They contained scarcely any
conversations, scarcely any isolated remarks; they were rather tables
of contents than novels. People felt that the author had begun to
despise the poetic form proper. Furthermore, they contained too great
a display of erudition. The reader can readily conjecture how many
legends Flaubert must have read in order to reproduce their character
so accurately. But no attempt is made to place the result of this
erudition in perspective before the eyes of the modern reader. Not a
single path is hewn in the primitive forest of the legendary world; it
is a dense thicket, which wholly impedes the free course of the vision.
The story seems rather adapted to the public of the thirteenth century,
or to polished connoisseurs, than to ordinary modern readers.


The year 1874 finally brought the work which Flaubert himself
considered his _chef d'œuvre,_--a work on which he had labored for
twenty years, and which furnished the sharpest definition of his
mind,--a most startling work. When it was first rumored that a French
novelist had written "The Temptation of St. Antonius," at least
nine-tenths of the public entertained not the slightest doubt that the
title was to be accepted facetiously or symbolically. Who could surmise
that the work was a thoroughly serious history of the temptation of the
ancient Egyptian hermit!

No novelist, indeed no poet of any kind, had ever attempted
anything similar. It is true, Goethe had written "Die classische
Walpurgisnacht" (The Classic Walpurgis Night); Byron in the second act
of "Cain" had furnished a model for certain portions; Turgenief, in
"Visions," had treated in a masterly way, a remotely related subject
within a very small framework. A drama in seven parts, however,
consisting of one long drawn out monologue, or, more accurately
speaking, a detailed presentation of what had passed, during a night of
terror, through the brain of one single mortal who had become a prey
to hallucinations; such a work had never before been written. And yet
this work, failure though it is in some respects, displayed a quiet
grandeur, in its melancholy monotony, and an absolutely modern stamp,
attained by but few poetic works of French literature.

St. Antonius stands on the threshold of his hut on a mountain in
Egypt. A tall cross is planted in the earth; an old twisted palm-tree
bends over the edge of the precipice; the Nile forms a lake at the
foot of the mountain. The sun is setting. The hermit, exhausted from
a day passed in fasting, labor, and self-torture, feels his spiritual
strength give way, as darkness falls upon the earth. A dreary yearning
for the external world fills his heart. Now sensual, now proud, now
idyllic and laughing memories allure and torment him.

First of all Antonius yearns for his childhood, for Ammonaria, a young
maiden whom he once loved; he thinks of his charming pupil, Hilarion,
who has forsaken him; he curses his solitary life. The migratory birds
that pass over his head awaken within him the desire to fly onward
as they do. He deplores his lot; he begins to lament and groan with
anguish. Why had not he become a peaceful monk in a cell? Why had not
he chosen the calm and useful life of a priest? He wishes that he
were a grammarian or a philosopher, a toll-keeper on a bridge, a rich
married merchant, or a brave, jovial soldier; his physical strength
would then have had employment. He is overcome with despair at his
position, bursts into tears, and seeks consolation and edification in
the Holy Scriptures. Opening at the Acts of the Apostles, he reads the
passage where Peter is permitted to eat all animals, clean or unclean,
while he, Antonius, is tormenting himself with strict fasting. Turning
to the Old Testament at the same time, he reads how the right is
given to the Jews to kill all their enemies, to slaughter them by the
wholesale, while he is commanded to forgive his enemies; he reads of
Nebuchadnezzar, and envies him his festivals; of Ezekias, and shudders
with desire when he thinks of all his precious perfumes and golden
treasures; of the beautiful Queen of Sheba, and asks himself how she
could possibly hope to lead the wise Solomon into temptation; and it
seems to him that the shadows which the two arms of the cross cast on
the earth, approach each other like two horns. He calls upon God, and
the two shadows assume their old places once more. Vainly does he seek
to humiliate himself; he thinks with pride of his long martyrdom; his
heart swells when he recalls the honor that has been shown him from
every quarter, for even the emperor has written to him three times; and
then he sees that his water-jug is empty and his bread consumed. Hunger
and thirst gnaw at his vitals.

He remembers the envy and the hatred which the Church Fathers showed
toward him at the Council of Nice, and his soul cries for revenge. He
dreams of the aristocratic women who formerly visited him so often in
his wilderness, in order to confess to him and entreat him to permit
them to remain with him, the saint. He is absorbed in these dreams so
long that they become realities to him. He sees the fine ladies from
the city approach, borne in their sedan chairs; he extinguishes his
torch in hopes of dispelling the apparitions, and now for the first
time clearly beholds the visions in the dark canopy of the night
sky, like scarlet images on a ground of ebony, whirling past him in
bewildering haste.

Voices which resound from the obscurity proffer him beautiful women,
heaps of gold, and scenes of splendor. This is the beginning of the
temptation, the thirst of animal instincts. Then he dreams that he
is the confidant of the emperor, the prime minister, with the reins
of power in his hands. The emperor crowns him with his diadem. He
avenges himself cruelly on his enemies among the Church Fathers, wades
in their blood, and suddenly finds himself in the midst of one of
Nebuchadnezzar's festivals, in a glittering palace, where the viands
and drinks form mountains and streams. Anointed, and decorated with
precious stones, the emperor sits upon his throne, while Antonius from
afar reads upon his brow his haughty, ambitious thoughts. He penetrates
him so thoroughly, that suddenly he himself becomes Nebuchadnezzar, and
amidst all his revelling feels the need of becoming an animal. Flinging
himself down, he creeps on the ground, bellowing like a steer, and then
he scratches his hand on a stone and awakens. He lashes himself so
long in punishment for this vision, that the pain becomes a rapturous
delight, and suddenly the Queen of Sheba appears before him. Her hair
is powdered blue; she is all radiant with gold and diamonds, and she
offers herself to him with wanton coquetry. She is all women in one,
and he knows that if he were to touch her shoulder with one finger a
stream of liquid fire would shoot through his veins. There she stands,
all fragrant with the perfume of the Orient. Her words ring upon his
ear like singularly captivating music, and, seized with burning desire,
he stretches forth his arms toward her. Then he controls himself and
orders her from his presence. She and her whole train vanish. And now
the devil assumes the form of his pupil, Hilarion, who comes to shake
his faith.

The little, withered Hilarion, to his alarm, calls his attention to the
fact that in fancy he has been mastered by the enjoyments which in real
life he has renounced, assuring him that God is no Moloch, who forbids
the enjoyment of life, and that the endeavor to understand God is worth
more than all the self-torture in the world. He first points out to
Antonius the contradictions between the Old and the New Testament;
then the various contradictions of the New. And Hilarion grows. Then
there arise in the brain of Antonius recollections of all the heresies
of which he has heard and read in Alexandria and elsewhere, and has
victoriously overcome: the hundreds upon hundreds of heresies of the
early Christian sects; views, of which one is more monstrous than
the other, are howled in his ears by the heretics themselves. They
clamor about him like so many hyenas. Each one belches out its madness
upon him. Hysterical women and the sweethearts of the martyrs cast
themselves wailing upon the ashes of the dead. Antonius sees heretics
who emasculate themselves, heretics who bum themselves. Apollonius of
Tyre reveals himself to him as a miracle-worker in no respect inferior
to Christ. And Hilarion continues to grow. Following in the train of
the heretics come the gods of the different religions in a monstrous
procession, from the most abhorrent and grotesque stone idols and
wooden fetiches of ancient times, to the bloodthirsty gods of Eastern
lands, and the gods of beauty of Greece. They all move swiftly past,
and uttering a loud wail of lamentation, disappear with a wild leap in
the great vacuum. He sees gods that fall into a swoon, others that are
whirled away, others that are crushed, tom to pieces, and precipitated
into a black hole; gods that are drowned or dissolved into air, and
gods that are guilty of self-destruction. Among them looms up Buddha,
who in everything that he narrates concerning himself bears the most
startling resemblance to the Saviour. Finally Crepitus, that Roman god
of digestion, and Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, make the leap down into
the abyss.

A terrible silence, a deep night ensues.

"They are all gone," says Antonius.

"I still remain," replies a voice.

And Hilarion stands before him, by far larger than before,
transfigured, beautiful as an archangel, radiant as the sun, and so
tall that Antonius is compelled to throw back his head in order to see

"Who are you?"

Hilarion replies: "My kingdom is as large as the world, and my desire
knows no bounds. I am always marching forward, freeing minds and
weighing worlds, without fear, without pity, without love, and without
God. They call me Science."

Antonius recoils in horror. "You are, rather, the devil!"

"Do you wish to see him?" A horse's hoof shows itself, the devil takes
the saint on his horns and bears him through space, through the heavens
of modern science, wherein the planets are as abundant as grains of
dust. And the firmament expands with the thoughts of Antonius. "Higher,
higher!" he exclaims. Infinity reveals itself to his gaze. Timidly
he inquires of the devil for God. The devil answers him with new
queries, new doubts. "What you call form is perhaps but a delusion of
your senses," he says; "what you call substance is only a conceit of
your mind. Who knows if the world is not an eternal stream of facts
and occurrences, the semblance the only truth, the illusion the only

"Adore me!" suddenly exclaims the devil, "and curse the mockery you
have called God!" He vanishes, and Antonius awakens, lying on his back
on the brink of his rock.

But his teeth are chattering, he is ill; he has no longer either bread
or water in his hut, and his hallucinations begin anew. He loses
himself in the swarm of fabulous animals that throng about him, the
fantastic monsters of the earth. He finds himself on a strand amid
the inhabitants and plants of the sea and land, and he can no longer
distinguish plants and animals. The twining plants wind and curve
like serpents; he confuses the vegetable and mineral world with that
of mortals. The gourds look like human breasts; the Babylonian tree
Dedaim, bears human heads as its fruit; pebbles seem like skulls;
diamonds glitter like eyes. He experiences the pantheistic yearning to
blend with universal nature, and this is his last wail:--

"I have a desire to fly, to swim, to bark, to roar, to howl. Would that
I had wings, a homy plate, a shell, a beak! Would that I could coil my
body like a serpent, divide myself, be in everything, be wafted around
like a perfume, unfold myself like a plant, sound like a tune, shine
like a light, conceal myself in all forms and penetrate every atom!"

The night is at an end. It was only a new incubus. The sun rises, and
in its disk the face of Christ beams upon him. Then follows the last
discreet irony of the author. Antonius makes the sign of the cross, and
begins anew the prayer that was interrupted by these visions.

In this work of fiction we have Flaubert complete, with his sluggish
blood, his gloomy imagination, his intrusive erudition, and his need of
bringing to a level old and new illusions, ancient and modern faiths.
The almost savage vehemence of his temperament reveals itself when
he thrusts the god Crepitus before the God Jehovah. That he chose the
legend of St. Antonius as a medium through which to free his mind, and
utter some bitter truths to mankind, was because he was brought into
contact by this material with antiquity and the Orient which he loved.
Through it he could use the large cities and landscapes of Egypt as a
background on which to lavish brilliant colors and gigantic forms. And
with this theme he no longer painted the helplessness and stupidity of
a society, but of a world. He depicted, quite impersonally, humanity
as having waded up to its ankles until that hour of its existence, in
mire and in blood, and pointed to science--which is as much shunned and
dreaded as the devil--as the sole salvation.

The idea was as grand as it was new. The execution by no means attained
the level of the plan. The book was crushed by the material used in
its preparation. It is not a poetic work; it is partly a theogony,
partly a piece of church history, and it is moulded in the form of a
psychology of frenzy. There is in it an enumeration of details that
is as wearisome as the ascent of an almost perpendicular mountain
wall. Certain parts in it, indeed, are only thoroughly intelligible to
savants, and seem almost unreadable to the general public. The great
author had gradually passed into abstract erudition and abstract style.
"It was a sorrowful sight," Emile Zola has pertinently remarked, "to
see this powerful talent become petrified like the forms of antique
mythology. Very slowly, from the feet to the girdle, from the girdle to
the head, Flaubert became a marble statue."


I have delayed speaking of the last vision of St. Antonius because it
seems to me the most remarkable of all, and was undoubtedly the poet's
own vision. After all the gods have vanished, and the journey through
the heavens has come to an end, Antonius beholds, upon the opposite
shore of the Nile, the Sphinx, lying on its belly, with outstretched
claws. But springing, flying, howling, snorting fire through its
nostrils, and beating its wings and its dragon's tail, Chimera is
circling about the Sphinx. What is the Sphinx? What else than the
gloomy riddle that is chained to earth, the eternal question,--brooding
science! What is the Chimera? What else than the winged imagination,
which speeds through space, and touches the stars with the tips of its

The Sphinx (the word is of the masculine gender in French) says: "Stand
still, Chimera! Do not run so fast, do not fly so high, do not howl so
loud. Cease snorting thy flames into my face; thou canst not possibly
melt my granite."

The Chimera replies, "I never stand still. Thou canst never grasp me,
thou dread Sphinx."

The Chimera gallops through the corridor of the labyrinth, flies across
the sea, and holds fast with its teeth to the sailing clouds.

The Sphinx lies motionless, tracing the alphabet in the sand with its
claws, musing and calculating; and while the sea ebbs and flows, the
grain waves to and fro, caravans pass by, and cities fall to decay, it
keeps its firm gaze bent fixedly on the horizon.

Finally it exclaims, "O phantasy! lift me up on thy pinions, out of my
deadly ennui!"

And Chimera replies, "Thou unknown one! I am enamored with thine eyes;
like an inflamed hyena I circle about thee. Oh, embrace me! Fructify

The Sphinx rises up; but Chimera flees in terror of being crushed
beneath the stony weight. "Impossible!" says the Sphinx, and sinks into
the deep sand.

I see in this scene the last confession of Flaubert, his stifled wail
over the imperfection of his entire life-work, and this master-work of
his life in especial. The Sphinx and the Chimera, science and poetry,
desire each other in him, seek each other again and again, circle
about each other with passionate yearning and ardor; but the true
impregnation of poetry through science he did not accomplish.

Not that his principle was unsound or incorrect. On the contrary,
the future of poetry is embodied in it; this I most truly believe,
for in it was its past. The greatest poets, an Æschylus, a Dante,
a Shakespeare, a Goethe, possessed all the essential knowledge of
their day, and deposited it in their poetry. True, erudition and
scientific culture, in and for themselves, have no poetic value. They
can never in the world take the place of poetic sentiment and artistic
creative power. When the poetic endowment, however, exists, the gaze
is sharpened by an acquaintance with the laws of nature and the human
soul, and expanded by the study of history. In our day, when modern
science is reconstructed in every direction, however, it is undoubtedly
far more difficult than ever to span the materials of science without
being overwhelmed, and Flaubert did not possess that native harmony of
spirit which renders difficult things easy, and reconciles the profound
antitheses of the world of ideas.

"La Tentation de St. Antoine" was disposed of in Paris with a merry
boulevard jest. Few people, indeed, had the patience to enter
thoroughly into the volume, and the public at large was soon ready
with its judgment: the book was mortally tedious. How could the author
expect that such a work would entertain the Parisians? Now "Madame
Bovary" was quite another thing. Why did not Flaubert repeat himself
(as all poor writers do)? Why did not he write ten new "Madame Bovarys"?

He retired to Croisset, shut himself up in solitude, deeply wounded
as he was, for long months, and slowly began to work anew. He grew
old. He lost by death his older friends, George Sand and Théophile
Gautier; the friends of his youth and those who were his comrades in
thought, Louis Bouilhet, Feydeau, Jules de Goncourt, and others. He
grew lonely. His health gave way; there came a time when he could not
endure walking,--indeed, could not even bear to see others walk. He
became poor. He lost his property, which from the kindness of his heart
he had intrusted to his only niece, and which her husband had foolishly
squandered, and during the latter years of his life he was tormented
with anxieties regarding means of subsistence. Toward the last he
rarely went to Paris; indeed, he did not even go into his garden. His
sole exercise consisted in an occasional walk from his bed-chamber to
his study, and down stairs to take his solitary meals.

He died in May, 1880, and was buried at Rouen. The funeral procession
was small; only a few friends from Paris followed him to his last
resting-place. From Rouen scarcely any one attended the funeral, for he
was almost entirely unknown to the majority of the inhabitants, and by
the minority who knew him, he was hated as an immoral and irreligious

[1] The titles are: Madame Bovary, Salammbô, L'éducation sentimentale,
La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, Le Candidat, Trois Contes, Bouvard et

[2] See Th. de Banville's _Odes funambulesque: Vilanelle des pauvres
housseurs,_ and two _Triolets._



From Germans who were conversant with the Danish language, I have
frequently heard the remark, "Paludan-Müller, not Oehlenschläger, is
the greatest poet Denmark has produced in this century. How strange
this has never been recognized!"

It has never been recognized because it is not the case. Intellectual
superiority has here been confounded with poetic, or personal
maturity preferred to the originality of genius. In Meyer's
"Konversations-Lexikon" we read: "Paludan-Müller is unconditionally the
most important Danish author of our century, quite as much owing to
his wealth of ideas, as to the depth of his moral earnestness and the
beauty of form displayed in his diction." Questionable as the justice
of this assertion appears to me, it is equally unquestionable that
Paludan-Müller (born Feb. 7, 1809, died Dec. 28, 1876) is far more
calculated to interest the foreign reader than any other modern Danish
author, and his deep, inquiring mind is especially in harmony with the
German mind.



I need only close my eyes to see him before me as he appeared in life.
I behold the cheerful smile with which he said "Good day" to a guest. I
hear the roguish playfulness with which in lively conversation, almost
in the style of Shakespeare's Mercutio, he clung to a merry pun. In
the last years of his life a severe illness had broken his strength,
and age had set its mark on his noble form. But I can see him in the
freshness and healthful appearance of his robust years, as he was when
I first became acquainted with him.

One August day, in 1863, I saw and spoke with him for the first
time. On a pedestrian trip with a young relative of his, I came to
Fredensborg, in Zealand, and with beating heart set foot on the
threshold of his summer residence. Every poem he had written was
familiar to me, and I experienced a sense of disquietude, mingled
with rejoicing, at the thought of being so near the man whom I had so
long admired in the distance. We waited a while in the rustic, modest
room; I had just time to cast a glance at the unpretending household
furniture, when the door of the adjoining room opened, and he whom
we sought appeared, bidding us welcome in his singularly refined and
impressive voice. An aristocratic face met my gaze, with features that
might have been chiseled by an idealistic sculptor. The sensitive,
quivering nostrils, and the deep, strong, handsome blue eyes, shaded
by vigorous eyebrows, gave life to the face; a slight deafness, too,
imparted to it a listening, attentive look. On his head Paludan-Müller
wore a high, pointed cap, which was extremely becoming to him, and
caused his noble face to resemble an old Florentine portrait. His
finely shaped, sarcastic mouth was made doubly beautiful by the smile
that hovered about it; his white necktie imparted a certain dignity to
the poise of the head, and he looked equally distinguished and amiable.

After the first interchange of greetings, the conversation fell on
the relation between the beautiful in nature and in art, and, zealous
idealist as he was, he maintained that everything in nature must be
called beautiful, or nothing. It was a sort of echo of the Hegelian
doctrine of beauty as the work of man alone.

During this talk we had strolled out into the Fredensborg castle
garden. Paludan-Müller sat down on the banks of Lake Esrom, and
pointing with his stick to a monstrous toad, he said, "Voltaire
was right when he made his toad exclaim, '_La beau idéal c'est ma

He seemed to take a certain naïve pleasure in making use of terse,
sportive sentences of this kind. There might also be detected in his
conversation at times, an interesting antithesis; he would now employ
certain abstract and solemn phrases that have become foreign to the
younger generation; would speak, for instance, of the "worshippers of
beauty," and more to like effect; and again, he would amuse himself by
clothing his thoughts in some extravagantly cynical expression. This
changeful attitude of tone may be recognized in his humoristic poetry.
In his discourse it produced a peculiar effect, much as when a swan
interrupts its calm, royal flight, to thrust its tail upward in the
air. This, however, was only the first impression; it was entirely
effaced by a more intimate acquaintance with him. To those who knew him
well, it was very evident that the ermine-like purity of his nature
and his aversion to the uncleanness and flatness of the daily life of
the period, which had made him a hermit, found their complement in the
witty, sportively polemic tendency of his mind, in his scorn for much
that was excessively admired by others, and in the keen sense of the
comic which had made him the poet of satire.


He passed his summers in Fredensborg, and his winters in the
"Ny-Adelgade" in Copenhagen, and it sometimes occurred to me that this
double place of residence corresponded with the different phases of
his character and his poetry. He was well adapted to his summer home.
There was something in his nature that was akin to the slender, proud
alleys, and the pure air and perfect order of the regularly laid out
gardens. The white statues of the un-Grecian Greek gods and goddesses
among the trees were reminders of his mythologic poems, and harmonized
with the character of the poet who has so often surprised and portrayed
Venus and Aurora at their morning toilets. With all his great and rare
poetic gifts, Paludan-Müller, in his poetry, lacked naïveté; he was
never, properly speaking, the poet of nature; and, therefore, a garden
was much better adapted to his poetic mood than a forest. The little
castle, of which the new royal family promptly took possession, was
very dear to him. He was devoted to royalty, as were but few of his
contemporaries; he was as loyal as a citizen of the days of Frederick
VI. He was rejoiced and felt honored when he received an occasional
visit from the young princesses, whose amiability and simple manners
won his heart; he was put in an especially good humor one day when the
Princess Dagmar[1] sent him her portrait with a few friendly lines.
Finally, the spot suited his need of living in retirement. He went to
Fredensborg long before the other guests from Copenhagen, and remained
there long after they had all departed; he always left the city when
the calendar promised spring, and did not return until the last leaves
had fallen. Thus he had an opportunity of enjoying profound solitude in
his favorite retreat.

Any one who visited him during the winter in Copenhagen, found him in
very different surroundings. His street was in one of the worst and
most notorious quarters of the city at that time. The fact that he
was not in very affluent circumstances had evidently been the cause
of his settling in a place of the kind. It was a singular coincidence
that the pure and rigorous author of "Kalanus" could never step to his
door of a winter evening without having before his eye abundant and
loud testimony of human shame and misery. Many an evening I have seen
him in the streets of this vicinity, leaning on his cane, and looking
neither to the right nor to the left, while numerous rude and noisy
couples drifted past him. I would then remember that the author of
"Kalanus" was also the author of "Adam Homo"; and were not these the
accessory figures of "Adam Homo," the original of the beautiful Lina
and the swarthy Trina which the poet had before his eyes day after
day? Thus it was not an altogether incongruous decree of fate that
located Paludan-Müller in the midst of the most wretched and hideous
vices of Copenhagen. When the threshold of his house was once crossed,
however, the repulsive neighborhood was wholly forgotten. The door
to the peaceful dwelling, where everything was animated by the good
genius and good humor of the poet, was usually opened by a faithful
old maid-servant who was thoroughly devoted to her employer, and with
whose favor no guest could dispense, since, according to the playful
assertion of the poet, she tyrannized over his home.


In conversation with Paludan-Müller, little was learned concerning his
life. He never made any communications regarding it to the public,
nor was it his wont to speak in private of his personal experiences.
He was by no means a good narrator. He discussed every great problem
with interest; but facts, as such, occupied his mind in but a trifling
degree. His mode of speech was argumentative, not figurative; the
poetic element manifested itself in brilliant flashes, but scarcely
ever in a picturesque expression. In a critical, or even violently
exciting situation, I have never seen Paludan-Müller. I do not even
know whether his external life ever presented momentous critical
situations. The external lives of the Danish writers of his day were as
a rule empty. They were educated in one school of learning or another,
passed several years at the University of Copenhagen in vain endeavors
to acquire some professional science, published their first poetry,
undertook an extended journey abroad, and had awarded to them some
official position, or a poet's stipend. To the lot of some of them was
added a long and obstinate struggle for recognition. But even this
dramatic element was lacking in the life of Paludan-Müller. He took
part in no intellectual campaign. True, he was for a time not estimated
according to his deserts, but he was never wholly misunderstood. His
life seems, therefore, to have had as few sharp angles as that of most
of our modern men of talent.

He was born in 1809 at a parsonage in Fünen, became a student in
1828, passed a mediocre examination in jurisprudence in 1835, married
in 1838, and during the years 1838-40 travelled through Middle and
Southern Europe. In 1851 he was made a knight of the order of Danebrog,
and in 1854 received a professor's title. Moreover, in his mature
manhood, he was a poet and a recluse.

What he was as a youth, we must conjecture from his works. From what I
have heard, I imagine him to have been greatly fêted in social circles,
the decided lion of aristocratic houses of Fünen; it has been told to
me that he possessed such humor and so decided a faculty for impromptu
invention, that he would sometimes create on the spur of the moment
an entire little drama, and play it entirely alone, running from one
side of his improvised stage to the other, in order to reply to his own
speeches. I remember, too, having heard that in his younger days he had
experienced a deep heart-grief, a young girl whom he loved having been
snatched from him by death. Very early, at all events, the chain of
bitter experiences, without which he could not have written the first
part of "Adam Homo" in his thirty-first year, subdued his original love
of life, and when still young, he retired from the world, withdrawing
entirely from public, almost entirely from social life, and devoting
himself exclusively to his home, his art, and his theological and
philosophic studies. His marriage was childless, so that even in his
household life there was nothing to fix his gaze on the world without.
The more completely he severed the cords that had bound him to his
surroundings, the more self-controlled and contemplative he became.
Through accidental remarks alone, through words that he dropped in the
course of conversation, without dreaming what an impression they must
make upon a young man, did I gain a clear idea of the nature of the
results at which he had arrived in the course of his life-experience
and knowledge of human nature. These results were not of an optimistic

Never shall I forget the day when I carried to him a pamphlet, my
first published work. "I thank you," said he. "It will give me great
pleasure to read the book. How soon do you want it back?" "I beg of
you to keep it." "You want to present the book to me. Oh, innocence!
He gives his own books to people. Do you carry it to others as well?
What? To your friends and near acquaintances? Well, believe me, you
will not long continue such a course. This is something authors only
do when they are very young." At that time such a speech excited me to
very much the same opposition as the cold, cruel irony of "Adam Homo";
later I learned to understand better the freedom from illusion and the
caution from which it sprang. To-day Paludan-Müller's reserve appears
only natural to me.

The sharp suspicion he sometimes manifested was rather touching than
insulting, for Paludan-Müller was not suspicious on his own account,
but rather for the sake of those who enjoyed his favor. He always
feared that the wicked world, especially dangerous womankind, would
lure his favorites to destruction, and warnings on his part were never
lacking. Among his precepts may be found some of those half-worldly,
half-Christian admixtures of well-calculated egotism and conventional
morality, which are so full of good sense, and yet are listened to so
unwillingly by young people. One day in the year 1867, for instance,
he exclaimed: "What is that you are saying? Some Italian ladies whom
you visited frequently at Paris have invited you to stay at their
house during the Exposition? You should not think of such a thing!"
"And why not? I can assure you these ladies are not only thoroughly
irreproachable in character, but are people of the highest culture."
"That makes no difference, no difference whatever, nor did I say
anything to the contrary; I only remarked that it would be wiser to
have nothing to do with these Italian women. Use your time and your
talents for whole relations; that is what we should do. It is wisest
to sow where we can ourselves reap the harvest; a young man would do
better to employ his time for the benefit of his mother, his sister,
his wife, in other words, in whole relations; everything else is
lost time." He said this with great earnestness, and in a peculiarly
domineering way, as though he were resolved not to listen to any
objections that might be offered. It made me a little angry at the
time, because the innocent invitation of these foreign ladies was by
no means cause sufficient for such an outburst; but when I think of it
now, this mistrust only seems to me one of the spiritual conditions
from which "Adam Homo" proceeded.

It was but comparatively seldom, however, that this negative side
of his character came to light. I have preserved a far stronger
impression of the loving and thoughtful care for others manifested by
Paludan-Müller, of the princely refinement of his nature. His bearing
to his wife, who was ten years older than himself, was the perfection
of chivalry, and a similar chivalrous demeanor marked his intercourse
with the many ladies, by no means endowed with personal attractions,
who visited at his home. To the admiration and flatteries of beautiful
women, he was absolutely unsusceptible. I remember one case, when an
exceedingly handsome lady, who had succeeded in getting a seat next to
him at a social gathering, overwhelmed him with honestly meant thanks,
not unmingled with a critic's appreciation, for "Adam Homo." She
utterly failed to win the favor of Paludan-Müller. What he said to me
afterwards was, "She has, no doubt, in her not very long life, wrought
a considerable amount of mischief." On the other hand, he treated with
peculiar warmth ladies who were in humble and reduced circumstances.
There was in his family an old unmarried aunt, who was well advanced
in the sixties, and who, although a good-hearted, excellent person,
was most unattractive in personal appearance. Paludan-Müller became the
self-appointed knight of this old lady; he always paid her the choicest
attention, and he who scarcely ever invited any one to dine with him
always celebrated her birthday each summer with a little dinner party,
and each time proposed a toast for her in the most hearty words.


Frederik Paludan-Müller was the son of a refined and highly cultured
Danish bishop. He inherited his father's talents for idealistic
reflection. He does not belong, like Grundtvig and Ingemann, Heiberg
and Poul Möller, Hauch and Christian Winther, Aarestrup and Bödtcher,
to the great Oehlenschläger group. Like Henrik Hertz, he belongs to
the circle of J. L. Heiberg. Unquestionably, Heiberg was the Danish
master of poetic art, to whom from the outset he looked up. He was, as
he once told me himself, so captivated in his youth with the personal
presence and conversation of Heiberg that sometimes the latter, in
order to get clear of him when they had been together until late in
the night, was forced to repeat the formula: "Now listen to me once
for all, Paludan-Müller; if you do not leave immediately, I shall
be obliged to order a bed for you on the floor." He never referred
to Heiberg's poetry but with the greatest warmth. It was attractive
to him because of its lucidity, its wealth of thought, and its
romantic flight. He rejoiced in its satire, the related chords met
with a response within his own soul, and its speculative tendencies
harmonized with his own propensity to depict what was universally
valid, universally human. His judgments regarding other poets were
instructive so far as they afforded an insight into the nature of his
own talent. He who so highly esteemed reflection in poetry, could not
sympathize with Oehlenschläger. One day when the discourse turned on
Oehlenschläger, he exclaimed, with the most comical gravity, "In short,
Oehlenschläger was stupid." I laughed, and asked, "Do you think that
'Axel and Valborg amount to-nothing?" He replied, "There maybe much
that is fine in the work, yet only in temper and sentiment; there is
no thought in it." Thought, which Théophile Gautier once defined, "the
final medium in which the poet takes refuge when he is devoid of both
passion and coloring," was the main essential with Paludan-Müller,
if not in his poetry, at least in his æsthetics. He himself always
strove to represent the idea, in the Platonic sense of the word, as
what was eternally typical. Therefore it was that he wrote "Amor
and Psyche," "Adam Homo," and "Ahasuerus." When he failed to find
this universality, this typical element, he could discover no merit
in poetry. He had no patience, for instance, with Björnson's novels
of peasant life. "Anything of that kind may be very well on a small
scale," he said. "It is great folly, however, to devote an entire book
to the inner emotions of a little poultry-yard maiden." What made this
remark peculiarly individual was the fact that he offered no critical
objections to the mode of treatment; he simply protested against the
material as material, against the propriety of a detailed description
of an uncultured inner life. A taste for naïveté was wholly lacking in
him. On the other hand, he had an actual horror of the theatrical, and
in his zealous antipathy he many times found it where others had not
discovered it. He called Runeberg theatrical, for instance, and with
critical assurance he cited one of the extremely few passages of the
Finnish poet where a glimmer of the theatrical can be found. "What a
theatre hero is not his Sandel," said he.

    "My horse! bid them saddle my noble Bijou!'

"Who else than a hero of the coulisses would speak so? And then the
description of his position on the redoubt,--

    'He proudly remained, unmoved was his mien,
      As at first he still sat in view;
    His eye it was calm, his brow was serene,
      And he shone on his noble Bijou!'"

Paludan-Müller hated the theatrical because he was always on his guard
against all greatness that manifested itself in æsthetic form. He found
the great Alexander small, and the Indian ascetic Kalanus sublime. In
his eyes, human greatness was confined to moral greatness, and moral
greatness for him passed entirely into moral purity.


Though he started in his general æsthetic views on the career
pointed out by Heiberg, he nevertheless struck ere long into his own
independent course. Heiberg was only a moralist in the name of true
culture and of good taste; Paludan-Müller became one in the name of
stem religious discipline. In religious questions, Heiberg had espoused
the cause of Hegelian speculative Christianity; Paludan-Müller became
an orthodox theologian. Thus his path for not an inconsiderable
distance ran parallel with that of Sören Kierkegaard. Not that he was
in any way influenced by this solitary thinker. He cherished but little
sympathy for him, and was repelled by his broad, unclassical form, for
whose merits he had no comprehension, and whose inner harmony with the
mind of the author he did not perceive. It was the general spirit of
the times which produced the intellectual harmony of these two solitary
chastisers of their contemporaries. Step by step, Danish literature had
departed from the ideals of the period of enlightenment, which had
still continued to exist in the poetic creations of Oehlenschläger,
as well as in the popular scientific works of Hans Christian Oersted.
Their life had been of but brief duration. The Danish churchman to
whom Schleiermacher corresponded was Mynster, but there is a wide gulf
between Schleiermacher's freethinking and Mynster's orthodoxy. At the
beginning of the nineteenth century, a single theologian, Clausen, was
the sole spokesman of rationalism; he soon, however, turned completely
toward the religious reaction then beginning. Rationalism, it is true,
for a short time seemed to have become metamorphosed and developed into
Hegelian philosophy of religion; but this movement, too, was wholly
unproductive of results. Heiberg, who was its leader, became a follower
of that speculative theologian of the Hegelian right flank, Martensen,
and Martensen, in his turn, became thoroughly converted to high-church
dogmatism. Nothing was now lacking for the completion of this spiritual
movement but to deduce from it the practical, ethical results of
dogmatic faith. This was done when the race of Oehlenschlägers and
Oersteds had begotten the race of Kierkegaards and Paludan-Müllers.

In Kierkegaard's "Either--Or" is found the sentence, "There are poets
who, through their poetic creations, have found themselves." This
remark can well be applied to Paludan-Müller. For what else has a poet
done who has traversed the path from coquetry to simplicity, from
the intellectual to the true, from the sportive and brilliant to the
transparently clear, and from the pleasing to the great?

Paludan-Müller appeared in his early days to be the _virtuoso_ among
the contemporary poets of Denmark. The themes of his first works were
almost completely buried beneath the trills of caprice and the delicate
gradations of wit. In his "Kjærlighed ved Hoffet" (Love at Court,
translated into German by E. v. Zoller, 1832), a comedy-after the
pattern of the times which was partly inspired by Shakespeare, partly
by Gozzi, pastoral poetry and lyrical court phraseology, puns and
witticisms, dreamy enthusiasm, and fool's bells, all jingled together.
The fact was, the work had been enriched from the horn of plenty of a
highly endowed youth, who was free from care and without any defined
plan. In the poem "Danserinden" (The Dancing-Girl), whose form and
rhythm remind the reader so strongly of Byron's "Beppo," or Alfred de
Musset's "Namouna," the virtuosity was more unbridled and capricious;
the smooth-flowing stanzas narrated, lamented, laughed, mocked, played
pranks, and glided one into the other with a loquacious flexibility,
recalling the manner in which one arabesque passes into another. The
serious portions of the narrative do not impress the reader as having
actually occurred; the satirical remarks do not seem to be meant in
earnest. When, however, a command to believe in the immortality of
the soul is interwoven, for instance, with a recommendation of tea,
a warning against the insipid poets, and other warnings of a still
more captious nature, the cause may be traced less to a frivolous
state of mind than to the youthful exuberance that fills the poet
from the moment he feels his favorite form of verse, the eight-line
stanza, galloping and prancing beneath his efforts. "The Dancing-Girl"
is a mingling of intellect and inspiration, out of which neither
clear colors nor distinct forms have developed themselves. It is a
musical composition that now expresses the light dance of jig, now the
yearning of melancholy, as these emotions alternate in the years of
puberty, with their bold hopes, their uncomprehended yearnings, their
thoughtless squandering of the powers of life. "The Dancing-Girl" was
followed the next year by "Amor and Psyche," a new work of artistic
virtuosity, which impresses itself most harmoniously upon the reader's
favor, but has no power to bum forms or images into the soul. It is a
music that is at once apprehended, but almost as promptly forgotten,
one continual melodious solo and chorus song of spirits, zephyrs, and
nymphs, whose sole fault is that it is too perfect in artistic form,
too polished and smooth. The whole long dramatic poem does not contain
a single characteristic or individual peculiarity, either in diction or
in the mode of treatment, and yet something characteristic, that is to
say, something unusually marked or sharply defined, would have had a
most pleasing effect. As astonishing as is the _technique,_ it is not
felt, and only where the _technique_ is present can we speak of style
in the true sense of the word. Not those parts which are loaded with
the greatest metrical display contain the most vital strophes, bearing
most distinctly the impress of the poet's genius; they are found in
the following words of Sorrow, where she casts her dark veil over the
sorrowing Psyche:--

    "Round each mortal's cradle flying,
      Close the mother's couch beside,
    Hordes of woes are softly sighing,
      Gloom and care with them abide.
    Tears the tender eyes bedewing,
    Fears the budding smile subduing,
    Shrieks the infant's lips are parting,
      While dawn's heralds onward glide.

    And when childhood's time is vanished,
      Youth's brief joy has had its day,
    Garlands won are faded, banished,
      Gone is love's bewitching play--
    When, alas! the dreams have perished,
    Once so fondly, proudly cherished,
    Hide e'en dead delights and pleasures
      In the pangs of death away."

In these stanzas the melancholy that was peculiar to Paludan-Müller
becomes apparent. There is here betrayed that view of death which
developed into a tendency to dwell on the thought of death, and which
was destined eventually to burst forth in the love of death manifested
by a Tithon, a Kalanus, or an Ahasuerus. We here detect the interest
in the law of destruction which later produced the poem "Abels Död"
(The Death of Abel), the belief that dead happiness embraces within
itself all the pangs of death which found expression in "Tithon," and
the feeling that dissolution lurks ever on the threshold of life and
of joy, which so often breaks through the poetry of Paludan-Müller.
Pay heed, for instance, to the following lines from the poem entitled
"Dance Music":--

    "Lo! the sunshine, golden, gleaming,
      Lights with smiles the azure skies!
    Yonder cloud speeds onward, beaming;
      Like a bird, with wings, it flies.
    Hear the ringing
    Now of singing
    That is filling
    Lofty trees with music thrilling,--
      All this glory swiftly dies."

We may call this tone shrill, yet it did not jar like a false note
in the ear of Paludan-Müller. On the contrary, he found a certain
satisfaction, a certain consolation, indeed, in keeping before his
own eyes and those of others the inexorable, the inevitable fate of
all that is finite. When the custom of circulating the photographs of
celebrated men, with a brief autograph inscription, came into vogue,
he wrote beneath a picture that represented him reading a book, the
characteristic words:--

    "All earthly things, 'tis written here,
      Go up and down by turns;
    So he who stands above to-day
      What is before him learns."

Justice, however, has not been accorded to the drama "Amor and Psyche,"
if attention be merely called to the fact that it is the harbinger of
the poet's most beautiful and profound works. As intellectual poetry
it has a connected and complete symbolism which obliges the author
to be more rigid than ever before in handling his materials, and it
is distinguished by that peculiar tinting which is so characteristic
of Paludan-Müller's mythological poems. It is not a strong tinting,
now gray in gray, now light in light; yet the poem is by no means
colorless. The truth is, its hue is that of the reflection of pearls,
the glimmer of mother of pearl, the delicate play of prismatic shades
that might have radiated from the shell in which Venus emerged from the
sea. The Phantasus of Paludan-Müller paints the portrait of Psyche for
Amor on just such a "pearl-white" shell; and this is almost symbolic of
the way in which the poet himself has executed the form of Psyche. This
class of his creations, indeed, is not of an earthly nature; earth is
not their true home, and even those among them who like Psyche are of
earthly descent, must bid to earth a final imperative farewell.

          _Psyche_ (kneeling).
    "Gaia, thou hallowéd mother,
    Who gave me birth and protection.
    Thou from whose lips ever tender,
    I heard life's earliest accents,
    Take thou thy daughter's farewell!
    Nevermore shall I behold thee,
    Never again shall I wander
    Over the loved spots of memory.
    *   *   *   *   *   *   *
    Yonder, in heavenly mansions,
    Earthly sorrows will vanish."

The entire poetic endeavor of Paludan-Müller in this period was, upon
the whole, one magnificent, many-shaded leave-taking of Gaia. What
else, indeed, was the tendency of romance! It feared and shunned the
life about it, and the era so wholly devoid of character in which its
poets, to their sorrow, found themselves born. Paludan-Müller with his
whole soul shared this repugnance of the romantic school for the actual
surroundings of the poet, as well as its aversion to lingering, even
in fancy, about this heavy, dark globe which kept up its ceaseless
revolutions with the poet and all his air-castles, whether he would
have it so or not. The age in which he lived was loathsome to him, and
he had his own era and his own contemporaries in mind when he permitted
Tithon to say of his:--

    "What fruits thinkest thou this era will develop?
    An era 'tis that needs a mighty storm
    To rouse its energies from heavy slumber;
    An era full of dreams instead of efforts,
    Of petty competition, not of action bold;
    An era when each crowns himself with glory
    And sees himself in heroes of the past,
    When mortals would be lofty as immortals
    And yet have servile minds--how I abhor them!"

True, this description concerns Asia Minor at the time of the Trojan
War; but it is one that accords marvellously well with that given in
"Adam Homo" of the reign of Christian VIII. in Denmark:--

    "It was a time when mediocre mortals
    Were puffed up everywhere with boastful pride;
    *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
    A time when there were those together clustered
    Who something great to pass proposed to bring,
    While they at best accomplished not a thing."

It is readily comprehensible that a poet who cast so gloomy a gaze upon
his surroundings should have preferred, like Tithon, a sojourn in the
"realm of the aurora" to that among his own contemporaries.

The most singular fact of all was that he was not alone in his
predilection for this higher sphere. All the best brains of the period
had instituted the same comparison and made the same choice; there was
a poetic vein in most of them, and so it came to pass that in the realm
of the aurora the poet found himself in a numerous company.

This wrought a change in the poetic tendency of Paludan-Müller. He
paused suddenly in his flight from reality, wheeled about, and took the
direction back to earth again. In the poem "Tithon" he paints life on
the island of the morning dawn, on the coast of the sea of ether, to
which the love of Aurora has uplifted Tithon. It is an existence such
as that of Rinaldo in the enchanted gardens of Armida, and a veil of
roseate hue is spread over all the surroundings, over the skies, as
well as over the beautiful women of the island. It is a life passed
amid song, clinking of goblets, love, and music, and sails on the sea
of ether in eternal youth, during an eternal spring. And yet this
life is never spiritless and insipid, nor are its enjoyments ever
commonplace; they are blissful enjoyments. It is akin to the life of
which so many noble enthusiasts among the Danish contemporaries of our
poet dreamed; the life that hovered before Carsten Hauch, for instance,
when he sang of that "sea of the milky way, where the spirits of the
redeemed, freed from care and sorrow, their eyes illumined with the
brilliant light of immortality, glide onward through unknown clouds."
It is that _alibi_ of enjoyment that Ludwig Bödtcher and so many other
similar artist natures, during the best years of their lives, sought
beneath the skies of Italy; it is that never-ending spring and that
eternal youth which Christian Winther and Hans Christian Andersen, and
all those men of their generation who like themselves did not know how
to grow old, permitted themselves to cling to and conjure up. It is
a strong proof, however, of the greatness of Paludan-Müller's spirit
that this life and this beauty did not long attract him. His poetic
muse depicts Tithon, in the midst of his forgetfulness of earth and
his revelling in enjoyment, devoured with half-unconscious yearning
for his country, his people, his relations, and the entire un-ideal
reality which he has forsaken. Nor is this yearning without foundation;
for nothing less than Priam's ascension to the throne, the abduction
of Helen, the ten-years' war of which Homer is supposed to have sung,
and the complete destruction of Troy, has taken place while Tithon is
revelling in the cloud-land of the morning dawn. Thus it was once upon
a time, when the French Revolution was enacting from beginning to end
its magnificent drama, that certain people on the coast of the Sound
were singing drinking-songs and club-songs. Thus it was that Copenhagen
played its private comedy during the battle of Waterloo, and Denmark
rioted in beautiful verses and rejoiced in æsthetic tilting-matches
while the July Revolution was in full blast.

Paludan-Müller has his Tithon compel Aurora to give him permission
to return to earth, and the following words uttered by Tithon at the
moment when, after long absence, he once more sets foot upon earth,
indicate perhaps the most significant turning-point of the poet's own
course of development--

    "O Earth, thy air is heavy! Like a burden
    It falls upon my limbs and on my bosom;
    A deadly weight, it presses on my shoulders.
    Unfriendly is thy greeting--cold and sharp,
    To meet me sendest thou thy wind inclement,
    And in thy winter garb hast clad thyself.
    Where'er I gaze, thy plains look bare and dreary;
    The leaves upon thy trees are sere and yellow;
    Thy grass is withered; decked hast thou already
    Yon hill-tops far away with wreaths of snow.
    Wilt thou alarm me? Is so stern thy visage?
    Because in utter folly I forsook thee?
    All hail to thee, O thou, my native soil!
    With this fond kiss my tears of joy I tender!
    Thou fill'st my heart e'en tho' thou'rt bare and dreary."

The territory here trodden by Paludan-Müller with Tithon is the
territory of Adam Homo. At the moment when the atmosphere of earth
weighs heavily on Tithon's shoulders, Paludan-Müller once more hails
Gaia. He had at that time already completed the first part of "Adam


"This is flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood," Paludan-Müller's
contemporaries might have exclaimed when "Adam Homo" appeared. The
same poet who in youth had painted nebulous images in the clouds, and
who as an old man, having returned to the standpoint of his youth,
wrote: "People demand flesh and blood of poetry; flesh and blood are
to be found in the slaughter-houses; of the poetic art sentiment and
soul alone should be required"--this same poet, in the meridian of his
manhood, gave to his contemporaries and to posterity the truest, most
lifelike poem Danish literature, up to that time, had produced,--a work
whose hero, far from resembling its author's former heroes, who were
simply poetically clad thoughts, was the reader's own brother, a being
whose character is a cruel satire. Like Shylock's pound of flesh, the
book was cut from the spot nearest the heart of the living generation,
with the knife of inexorable moral law.

Almost reluctantly the poet seems to have attacked his task. As the
realistic epoch was but of brief duration with him, he gives us the
impression of having actually drawn close to reality merely in order to
settle his account with it once for all, through his bitter derision
and his scathing judgment, and then to forsake it again in the utmost
haste. It seems as though he would say: "You have reproached me with
having no eye for the home-life about me, you have always charged me
with the foreign nature of my delineations; very well, I will make it
right with you, I will single out one from your very midst and take him
for my hero." About the same time Kierkegaard, who was also moved by a
bitter scorn for his contemporaries, wrote in his "Stages on the Path
of Life": "One step is yet to be taken, a veritable _non plus ultra,_
since such a generation of pot-house politicians and life-insurers
charge poesy with injustice because she does not select her heroes
among its own worthy contemporaries. Surely this is doing poesy a
wrong; but it would be well not to pursue her too long; otherwise
she might end Aristophanes-like by seizing the first sausage-dealer
that came in her way and making a hero of him." This step is actually
taken in "Adam Homo." The naked reality, all that is ugly in the
external world, the lack of ideality in social life, all the frailty,
wretchedness, baseness, and despicableness in the inner life of
humanity, is laid bare without reserve, without mercy. The poet's muse,
which formerly, in his "Dancing-Girl," coquettishly veiled in crêpe and
gauze, had sped lightly over the polished floor in dainty slippers,
has now transformed itself into a Sister of Mercy, who, at once stem
and gentle, ventures out in the worst weather, well shod in stout
shoes. Fearless of misery wherever it may be found, not susceptible to
any contagion whatever, she passes unharmed through the filthiest and
most wretched streets, or she stands in the houses of the aristocrats,
undazzled by their lustre and splendor, and penetrates all hearts with
her sublime, superior gaze. She calls everything by its true name, the
most delicate falsehood as well as the coarsest misery.

The poem was a bit of Denmark, a bit of history,--a bit of living
web cut from the great loom of time. The metaphysical mirror of the
humanity that the mythical poesies had produced was here supplanted
by the psychological and ethical study of a single individual. The
scene was no longer laid in a court in the land of romance, nor in an
air-castle in the realm of ether; the action took place in Jütland,
Zealand, and Fünen, and the period being neither the eternal moment
nor the fantastic "Once upon a time," embraced the years 1830-48, the
golden years of the bourgeoisie in Western Europe, and those in which
it founded its dominion in Northern Europe. For the first time, space
and time were recognized as significant powers by Paludan-Müller.

Yet while the poet's task had thus become individualized, and had
acquired defined boundary lines in time and space, it none the less
aimed at universality. Adam Homo--that was meant, as the title itself
indicated, to represent man in general, and the hero was no less
typical than the poet's previous mythical heroes. He is in the main
a mythical form; his history is the mythical biography of the Danish

There was one expression that kept continually recurring in the
discourse of Paludan-Müller when he spoke of science or art, and that
expression was "great tasks." In these words were comprised his claims
upon himself and his fellow-laborers. He himself always sought out
great tasks, because it was his firm belief that they alone develop the
powers and are worthy of an effort of strength, and he was continually
encouraging us, his younger fellow-laborers, to set ourselves the task
of dealing with great problems, because only through the solution of
such could our work win a permanent place in literature. "There is,"
said he, "in all literatures more than enough that is scattered to the
winds like chaff; make it your task to attempt something that will
endure, something that has a future before it." The surest means of
attaining this end was, in his estimation, in his own art, the endeavor
to represent, in the characters and destinies of the individual
personalities, the type of universal humanity. Those poets, in whose
efforts the casual plays a certain rôle, will not attain so high a
plane, it is true, yet will often acquire, by way of compensation,
a more volatile, more sportive life, a more captivating charm; for
the accidental in poetic art is synonymous with the _bizarre,_
the gracefully surprising, the incalculable, and yet so natural
irregularity. In the choice of his plots Paludan-Müller is to a rare
degree the enemy of chance. His perception of what is fundamentally
human, no less than his lack of original creative genius, prevented him
from ever selecting psychologically singular subjects. The race of the
normal _homo sapiens,_ in its entire folly, was the sole material that
possessed for him a thorough power of attraction.

In "Adam Homo," the task the poet set himself was to show how a man,
taken from the masses, and equipped with neither the best nor the
poorest endowments, from youth up, a man as full of ideal hopes and
resolutions as his betters, can squander his entire intellectual
fortune, and finally end as a spiritless, narrow-minded old fogy. At
the same time he wished to portray how the hero for every degree he
descended in the intellectual and moral scale, was compelled, of a
necessity, to climb one round higher in the social ladder.

Paludan-Müller was little inclined to throw any light on the history of
his works; but when once, without any preliminary, I asked, "What part
of 'Adam Homo' did you write first?" he replied, unhesitatingly, "The
epitaph,"--the only lines in the poem that are printed in italics.

    "Here Adam Homo rests, a worthy soul and bright,
    A Baron, Statesman, too, who wore the ribbon white."

Had his contemporaries possessed this elucidation, which did not
surprise me in the least, they would not have fumbled about so blindly
in their efforts to understand the first six cantos of the poem that
appeared in 1841, and whose continuation and completion did not follow
until seven years later. Even Heiberg, the foremost Danish critic
of the day, after reading the first part, deemed it possible that
the poet might intend to let Adam end as a happy married man, in an
idyllic country parsonage. So far was the public at first removed from
comprehending the wrathful pessimism and the well-considered irony
from which the poetic work had proceeded. People had no idea that
from the moment Paludan-Müller had put pen to paper, it had been his
design to allow this representative of the Danish bourgeoisie, who
began life with youthful amiability and youthful enthusiasm, gradually
to give up all he had once believed in, and to betray the confidence
of all those who believed in him. No one suspected that it was Adam
Homo's destiny to come out as a popular man and a popular orator, only
directly afterwards to alter his "ideal," and to drop the love of
common people, to develop into a "polished man," to seek refuge amid
courtiers and statesmen, and finally, covered with titles, and hung all
over with orders, to be solemnly buried as a baron, a privy councillor,
a chevalier, etc.

And if Heiberg had no conception of this, can we wonder that the public
at first remained wholly without comprehension of the significance of
the poem? The book met with no success, and was pronounced decidedly
dull. The reading world, unaccustomed to such substantial food, and
having been so often invited by Paludan-Müller to feast at the table of
the gods on Olympus, found some passages offensive, others commonplace,
and came to the conclusion that Paludan-Müller must this time have
chosen a theme that lay quite beyond the province of his genius. And
yet this so deliberately condemned "Adam Homo" was destined, when
completed, not many years later, to take the rank of the most typical
and most significant existing Danish work of the narrative kind.

Doctrinal æsthetics would naturally object not a little to an epos
presenting a picture which, as a whole, is so little edifying, an
epos whose prevailing mood presents so imperfect an atonement,
indeed, properly speaking, only a theological atonement. Even from
a non-doctrinal standpoint there is also a fundamental objection to
be made. The great difficulty, based on the subject itself, was that
Paludan-Müller did not aim, as such an infinite number of other authors
have aimed, at portraying for the reader the narrow-minded, commonplace
citizen in his foil glory, in order to submit him at once to sharp
criticism. He on the contrary wanted to show how such strait-laced old
fogies become what they are. Now most characters of the kind in poetry,
as well as in real life, do not become what they are, or at least only
become so to a trifling degree: they are born Philistines. In such
forms the ugly element is resolved, without the slightest inharmonious
echo, into the comical. The father of Adam Homo is one of these
native-born Philistines, and is, therefore, thoroughly comical. But to
delineate the gradual growth of the comic character is upon the whole
a stumbling-block for modern poesy. Aristophanes would not attempt it;
as the Greek tragedy began with the catastrophe, so Greek comedy began
at once with the complete upheaval of the world. In "Adam Homo" the
consequence of the hero becoming comical instead of being so from the
beginning, is, in short, that at first he calls forth sympathy through
his amiability, and that toward the end he arouses merriment through
the ridiculousness that he manifests. But the transition itself,
which consists in the gradual ruin of a well-endowed human being, is
repulsively sorrowful, and yet it is the point of the whole.

Adam Homo is a weak person, whose weakness makes him faithless in love
and unreliable in politics. He is not weak, however, in the same way
as are so many of Goethe's principal characters, such as Weislingen,
Fernando, Clavigo, or Eduard; for he is not charmingly attractive in
his weakness. In common with the majority of modern authors, Goethe
has often invested weakness with the charm of amiability, as in modern
poetry generally it is but too frequently the secret of amiability.
Nothing, however, is the object of a more scathing irony on the
part of Paludan-Müller than a defence of Adam Homo, such as that of
the _advocates_ _hominis,_ in the last canto, which is based on the
amiability of the hero.

Without being directly amiable, weak people may have something
attractive from a humorous point of view. There is an old method,
based on the nature of the case, by means of which they are most sure
of pleasing. Personal amiability can invest weakness only for a time
with the lustre of freedom and the form of strength, yet it is always
on the point of transforming itself into something base or odious.
Against this downfall, however, it can secure itself by the acceptance
of an inexorable fate; for viewed in a fatalistic light it arouses
only laughter and deteriorates wholly into the comical. This general
application Paludan-Müller has succeeded in making with perhaps more
depth, and, from a psychological standpoint, more correctness, than
has ever before been employed. His Adam is a theoretician, who always
has at his command a ready supply of half-conscious sophistry, and who
throughout his entire life casts the responsibility of his pitiful
weakness alternately upon mere chance and upon stem necessity.

If, notwithstanding all this, the total impression be not
unconditionally comical, it is because of a circumstance that
Mendelssohn in his "Rhapsodien" has thus keenly and justly
characterized: "We cease to laugh," said he, "at persons who are dear
to us, or in any way near to us, as soon as their faults or follies
begin to assume an important character." Every one, however, is his own
nearest neighbor, and if a continual "Thou art the man" be hurled at
us, it becomes impossible for us to laugh.

In the course of the narrative, the author of "Adam Homo" is
continually telling us indirectly what he utters directly in the last
canto, as follows:--

    "Thou, too, shalt make one day the selfsame journey,
    When thou at length with life on earth art done;
    And as the actor needs initiation,
    So thou must make beforehand preparation.

    "In Homo's stead thyself thou well mightst be,
    And words that served for Homo's just confession,
    When him behind the grave's dark brink we see,
    Might rouse the thought: View all with due discretion;
    Whate'er applies to him, applies as well to me."

Even the most ludicrous matters in such a case cease to be wholly
absurd, and absolute terror at thought of the possibilities that dwell
within his own soul readily seizes the reader, especially the youthful
reader, in considering passages which the author had meant to have a
purely poetic effect. Thus, for instance, in the place where Homo has
become lord chamberlain, we read:--

    "There swayed his solitude a wondrous feeling;
    His soul seemed freed from every narrowing band;
    Within his heart of hearts he blessed the hand
    That dealt his wounds and gave him means of healing,
    That now so tenderly was balsam dealing,
    That helped his spirit ruin to withstand.
    A guiding Providence he saw most clearly,
    And, deeply moved, his thanks he gave sincerely."

The biting satire in this gratitude for the keys of office has almost
a painful effect. The poet takes the matter too gravely to be able to
excite us to laughter over his hero; he does not venture to designate
him as amiable, for Adam is seriously to be condemned; he will not
abandon him to comedy, for Adam--in accordance with the author's views
of life as a theologian--must preserve a loop-hole for mercy.

The standpoint of Paludan-Müller is not that of humor but of ethical
irony, for what distinguishes irony from humor is its lack of sympathy
with its object. This standpoint is not the purely artistic one that
lingers with the same loving absorption over the sick and over the
well, over vice and over virtue, over what the artist hates in the
actual world, and over that which is dear to him. Nor is his mode
of contemplation the purely humane, which, arrayed by the love of
humanity, remains mild, considerate, and harmonious, and which begets
a laughter that is without bitterness. Paludan-Müller's satire is cold
and scathing, and thus acquires a peculiar power of its own. Just
observe how the burning scorn of the poet almost imperceptibly breaks a
path for itself through an adjective or an incidental remark, as often
as there is occasion to deride the hero's good impulses, which are of
such brief duration.

Here are a few examples: A letter from home announces to Adam that his
mother, who has long been in failing health, is lying at the point of
death, and in order to be able to see her once more, he tears himself
away from his affianced bride and starts on the journey to Jütland.
But while still under way he learns of his mother's death that has
meanwhile taken place. Deeply affected, he communicates the sorrowful
tidings to his sweetheart, assuring her at the same time of his faith
in the future and of his unchangeable fidelity. The letter is not
hypocritical, can scarcely even be called hollow; it is merely naïve.
The poet, however, who knows long before the reader how Adam is to
end, can scarcely wait for the moment when the change in him takes
place. A long time before Adam has merited the satirical chastisement
Paludan-Müller swings the scourge of mockery above his head to an
accompaniment of laughter, as follows:--

    "He rose and his epistle sealed with power,
    And then he sought the post-office once more,
    Where he all franked his full confession bore,
    Thus yielding up his bosom's richest dower."

Adam goes on board the steamer to hasten home to visit his mother's
newly made grave. On the vessel, however, he most unexpectedly
encounters his first flame, the Countess Clara, who in order to
secure the escort of Adam to her country estate, introduces him to
her husband, the corpulent, dull Chamberlain Galt. In vain does Adam
struggle against accepting the invitation, under the plea that his
mother has just died. Clara declares it to be her positive duty to
console him in his affliction. His betrothal he has either concealed
or denied. He allows himself to be persuaded to postpone his journey
home. Clara and he sally forth to make purchases; she wishes to buy a
feather for her hat, he a weed of crêpe for his. Clara first secures
her ostrich feather in her own hat:--

    "Round Adam's hat she folded then the sable,
    And that it charmingly became him found;
    They entered now the carriage,--he complacently,
    And Clara, waving plume and all, triumphantly."

If we but pause to remember that this weed is the badge of mourning
for his glorious, ardently loved mother, we find ourselves painfully
affected by this cruel irony. "If it be true," we involuntarily
exclaim, "that we are so completely children of the moment, of the
passing mood, of self-deception, that our best feelings, our most
earnest resolutions and our purest memories, may thus evaporate into
mist, or vanish like smoke, how canst thou, O poet, make so satirical
a face at the thought? Hast thou no tears for that singular and dismal
mixture of human nature that renders such misery possible?" The
questioner must compel himself to recall the fact that this poet beyond
all else is an enraged moralist, who is pursuing a combined religious
and poetical tendency in his poem. Personal morality is to him
everything, and he does not regard it as a link of the great whole,
a special organic function of the organism of the world, comparable
to that of the liver or the heart in the human body. He has eyes
for it alone. Wherever he finds it, his gaze becomes obscure to all
else; wherever it is lacking, he sees only its absence; and "_eo ipso
profulget, quod non videtur._"

Adam may be said to live through three periods; in the first he is
naïve, in the second he is wicked, in the third he is stupid. In
the first and third the masterly power of the portrayal is only
entertaining; in the middle period of selfdelusion and of slow inner
debasement and corruption, the same masterly power produces a painfully
distressing, effect on the tender-hearted reader, especially the lady
reader. But objections of this kind cannot mar the worth of a poem if
it but possess the merit of being alive, and "Adam Homo" bears within
itself a life that will survive the existence of a series of human
generations. The works which were mentioned in the same breath with
this poem at the time of its appearance are already forgotten, and
after the lapse of several hundred years people will in all probability
still turn back to it as one of the classic works of Danish literature;
for "Adam Homo" is not only a work of art, it is an historic record of
the first rank.

Unquestionably the views of a past period have left behind them strong
traces in the satire which uplifts itself above this period and
judges it. But without his vigorous hold on the current theological
and social views of life, the poet, on the other hand, would scarcely
have been able to preserve his never-failing surety of moral judgment,
which now makes the poem so clear and transparent. To him, as to his
contemporaries in Denmark, Strauss is a horror and George Sand an
absurdity. He is so eager to attack Strauss that he has the sponsors
mention him in the very first conversation in the book, at the time
of Adam's christening; although Adam, at the appearance of the poem
in 1841, must have been about twenty-five years old, and "The Life of
Jesus," by Strauss, only appeared in 1835. And if he wants to delineate
a representative of the female type that he detests, he knows no better
way than to make her a caricature of female emancipation, and let her
have the portrait of George Sand hanging on her wall. We would do
wrong, however, to cling to a single unwise judgment, or a limitation
in any one point, where there is so much that bears witness of the
keenest and most comprehensive mind. What though the metaphysical
threads that wind their way through the narrative, the numerous
reflections regarding the freedom of the will, chance, and necessity
appear to us a trifle antiquated; they occupy upon the whole so little
space that they could not prejudice the effect of the totality on any
susceptible mind. And what a fulness of deep and clear impressions do
not remain!

It appears to me unquestionable that this is the most masculine poetic
work that has been written in the Danish language. Many other poets
of modern times have been children, or blind enthusiasts, or wanton
youths, or vain egotists; the author of "Adam Homo" was a man. Who
would have thought that Paludan-Müller, when he once resolved to
descend from the ivory tower where he had hitherto held sway, would
have set foot on the pavement with so bold a tread! Other poetic works
of Danish literature are characterized by grace, beauty, romantic
enthusiasm, or thorough apprehension of nature; this book is true, and
is thus more instructive and more profound than all the rest combined.
Read it more than once, and you will be convinced of its truth.

The six last cantos of the poem appeared at an inopportune moment,
in December, 1848, just as an awakening national life had engendered
a host of bright hopes and beautiful illusions, in the midst of whose
brilliancy this book in its remoteness from the moment seemed to
signify no more than the light of a single star signifies to a ball
held in the open air with an illumination of a thousand torchlights.
Some nights later, however, long after the torches are burned out, the
star becomes visible. Or is it possible that the present generation
of cultured youth in Denmark does not yet see it? Often one cannot
help asking to what use the youth of a nation puts its most excellent
books. Are they really only extant that they may be handsomely bound
and placed on the book-shelves for display? Were it otherwise, how
could it be that so few traces of their influence are found? Or has the
influence of "Adam Homo" perhaps been that it has served other sons
of Adam as a sort of guide-book for the journey through life, with
directions concerning the goal that is to be reached, the means which
must be used, and the rocks that must be avoided, if they would attain
as many of the splendors of this earthly life as the hero of the poem?

"Adam Homo," more than all else that Paludan-Müller has written,
is a national poem. There is not the slightest doubt that it, like
Puschkin's "Eugen Onägin," was called forth and suggested by Byron's
"Don Juan"; the form of the work, the metre, the changeful mood, the
quaint swaying to and fro between irony and pathos, finally certain
points in Adam's amorous susceptibility when a schoolboy, and certain
details of his wedding, are reminders of the celebrated English epopee;
but although "Adam Homo" could never have gained its present shape had
it not been for the previous existence of the Byronic poem, the Danish
poetic work has such an aroma and earthly flavor of the soil which
engendered it that it can claim a place among the few original epic
poems of first rank which Europe has produced during the century. It is
a poem that stands alone in the field of literature.


Next to "Adam Homo," the most interesting work of Paludan-Müller
is "Kalanus." It is the positive expression of his ideal, as "Adam
Homo" is the negative. Nowhere is his intellectual tendency more
akin to the native bent of his great contemporary Kierkegaard than
in this work. The problem which "Kalanus" endeavors to solve is
precisely the same as the one whose solution Kierkegaard attacked
in his "Either-Or" (Enten-Eller), namely, that of contrasting two
personalities, one of whom is the direct representative of innate
genius, of the pleasure-loving, extremely energetic view of life; and
the other the incarnation of ethical profundity and moral grandeur,
allowing them to struggle and contend, and convincing the reader of the
decisive defeat of the purely natural views of life. With Kierkegaard
the two opposing modes of contemplation of life are represented by
a follower of æsthetics, and a judge of the supreme court, with
Paludan-Müller by celebrated names in history; no less a man than the
conqueror of the world, Alexander the Great, represents in "Kalanus"
the æsthetic view of life, and the opponent allotted to him is the
philosopher Kalanus. The ideal situation in the presentation of an
intellectual wrestling-match of this sort would be that the author
should succeed in equipping the contending parties with an equal
degree of excellency. The actual situation, in this case, is that with
Kierkegaard the representative of æsthetics is lavishly endowed with
intellectual gifts, while the endowments of the representative of
ethics, on the other hand, appear somewhat wooden and weak; and that
with Paludan-Müller, on the contrary, the representative of ethics
is no less intellectual than inspired, a man of the purest spiritual
beauty, while the great Alexander is not placed upon the pinnacle of
his historic fame. Such an Alexander as that of Paludan-Müller would
never have vanquished Asia. In his enthusiasm for the thinker of India,
our author seems to have lost the vital impression that Alexander
was a genius, not merely heroic like Achilles, but great like Cæsar.
And in the same way as with Alexander, the Grecian mind, as a whole,
is degraded to a lower sphere, while the great representatives of
Grecian philosophy, in the period of its glory, are permitted to make
occasional remarks of so insignificant a nature, and so indicative of
poverty of thought, that the Indian recluse has no difficulty whatever
in overcoming their arguments. Thus, to be sure, the conqueror remains
the only one who is in the slightest degree a worthy opponent of the

The plot represents the Indian hermit Kalanus as believing devoutly
that he has discovered in Alexander, who has just reached India on
his triumphal progress through Asia, a revelation of Brahma's eternal
light. He approaches the king in humble adoration, follows him at
a respectful distance in his march through the desert as far as
Pasargada, where he has the good fortune to be led once more into the
presence of the mighty ruler, and falling upon his bended knee, he
addresses him with the titles, "God, Ruler, Prince of Wisdom, King of
Power." Alexander, recognizing the rare worth of the man, with kindly
purpose attaches him to his person, and permits him to participate
in a festival he holds that same evening. At this celebration, which
the poet has portrayed with marked success, there are present some
beautiful Greek courtesans, who sing the praises of Alexander, and amid
loud rejoicing ransack his jewel-casket. To his profound astonishment
and infinite horror, Kalanus now discovers that the great potentate,
in whom he had seen the incarnate god, is neither inclined to shun
the intoxication slumbering in the dregs of the flowing goblet, nor
is master of the demon that lies concealed behind the mask of female
beauty. In the first moment of consternation he plunges, knife in hand,
at one of the courtesans, but is soon disarmed. Like one paralyzed he
stands rooted to the spot when the banquet is over, not only bitterly
disabused in his faith, but crushed with contrition to think that he
should have confounded Brahma with a weak and mortal man like himself.
Through self-annihilation alone can he hope to atone for his sin, and
return to the god. He resolves, after Indian fashion, to immolate
himself on the flaming pyre.

The next day, however, when Alexander, having slept off his
intoxication, learns the resolution of Kalanus, he fears that he dealt
too sternly the previous evening with his foreign adorer. So he hastens
to Kalanus to gladden the hermit's heart with the assurance that he
still enjoys the favor of Alexander. He arrives at the moment when
Kalanus, thoroughly prepared in spirit for the sacrificial fires, has
just been anointed by his mother for death. The potentate makes an
effort to calm the ascetic, and learns to his surprise that Kalanus has
not been swayed by fear of Alexander's wrath. He implores him to cast
aside his resolve, but in vain. The tyrant in Alexander is aroused; he
threatens Kalanus, he commands him to live; but his menaces rebound
from him who is about to die of his own free will. On the wondering
at the defiance of the Indian follows in the king's heart fury, and
when the quiet thinker, remaining in an unruffled state of composure,
only lays stress on the unworthy attitude of permitting the mind to
be transported with anger, Alexander believes that scorn has followed
in the footsteps of defiance. With the exclamation "slave!" he raises
his hand to smite the ascetic. The blow, however, is parried, and the
bitterness of the monarch, dispelled by the calm, tender efforts at
persuasion, becomes transformed into noble entreaties, magnanimous
promises,--all in vain. Alexander implores Kalanus to live out of
friendship for him, entreats him to share with him his throne, to
accept crown and sceptre from his hand,--his words produce as little
impression as his previous threats. Then follows a sublime scene:
Alexander casts himself upon his knees before Kalanus, and supplicates
him to live.

This scene is the most beautiful, the most dramatic, the most spiritual
that Paludan-Müller ever wrote. It is the crown of his dramatic scenes.
It is the sum total of his thoughts and dreams. In the moment when
Paludan-Müller allows Alexander to sink upon his knees, he casts all
the greatness of the world, its splendor and its honor, genius and
fame as well, at the feet of moral purity. This bending of the knee
outweighs the prostration of Kalanus before Alexander in the first
act. But even the utmost self-abasement of the hero is in vain, and
the drama ends with the ascension from the funeral pyre of the spirit
of Kalanus, purified in the sacred flames, to the heaven of Brahma.
With all that Kierkegaard has to offer of intellectual endeavor, wit,
learning, dialectics, and moral enthusiasm, in his "Either--Or," he has
achieved no such brilliant triumph for the ethical mode of viewing life
as that of Paludan-Müller in this one scene.

And as we must accept the obstinate adherences of Tithon to his
resolution to return to earth as a symptom of the approach of the
brief-lived yet so happy tendency of Paludan-Müller to realism, so we
can see in the equally obstinate adherence of Kalanus to his resolve
to forsake earthly life a symptom of the poet's return to the abstract
poesy of his youth. The heathen mythological element reappears in his
works "Paradise" and "Ahasuerus" as biblical myths. In the works that
follow "Adam Homo," to be sure, there is a far deeper psychology than
in those of the author's first youth; the psychological insight gained
in the years of mature manhood could not possibly be lost; but these
later works no longer treat of life in its breadth and with its motley
coloring. They are works that withdraw from reality, and find vent
in cloister life, in the hermit ideal, in expiatory death, or in the
destruction of the universe; their poetry is that of renunciation, of
the annihilation of self and of the universe.


The most vigorous product of this last period is the dramatic poem
"Ahasuerus," an emphatic prologue of the Last Judgment. We experience,
with the cobbler of Jerusalem, the last day of the world, learn from
him of the course of earthly life since Christianity redeemed humanity,
are informed how beastliness followed close upon the heels of humanity
until the rule of the animal nature was followed by the Antichrist, as
described in the poem. It is a drama to which Joseph de Maistre might
with rapture have signed his name, and its attacks on constitutionalism
and tolerancy form a versified commentary on the syllabus of the
Vatican. The poem denotes, in common with some of the later writings of
Kierkegaard, the crisis of the reaction in Danish literature against
the eighteenth century. In its monologue there are some very tedious
portions; but it has some dazzlingly superb, and at the same time,
exceedingly touching passages in the songs of the choruses, which
express the anguish of mortals in the contemplation of the coming
misfortune, and no less in the exquisite song of the angels who lull
Ahasuerus into eternal repose. Yet the most individual part of the
poem, a passage which displays an almost Michael-Angelo-like grandeur,
is that where the trumpet tones evoke annihilation in all that is
finite. Let me cite the first three stanzas:--

    "_The Trumpet_ (from the clouds).
    "Kneel, kneel, O earth! in sack-cloth clad and ashes,
    Discard the mask with boastful pride that flashes!
    The angel hosts in the sky are now appearing;
      Your doom is nearing!

    "Down, down to dust, ye vanities resplendent,
    Ye stones of nature, works of art transcendent!
    Each crowned turret, and each lofty tower,
      Destroyed your power.

    "Down, down to dust, the cup of death there draining,
    From dreams of honor, schemes of pride refraining,
    Down, down, and learn the worth, all steeped in degradation,
      Of reputation."

These trumpet tones are the _résumé_ of Paludan-Müller's poetry.

As an antithesis to the repentant Wandering Jew in "Ahasuerus" is
given the Antichrist. Unfortunately the weakness of this form is
somewhat prejudicial to the effect of the poem. This Antichrist
accords thoroughly with ecclesiastical tradition; he is no Lucifer, no
fallen angel; in his commonplace, feeble attitude he vividly recalls
the vacillating, deceitful Antichrist of Luca Signorelli in the
cathedral of Orvieto. Moreover, it can readily be comprehended that
Paludan-Müller, in his adherence to the orthodox impressions of his
childhood, might fancy he could not paint the devil black enough, or,
more correctly speaking, flat enough. Now, in order to invest the drama
with play and counter-play, and thrilling interest, the Antichrist
should have been equipped with powerful and brilliant qualities,
that would in themselves have explained his authority. If Alexander
was placed at a disadvantage, however, still less justice was done
the Antichrist, and no better fate was reserved for the Lucifer in
Paludan-Müller's double drama "Paradise." This Lucifer, to be sure, is
enterprising and keen-sighted; he conceives, for instance, the original
idea to split the kernel from which the Tree of Knowledge is to grow;
but such a Lucifer after the "Cain" of Byron is after all only an
Iliad after the Iliad of Homer. The first half of "Paradise" contains
the most exquisite lyric strains. In the alternating song between
spirit and nature, and in the song of the angel to the morning star,
may be found a cosmic poetry which, in its purity and freshness, is
only surpassed by that of Shelley; but the insignificance of Lucifer
combined with the unsuccessful, and by far too childish naïveté of
Adam and Eve, weakens the impression of the great plan of the poem.
The orthodoxy of Paludan-Müller checked the flight of his fancy
in "Ahasuerus" as well as in "Paradise": _in majorem gloriam dei_
Antichrist became a prattler; Lucifer a spirit of the second rank.


As an artist, Paludan-Müller presents the contradiction that in
his entire intellectual tendency he is a pronounced spiritualist,
with a marked bias for the supernatural and abstract, while in his
unquestionably most important and most vital work, which would surely
preserve his name from oblivion, even had he written nothing else,
he proved himself a decided realist, and looked actual life in the
face with a persistence that is very rare in Danish poetry. Now this
contradiction in itself indicates still another, as follows:--

Only reluctantly, as a rule, did he approach earth, and yet it was
extremely seldom that he engaged in spiritual poetry according to the
traditional acceptation of the phrase. His Pegasus bore him quite as
often to the heathen Elysium as to the Christian heaven, and even
where he seems to be directly expressing the Christian ideal, he is
merely touching upon it to leave it in the next breath. "Kalanus," for
instance, appears at the first glance as though it should properly be
called a Christian poem; for it unquestionably arouses the thought in
the reader's mind that if Kalanus, instead of being the contemporary
of Alexander, had been a contemporary of Christ, and if the latter,
as the orthodox maintain, had called himself God, all the hopes and
aspirations of the ascetic would assuredly have been fulfilled. If
we regard it a little more closely, however, we shall find that the
poem contains rather an Indian than a Christian enthusiasm for death.
Suicide, which Christianity has always condemned, is represented as
the one absolutely ideal action, and even if the flames of the funeral
pyre be accepted as a purgatory, similar to that with which "Adam Homo"
ends, it is, nevertheless, extremely singular that the sole dogma which
seems to exercise an inspiring influence upon this Protestant poet is
the dogma of purgatory that has been rejected by Protestantism, just as
the sole moral type which he passionately extols is that of the hermit
which Protestantism has discountenanced.

It was an honest and true remark that the brother of the poet uttered
over his coffin, when, after the attempt made by Bishop Martens en to
claim Paludan-Müller as the poet of the official Protestant Church, he
said that he who had never employed his poetry in the service of the
Church could not, without some reservation, be called a Christian poet.
With all his private orthodoxy, Paludan-Müller never wrote a single
hymn. With all his poetic predilection for the Bible and Christian
legends, he always turned back to the heathen myth as to the mirror
of his soul. He was a Christian because he was spiritual by nature,
not the reverse, and his spirituality, therefore, accorded quite as
fully with the withdrawal from earth in the holy Nirvana, and with the
classical enthusiasm for Venus Urania, as with the Christian enthusiasm
for saints and martyrs. Under all forms, self-abnegation, penance,
mortification of the flesh and blood were dear to him.

He might well, like the Greek philosopher of old, have borne the
surname Peisithanatos. He belonged, like Leopardi, to that little
group of spirits that may justly be called the lovers of death. When
his contemporary, the great Danish erotic poet, Christian Winther,
became old, he wrote a poem in which he gave expression to his love
of life, and declared that when his last hour should strike, he would
"place himself in Charon's boat with sullen mien and deep chagrin";
Paludan-Müller, on the contrary, wanted to cry to Charon, like that
Adonis about whom he wrote his last poem, "Take me, too!" and, before
the ferryman could distinguish whence the voice came, he wanted to
spring into the boat.

I do not speak here of his personal faith as a man; I know that he
believed in a life after death; I even remember how, when he learned
that David Strauss had dedicated a book to the memory of his deceased
brother, he, in his naïve orthodoxy, conceived this to be a proof
that Strauss had not been able to tear himself free from the idea of
personal immortality. I merely wish to speak of Paludan-Müller as
a thinker, as a poet; and as such he loved death, not immortality.
How weary, how deadly weary of life is Tithon! With what earnestness
Kalanus asks of Alexander: "O tell me, what can better be than death?"
With what rapture does not Ahasuerus take refuge in his sheltered grave
at the moment when all other poor mortals must arise from theirs, and
with what blissful joy does not he repeat his refrain, "Away to repose,

As an old man, Paludan-Müller wrote his lengthy novel "Ivar Lykke,"
which contains a beautiful testimony of his ardent patriotic love and
his upright mode of thought, but which otherwise is a work of but
little poetic merit. He, who for thirty years had lived the life of a
recluse, could not write novels. The colossal work in three volumes is
completely outbalanced by the short poem, occupying but comparatively
few pages, "Adonis," which was his parting word to the reading world.
The latter is a heathen apotheosis of death. Wearied of Venus and of
her restless pleasures, Adonis takes refuge in the realm of Proserpine,
and there reposes in a state of eternal meditation. Proserpine accosts
him in the following tender words:--

    "Consolation seek with me!
    None of passion's fancies learning,
    No regrets, no sighs, no yearning--
    Meditation first shall be."

And the poem ends with this solemn and beautiful stanza:--

    "In the realm to death made blest,
    Lethe's waters round them closing,
    These two lovers sat reposing,
    As for everlasting rest.
    All is silent as can be,
    And the vaulted skies up yonder
    Swarm with many a starry wonder,
    While the moon sinks in the sea."

In this dreamy attitude, at the feet of the goddess of death, let us
leave the noble poet.

There he sits, while his most beautiful poetic visions glide in
nebulous form before his eyes. He sees the River Styx. Venus, Urania,
and Endymion sail in a boat down the stream, while the crown which
Venus wears casts a brilliant starry sheen over the gloomy waves
and shores. He sees Amor and Psyche blissfully floating by in lofty
Kassiopeia and proud Orion; he descries Adam and Alma gliding past,
all closely wrapped in the purifying flames of purgatory; he beholds
Alexander kneeling before Kalanus, and the slender, refined form of the
Indian, with the white bandage about his brow, and singing his swan's
song, ascend from the funeral pyre through the smoke and the black
clouds to Brahma.

    "At the feet of her, his goddess,
    Happy now he sits and dreams;
    All aglow death's kingdom seems,"

while his works survive him and render his name immortal.

There was always a great deal of sky in his paintings, but his name
will be most enduringly united with that part of his pictures which
portrays earth and the earthly.

[1] Now the Empress of Russia.




Beyond his fatherland Björnstjerne Björnson is known as a great poet.
To Norway he is more than a poet. Not only has he written beautiful
stories, songs, and dramas for his people; he lives the daily life of
this people, and holds unbroken intercourse with them. He who has it in
his power to create the most refined, the most delicate poetry, does
not esteem himself above the rudest tasks, those of the journalist and
the popular orator, where there is a question of furthering the moral
and political education of the Norwegian people, by combating an error
or a lie, or by ensuring the propagation of some simple, but as yet
unrecognized truth. There emanates from him a breath of life. Where his
spirit now penetrates there follows a development of self-knowledge
and love of truth, national faults are shaken off, a growing interest
is manifested in all intellectual topics, all public affairs, and a
wholesome self-confidence appears side by side with this interest. He
has grasped the significance of the poet's mission in its broadest

In his oration at the unveiling of the Wergeland monument, May 17,
1881, Björnson said of his great predecessor, the European poet, who
ranks next to Shelley:--

"You have all heard how Henrik Wergeland, during one period of his
life, was in the habit of carrying his pockets full of the seeds of
trees, ever and anon strewing a handful of these about him in his daily
walks, and how he endeavored to persuade his associates to do the
same, because no one could know what the results might be. This is so
true-hearted, so touchingly poetic an instance of patriotism, that it
stands on the pinnacle of the best he has written."

What is here related in a literal sense of Wergeland may be told in a
higher sense of Björnson. He is the great seed-sower of Norway. This
country is a mountainous land; it is rocky, rugged, and barren. The
seed falls on stony ground, and many a grain is blown away by the wind.
Nevertheless, Björnson perseveres unweariedly in his labors. A large
quantity of his seed has already sprouted; many a tree planted by his
hand is already in blossom, and so far as the fruit is concerned, his
efforts were never designed for the present generation alone.


It is only necessary to bestow a glance upon Björnson, in order to be
convinced how admirably he is equipped by nature for the hot strife a
literary career brings with it in most lands, and especially in the
combat-loving North. Shoulders as broad as his are not often seen, nor
do we often behold so vigorous a form, one that seems as though created
to be chiselled in granite.

There is, perhaps, no labor which so completely excites all the vital
forces, exhausts the nerves, refines and enervates the feelings, as
that of literary production. There has never been the slightest danger,
however, that the exertions of his poetic productiveness would affect
his lungs, as in the case of Schiller, or his spine, as in the case
of Heine; there has been no cause to fear that inimical articles in
the public journals would ever give him his death-blow, as they did
Halvdan, the hero of his drama "Redaktoren" (The Editor), or that he
would yield, as so many modern poets have yielded, to the temptation of
resorting to pernicious stimulants or dissipations, as antidotes for
the overwrought or depleted state of the nervous system, occasioned by
creative activity. Nothing has injured Björnson's spine, his lungs are
without blemish and know no cough, while his shoulders were fashioned
to bear, without discomposure, the rude thrusts which the world gives,
and to return them. As for his nerves, I am convinced that he has not
learned from personal experience the significance of the word. As an
author he is never nervous, neither when he displays his true delicacy,
nor even when he evinces his most marked sentimentality. He has nothing
of the refinement that a light degree of work, duty, or fatigue gives.

Strong as the beast of prey whose name twice occurs in his,[1]
muscular, without the slightest trace of corpulence, of an athletic
build, he looms up vigorously in my mind, with his massive head, his
firmly compressed lips, and his sharp, penetrating gaze from behind
his spectacles. His exterior reveals the son of a preacher, his voice,
play of features and gestures betray more of the actor's talent than
poets usually possess. It would be impossible for literary hostilities
to overthrow this man, and for him there never existed that greatest
danger to authors (a danger which for a long time menaced his great
rival, Henrik Ibsen), namely: that of having his name shrouded in
silence. Even as a very young author (as a theatrical critic and
political writer), he had entered the field of literature with such an
eagerness for combat, that a rumbling noise arose about him wherever he
appeared. Like his own Thorbjörn in "Synnöve Solbakken" he displayed in
early youth the combative tendency of the athlete, but like his Sigurd
in "Sigurd's Flight," he fought not merely to practise his strength,
but from genuine, although often mistaken love of truth and justice. At
all events, he understood thoroughly how to attract attention.

An author may possess great and rare gifts, and yet, through lack
of harmony between his own personal endowments and the national
characteristics or the degree of development of his people, may long
be prevented from attaining a brilliant success. Many of the world's
greatest minds have suffered from this cause. Many, as Byron, Heine,
and Henrik Ibsen, have left their native land; many more who have
remained at home have felt forsaken by their compatriots. With Björnson
the case is quite different. He has never, it is true, been peacefully
recognized by the entire Norwegian people; at first, because the form
he used was too new and unfamiliar; later, because his ideas were of
too challenging a nature for the ruling, conservative, and highly
orthodox circles of the land; even at the present time he is pursued
by the press of the Norwegian government and by the leading official
society, with a fury which is as little choice in its selection of
means as is in other countries the exasperation felt by the champions
of thrones and altars. In spite of all this, Björnstjerne Björnson
has his people behind him and about him, as perhaps no other poet,
unless it be Victor Hugo. When his name is mentioned it is equivalent
to hoisting the flag of Norway. In his noble qualities and in his
faults, in his genius and in his weak points, he as thoroughly bears
the stamp of Norway as Voltaire bore that of France. His boldness
and his naïveté, his open-heartedness as a man, and the terseness of
his style as an artist, the highly wrought and sensitive Norwegian
popular sentiment, and the lively consciousness of the one-sidedness
and the intellectual needs of his fellow-countrymen that has driven
him to Scandinavianism, Pan-Germanism, and cosmopolitanism,--all
this in its peculiar combination in him is so markedly national, that
his personality may be said to offer a _résumé_ of the entire people.
None of his contemporaries so fully represent this people's love of
home and of freedom, its self-consciousness, rectitude, and fresh
energy. Indeed, just now he also exemplifies, on a large scale, the
people's tendency to self-criticism, not that scourging criticism
which chastises with scorpions, and whose representative in Norway
is Ibsen, in Russia, Turgenief, but that sharp, bold expression of
opinion begotten of love. He never calls attention to an evil in
whose improvement and cure he does not believe, or to a vice which he
despairs of seeing outrooted. For he has implicit faith in the good
in humanity, and possesses entire the invincible optimism of a large,
genial, sanguine nature.

According to his character, he is half chieftain of a clan, half poet.
He unites the two forms most prominent in ancient Norway: that of the
warrior, and that of the skald. In his intellectual constitution he is
partly a tribune of the people, partly a lay preacher; in other words,
he combines, in his public demeanor, the political and religious pathos
of his Norwegian contemporaries, and this was yet more apparent after
he broke loose from orthodoxy than it was before. Since his so-called
apostasy, in fact, he has been a missionary and a reformer to a greater
degree than ever.

He could have been the product of no other land than Norway, and far
less than other authors could he thrive in any but his native soil. In
the year 1880, when the rumor spread through the German press, that
Björnson, weary of continual wrangling at home, was about to settle
in Germany, he wrote to me, "In Norway will I live, in Norway will
I lash and be lashed, in Norway will I sing and die." To hold such
intimate relations with one's fatherland is most fortunate for a person
who is sympathetically comprehended by this fatherland. And this is
the case with Björnson. It is a matter dependent on conditions deeply
rooted in his nature. He who cherishes so profound an enthusiasm for
the reserved, solitary Michael Angelo, and who feels constrained, as
a matter of course, to place him above Raphael, is himself a man of a
totally different temperament,--one who is never lonely, even when most
alone (as he has been since 1873 on his _gard_ in remote Gausdal), but
who is social to the core, or more correctly speaking, a thoroughly
national character. He admires Michael Angelo because he reveres and
understands the element of greatness, of profound earnestness, of
mighty ruggedness in the human heart and in style; but he has nothing
in common with the great Florentine's melancholy sense of isolation.
He was born to be the founder of a party, and was, therefore, early
attracted to enthusiastic and popular party leaders, such as the Dane
Grundtvig and the Norwegian Wergeland, although wholly unlike either
in his plastic, creative power. He is a man who needs to feel himself
the centre, or rather the focus of sympathy, and insensibly he forms a
circle about him, because his own nature is the _résumé_ of a social


Björnstjerne Björnson was born Dec. 8, 1832, in a valley of the Dovre
Mountains at a place called Kvikne, where his father was parish priest.
The natural scenery of this region is cheerless, poor, and barren; the
cliffs are mostly naked; here and there fir and birch may be dotted
about, but the soil is so wretched, and the weather so severe, that
the peasant can only count on a harvest one year out of every five.
No grain-field would thrive in the vicinity of the parsonage. In the
sparsely populated valley the farm-houses lay widely separated from
one another. High banks of snow covered mountain and valley in the
winter, surrounding every house with a bulwark, and inviting to trips
in sledges and on snow-shoes. When the little Björnstjerne was six
years old, his father was removed to Nässet in Romsdal, the region of
all Norway most celebrated for its beauty. Lofty and majestic in their
grandeur, the mountains rise up on either side of the valley with their
boldly-formed pinnacles, which, as the plain sinks lower and lower, and
the fjord is approached, gradually present themselves in more and more
remarkable outlines to the eye. Very few Norwegian valleys can compare
in wealth of varied beauty with Romsdal; even the flat character
of the valley, as well as its unusual mountain formations, invest
it with a peculiar stamp. The region was fertile and comparatively
well populated; the farm-houses, most of them two stories high, were
neat and pretty, and the inhabitants friendly, notwithstanding their
silent reserve. The difference between this and the former place of
residence was striking and impressive; it taught the child to reflect
and to compare, to see the old in the light of the new, the new in
the light of the old; to look upon himself with the eyes of others,
and to become conscious of his own character. The grandeur of the
surrounding nature and the busy, eager life of the people filled with
glowing pictures the susceptible soul of the vigorous and richly
endowed youth. Sent to the Latin school of the little town of Molde,
he organized societies among the boys, and soon became a leader among
his schoolmates. He read everything in the way of history and poetry he
could get into his possession, the folk-lore tales of Asbjörnsen, the
folk-songs of Landstad,--both but newly collected at that time,--the
old Norse sagas of the kings, popular romances and poems, especially
the works of Wergeland, which he devoured with passionate eagerness.
At seventeen years of age he went to Christiania, in order to prepare
for the entrance examination at the university. There he devoted
himself chiefly to Danish literature, entered into intimate relations
of friendship with the genial, although eccentric, Aasmund Vinje, who
had already won a name as a dialect poet, as well as with the historian
Ernst Sars, a young man of his own age, who did not become known to
fame until later, and overflowing with youthful spirits, he led a life
agitated by many and varied intellectual pursuits. The Danish theatre,
at that time under the most careful management, interested him and
exercised the most lively influence upon him. When, in the year 1852,
he returned as a student to the parental roof, and passed there a year,
the life of the people was revealed to him in a new light. He lived
with the people, and wrote popular songs, which were often committed to
memory and sung by the peasants.

Returned to Christiania, he came before the public as a critic,
especially as a dramatic critic, wrote with all the vehemence of
genial youth, with all the injustice of a rising poet, and gained
many enemies. In his reading at this period, he gave the preference
to Danish thinkers of the epoch in literature then drawing to a
close,--Heiberg, Sibbern, Kierkegaard,--and a little later he became
gradually absorbed in the emotional world of Grundtvig. The latter's
doctrine of a "cheerful Christianity" attracted Björnson as the
antithesis of the gloomy pietism of his native land, the strong
faith in the lofty endowments and mission of the Scandinavian North,
which he found in Grundtvig, could not but captivate this typically
northern youth who was so wholly unacquainted with Europe. Until a
very few years ago traces of Grundtvig's influence could be detected
in him. Even at the present time it is not wholly obliterated. In
those early days he found within the boundaries of Grundtvigianism
all that which later, when he had torn himself free from the magic
spell of Grundtvig's sphere, he sought and found, outside of these
limits,--humanity in its highest freedom and beauty. This was the
result of the narrowness of his horizon. The conclusions of modern
philosophy and social science had not been introduced in those days
into the university of Christiania. Valuable results were accomplished
in specialties, but intellectual intercourse with Europe was otherwise
cut off here as well as in Denmark. In fact there was no European
consciousness at the university. The priest's son from a retired
village, the scholar from a small city, was not removed, even in the
metropolis, from the circles of variously shaded orthodoxy. Hence the
circumscribed, sometimes childish element in Björnson's first works;
hence the self-sufficient naïveté, so unique of its kind, which at this
period constitutes his strength as a poet.

A few trips into the neighboring countries,--first of all his
participation in the expedition of the students to Upsala, in 1856,
immediately thereupon a prolonged residence in Copenhagen,--brought
his poetic talents to maturity. He had already begun his little drama
"De Nygifte" (The Newly Married Couple), but had laid it aside with a
keen sense of the inadequacy of his powers, not to resume work on it
until ten years later. In brief lyric poems of the genuine folk-song
character, he had calmed his creative impulse without satisfying it.
He now wrote the firstling of his dramatic muse, "Mellem Slagene"
(Between the Battles), an earnest little play in one act, that treats
of an episode from the Norwegian civil war of the early Middle Ages,
and whose terse, ragged prose style, which formed the sharpest
contrast to the sonorous, verbose iambics of the Danish dramas of the
Oehlenschläger school, inaugurated a new form of the Northern style.
The play was rejected by Heiberg, at that time director of the royal
theatre at Copenhagen, was first produced on the stage in Christiania,
and was not printed until some time afterward. How far Björnson and the
entire later poetic literature have progressed on the path thus broken,
can be best observed by witnessing to-day a theatrical performance of
this little drama, which on its first appearance repelled, because
of the supposed wildness of its materials and the harshness of their
treatment, and which now actually seems to us quite idyllic and by far
too sentimental.

Meanwhile, his mission to write novels of peasant life became even
clearer to Björnson, and after publishing anonymously a few shorter
stories, by way of experiment, he gave the public, in 1857, his
"Synnöve Solbakken." This literary _débût_ was a victory, and the
reception of the little volume in Denmark, whose verdict is usually
the decisive one for the poetic creations of Norway, especially tended
to make it a decided triumph. The fresh originality, the novelty of
the materials, and the manner in which they were handled, does not
sufficiently explain this success. It was the result of the remarkable
harmony of the book, with all that was desired and demanded of a poetic
work by a portion of the reading world of the day. The national liberal
party of that time (the party name was first adopted in Germany at a
later period) absolutely determined the literary taste; it demanded
something of a primeval Northern, vigorously national, ancient
Scandinavian character, and at the same time,--an element which seemed
curiously at variance with this,--Christian ethics, combined with an
innocent idyllic tone, a poetry which banished Titanic defiance and
modern passion with equal severity from its sphere. In the eyes of
the national liberal party, passion was unpoetic and melancholy was
affectation; the party of intelligence, as it is modestly called and
still calls itself, deemed everything European suspicious, and believed
that the far North alone had preserved that moral purity and freshness
which was to regenerate the decaying civilization of Europe, and as
for modern ideas, in the strictest sense of the words, they simply
had no existence for the blissful ignorance of this party. Björnson's
stories of peasant life, without considering their great and true
merits, almost seemed like the fulfilment of the party programme. The
circumstances of the poet's youth, and his early reading had led him
to regard peasant life in the light of the old Norse sagas; while he
had gained through his familiarity with the life and thought of the
peasants, on the other hand, a comprehension of the ancient sagas.
His first long story, as well as many of his very short ones (as "The
Father," "The Eagle's Nest," etc.), produced a revival of the old
saga style, while the materials, in conformity with the wishes of the
people, were popular, without being characterized by sharply pronounced
realism. In Germany Teutonists alone are familiar with the Icelandic
sagas; in the Scandinavian countries, these in many respects admirable
and almost always interesting narratives, have not only been popular
since the revival of the national sentiment, but have been surrounded
by a certain halo of glory, as venerable monuments of a great past.
Beyond all else their style has been held in high esteem. And this
style, calm, epic in nature, always presenting a clear picture that in
the antique time sprang into existence as the form suitable for the
narration of discord, murder, revenge for bloodshed, arson, adventurous
voyages and deeds of valor, was preserved by Björnson, or rather it
was revived by him, and through its grandeur ennobled and exalted
the subject-matter, the love life of young Norwegian peasant lads and
lasses. The temperament of the poet was so thoroughly akin to that of
the ancient story-teller, and the human race depicted by him was so
completely in accord with that represented in ancient saga lore, that
in spite of everything a harmonious whole was produced.

Björnson belongs to those fortunate beings who are not compelled to
seek a form, because they possess one of their own. His earliest novel
is a thoroughly ripe fruit. In his first venture he is classic. He
is not one of those poets who throughout a long life are continually
increasing the perfection of the artistic form of their works, and are
unable to invest the latter with inner equilibrium until after hard
struggles with refractory materials have been undergone. His career has
not been like that of so many others, a mountain ascent amid clouds of
mist, crowned only with a few sunny hours at the top; it has rather
been an upward climbing, during which beautiful prospects have been
disclosed to the eye at every stage. Indeed, his development has been
of such a nature that even at the outset, with his original comparative
narrowness or poverty of ideas, he grasped the highest artistic
perfection of form, and eventually imparted to his works an ever richer
ideal life and an ever increasing knowledge of the human heart. In thus
enlarging their scope, however, he has never marred their poetic worth,
but he has frequently somewhat sacrificed their plastic and classic

Nevertheless, it must not be thought that Björnson's first works were
hailed with the unanimous applause which people now often profess to
believe they received. There are many individuals to be found to-day in
the Scandinavian countries, to whom it is satisfactory to point out
some work of Björnson which they have always praised, in order that
they may, with all the greater appearance of impartiality, censure
his later creations. His first novels and dramas formed too strong a
contrast with all that the public had been accustomed to admire to be
received without opposition, and many people of literary culture who
had been in hearty sympathy with the previously prevailing poesy, could
not but feel their æsthetic creed to be violated by them. In Denmark,
indeed, a great and rich school of poetry, whose influence had extended
far into Norway, was on the eve of its decline. The sonorous pathos of
Oehlenschläger still rang with its musical accents in every ear, his
representations of the antiquity and early middle ages of the North
seemed to men of the old school, even if outwardly less true, at least
inwardly more true than the writings of Björnson; the unsurpassed
elegance and grace of Henrik Hertz had enfeebled their taste for
primitive simplicity, and finally people missed in the new Norwegian
poetry the lofty philosophic culture which Heiberg had accustomed the
public to require of the poet and to find in his works. I recollect
distinctly how strange and novel "Synnöve Solbakken" and "Arne" seemed
to me on their first appearance.

The opposing voices were hushed by the healthy taste for all that
was genuine which has almost everywhere been preserved by the great
reading-world, but the rapidity of the success was dependent on the
circumstance that the ruling Scandinavian party took the new poetry
under its protection and proclaimed the poet's fame abroad with a
flourish of trumpets. In those days the adherents of the national
liberal party of the three Scandinavian countries were favorably
inclined to the peasant in literature. People loved the peasant in the
abstract; the real, concrete peasant was yet unknown to them. They had
granted him the right of suffrage, they had felt convinced that he
would continue throughout all time to permit himself to be guided by
those "who had conferred on him the gift of freedom," and they lived in
hopes that he would never use this "freedom" for any other purpose than
to elect and honor his city benefactors. For this reason the peasant
at that time was still called by the organs of the great cities the
healthy pith of the people; in him was seen the scion of the knights of
antiquity; he was celebrated in song and addressed in flattering terms.
Works of fiction which glorified his life with extreme delicacy, and at
the same time in a new and elevated style, were sure of an enthusiastic
reception in Denmark, especially when they originated in one of the
sister-countries, which stood almost nearer to the heart of every true
Scandinavian than his own fatherland.

The blasé citizen of Copenhagen had, moreover, the same predilection
for the peasant novels of Björnson that in the past century had been
cherished for pastoral romances and pastoral plays. The world had now
become too critical to desire shepherdesses with red crooks, and lambs
with red silk ribbons about their necks; but a substitute was found in
the Norwegian lads and lasses, whose emotional life was as thoroughly
refined and deep as that of a student or a young lady of the higher

The peasant novel was in itself no new variety. The Jutland village
and heath pictures of Steen Steensen Blicher began the series; they
appeared about twenty years earlier than the first village tales of
Berthold Auerbach, who, however, had been unacquainted with them, as
no German translation of them had been published until toward the
middle of the fourth decade of the century. It was Auerbach, who, after
the way had been pointed out by Immermann in his "Oberhof," first in
Germany treated the story of peasant life as an independent variety
of the novel; for the first time a German poet became absorbed in
the events and characters of the quiet villages. But several years
before Auerbach's first attempt the great French novelist, George
Sand, had achieved success in this field. She who had been born in
the country, and who had passed beyond the stormy period of her life,
felt an impulse to venture on pastoral poems, and she gave to France
in "La mare au diable," "François le champi," etc., a little series of
refined, ideally executed rural scenes.

Neither the "Village Tales of the Black Forest," nor the country
stories of George Sand were known to Björnson when he made his début.
He had learned nothing from Auerbach, nor had he anything in common
with him. Two marked peculiarities distinguish the Norwegian peasant
novels from the German. Auerbach is an epic poet; he depicts rural
life in its entire breadth, he shows us the peasant in his daily
occupations in the field and in the stable, enables us to observe his
half-lazy, half-dignified sluggishness, his state of bondage in manners
and customs, his daily routine. Björnson is neither decidedly an epic
poet nor a dramatist proper; his strength lies in producing dramatic
effects within epic limits; and this is the reason why everything
with him is so brief and so concise. The fact is, exterior matters
are related by him solely for the sake of the heart history for which
they form a setting. Another distinction is the following: the rural
tales of Auerbach are written from a view of life which the poet does
not share with the peasant, which he does not hold in common with his
hero and heroine. Auerbach did not write from the standpoint of a
childlike mind and a childlike faith. He was a man of learning, and a
thinker; he possessed the rich and many-sided culture of the German
mind of his young days. He had been a pupil of Schelling; he had made
his début with a novel about Spinoza, whose works he had translated,
and whose views of life he had made his own, to proclaim them abroad
as long as he lived. To be sure, he had remodelled Spinozaism to
suit his own needs and sympathies,--for it is, indeed, more than
doubtful whether Spinoza would have especially warmed to the idea of
making a hero of that finite being, that circumscribed intelligence,
called the villager,--but he accepted the doctrines of Spinoza as
the gospel of nature, the philosopher himself as the apostle of the
religion of nature, the worship of nature. Auerbach was partial to the
representation of the peasant, because the latter was to him a bit
of nature, and it delighted him to seek in the unsophisticated soul
the germ of that life philosophy which to him seemed the only true
philosophy, the one which was destined to gain a speedy triumph over
all others. Let the reader observe in his classic novel "Barfüssele"
(Little Barefoot) how the bold young peasant maiden, far from heeding
the command to offer her left cheek to any one who might smite her
on the right, passes through life with clenched fists, and neither
deems herself in the slightest degree to blame, nor suffers on that
account the least humiliation. The spirit pervading these books is the
political passion of Germany before the March revolution, to elevate
the common man to a comprehension of the political and religious
ideal of the educated classes. Quite different is the relation of
the narrator to his materials in Björnson's peasant tales. In all
essentials the poet was grounded in the same views of life as his
heroes; his writings are no effusions of a philosophic mind. A poetic
and artistic genius, no superior intellect addresses the reader from
these pages. Hence the remarkable unity of sentiment and tone.

The excellencies were specifically poetic; the tenderest sentiment was
cast in the hardest form; the most refined, versatile observation was
united with a lyric ardor which permeated the whole and burst into a
freer course in numerous fugitive child, folk, and love songs. A vein
of fundamental romance hovered over the narrative. The new order of
novel admitted of being preluded without any disharmony by a nursery
story, as in "Arne," in which plants conversed and vied with one
another in their efforts. Notwithstanding the dry realism of certain
of the characters, it was so idyllic that little detached stories, in
which woodland sprites played a rôle, became wedded to the universally
prevailing tone without causing any breach with the spirit of the
general action. Björnson was a good observer and had amassed a store
of little traits from which he constructed his tales. When his Arne is
asked, "How do you manage when you make songs?" he replies, "I hoard
up the thoughts that others are in the habit of letting go." Björnson
might have given the same answer himself. And yet sagas, folk-songs,
and folk-tales were the currents through whose intermingling his
art-form became crystallized. He did not give it isolated grandeur, but
kept himself through it in rapport with the popular mind.

"Synnöve Solbakken" was the plastic harmony within the limitation of
Norwegian life, and the hero Thorbjörn was the type of the vigorous,
stubborn youth, whose nature could only ripen to maturity through
calming, soothing influences. "Arne," on the other hand, represented
the lyric, yearning tendency of the people, that impulse of the viking
blood which has been transformed into desire for travel, and the
hero the type of the tender-hearted, dreamy youth who needed to be
steeled in order to become a man. Much of the deepest, most elementary
propensity of the Norwegian people, much of the peculiar youthful
yearning of the poet himself, was committed to Arne's principal song
which has become so celebrated. A sigh from the heart of the people
may be heard in the following lines:--

    "Shall I the journey never take
           Over the lofty mountains?
    Must my poor thoughts on this rock-wall break?
    Must it a dread, ice-bound prison make,
           Shutting at last in around me,
           Till for my tomb it surround me?

    "Forth will I! forth! Oh, far, far, away,
           Over the lofty mountains!
    I will be crushed and consumed if I stay;
    Courage tow'rs up and seeks the way;
           Let it its flight now be taking,
           Not on this rock-wall be breaking!"[2]

The yearning expressed in this poem is that which drove the sea-kings
of old to the West and to the South, that which led Holberg, the great
founder of the Norwegian-Danish literature, to roam over half of Europe
on foot, and which at the present day is manifested in the emigration
of so many Norwegian artists of all kinds.

If the two larger stories "Synnöve" and "Arne" formed such perfect
complements of each other, the third story "En glad Gut" (A Happy Boy)
was like a refreshing breeze bringing deliverance from the brooding
melancholy that oppresses the Norwegian mind, and sweeping it away in
the name of a healthy temperament. This production contained the joyous
message of unsophisticated vital powers and love of life; it was like a
fresh song, bubbling over with laughter and purifying the atmosphere.


Then followed dramas and poems. The strong personality of Björnson
gradually worked its way out of the swaddling-clothes of the national
mind. In "Between the Battles," "Sigurd Slembe" (Sigurd the Bad), and
"Amljot Gelline," will be found the same grand type, the hero born to
be a chieftain, created to be the benefactor of his people, a being
alike powerful and noble, but whose rights are withheld from him,
and who is compelled, owing to the injustice under which he suffers,
to cause a large amount of evil on his way to the goal, although he
desires only good. Whole towns are left in flames behind Sverre,
wherever he may fare. He tells of this with the bitterest anguish in
"Between the Battles." "I know a chieftain," he exclaims, "who longed
to be a blessing to his country, but who became its curse. He shudders
with horror at his own wretched fate, and would have fled from all the
hideous corpses that stare him in the face from border to border of
the land; would have fled as an exile from his own hereditary kingdom,
had there not been those who clung to his mantle. So he is led, as
by an inexorable fate, from one bloody deed of violence to another,
from conflagration to conflagration, over reeking corpses and heaps
of ruins, while shrieks and wails of lamentation pursue him, and all
hell is let loose about him, and people say the devil walks at his
side; in truth, some say he is the devil! I know--ah! I know that while
those about him are slaughtering one another like so many cattle, he
has not the heart to lay his hand on a single man, lest he should
intensify his own misery. And masses are sung before the battle, and
masses after the battle; he strives to make atonement and to heal; he
brings relief to the suffering and assuages ills; to those who ask
it of him he gives peace; but there is one to whom it will be long
ere he can bring peace, and that is himself." Sigurd, the hero of the
trilogy "Sigurd Slembe," is despised and persecuted because he who
desired only justice for himself and happiness for Norway, betrayed
into the hands of his enemies by his half-brother, the feeble-minded
Harold Gille, becomes the murderer of the latter. He had gone to his
brother, after long renunciation and bitter inward struggles, with the
best intention in the world, and the most ardent desire to come to a
peaceful understanding with him, and he leaves him, having escaped
from the guard to whom the murder was entrusted, "a king in the armor
of revenge, with the eye of despair and a flaming sword." Amljot, who
in the innermost depths of his soul is so good, so humble, becomes an
incendiary and a pillager until the day when, as the knight of Olaf,
he meets his death at Stiklestad. These characters are deeply rooted
in the poet's soul. He had early encountered passionate opposition,
had felt himself misunderstood and hated by his opponents. With his
indomitable ambition, with the vehemence that was inherent in his
nature, and the tenderness that belonged to his temperament, he felt
himself wondrously akin to those saga forms, and whenever he was
conscious of being misunderstood and unjustly scorned by his people,
he laid the burden of his longing to elevate this people, and to
harmonize them with himself, and his consciousness that with all his
good designs he had estranged his people from him at times, upon the
characters of these old chieftains; this Sigurd, for instance, who when
excited becomes a changed being, "hard as a steel-spring, bounding
without a footfall o'er the floor, with flashing, evil eyes, and voice
that seemed to come from a long, dark passage," but who, nevertheless,
conceals within his soul a veritable horn of plenty, overflowing with
magnificent plans for the public weal. Profoundly, indeed, must
Björnson have suffered in his youth to be able to write Sigurd's
soliloquy in the winter night, or the one toward the end of the drama,
beginning with the words, "The Danes have forsaken me? Lost the battle?
Thus far--and never farther?" in which mighty plans,--to assemble an
army, to sail far away, to become a merchant, a crusader,--arise with
giddy swiftness and are rejected, until the impression of approaching
dissolution again obtrudes itself. Then the words "Thus far--and never
farther," return no longer as a question, but refrain-like as an
answer. Even in the midst of despair love of fatherland, which in this
case is love of the enemy, thus finds utterance: "Ah, this beautiful
land was not by me to be governed. Great is the wrong I have done it!
How, ah! how was this possible? When absent I saw in ev'ry cloud thy
mountains; I yearned for home like a child for Christmas; and yet I
sought not my home,--and I gave thee wound on wound."

Great personality with Björnson is not encased in Michael-Angelo-like
pride; it works its way out of the national spirit only to strive,
yearningly, to return to it again. Its most ardent desire is to become
united with this spirit, and profound, indeed, is the tragedy where
this union is prevented.

In this point Björnson forms the sharpest contrast to the man who is
his peer among contemporary Norwegian poets, Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is
solitary by nature. "In distant lands I rest lonely," he cries. These
lines, which are the refrain of the well-known poem, "Langt borte" (In
Distant Lands), written on the occasion of the trip of the Scandinavian
students to Upsala in 1875, form the motto of his life. He penetrates
the depths of the earth, like his miner.

    "Make way for me, thou heavy hammer,
    To the heart's most secret chamber."

Ibsen seeks the solitary silence of night. In his poem "Lysræd" (Afraid
of Light), he declares that as a child he was afraid of being in the
dark; but that everything has become changed, the glare of daylight
now bewilders him, the noise of life makes him weak and ready to swoon
away. Only hid beneath the shelter of night's veil of terror, his
will is armed for deeds of daring. Without the cover of night he is
helpless, and he well knows that if ever he accomplishes a great work,
it will be a deed of darkness.

In the spirited and beautiful words of the poem the author has depicted
his own temperament. The nature of Björnson, on the contrary, does not
strive downward; its aspirations rise upward and outward. His genius
has open arms.

Another contrast between the two poets may be felt in the Northern
dramas penned by both during their first period. As a born dramatist,
Ibsen has no bent, no inclination, for descriptions of nature. His
principal dramatic characters, in his youth, were personifications
of an idea, not modelled directly from nature, and in his almost
exceptionally dramatic poems, exterior nature necessarily plays but
an evanescent rôle. Even where nature is introduced by him, with most
thrilling effect, as in the "ice-church" in "Brand," it is rather as
a symbol than as a reality; the ice-church is the church in which he
who forsakes the established churches runs great danger of meeting his
end. The freer, more expansive spirit of Björnson dwells lingeringly
on the natural surroundings of Norway and imparts the impressions
received from them to his dramas. Let us give as an example of this
the scene between Sigurd and the Finnish maiden, one of the most
beautiful scenes that Björnson has written. When the maiden, announced
by her long quavering shout of exultation, steps upon the stage, she
brings with her the entire nature of the Northland, as her realm. The
daughter of the Finnish chieftain reveals herself as a glimpse of the
radiance of the Northern Lights; her words have the brilliant charm of
the midnight sun; her glad love of life, of the sunshine of summer,
her unreciprocated love for Sigurd, the delicate and transitory nature
of her sorrow,--all this is a fragment of the living poetry of nature.
Masterly, indeed, is the description of her appearance given by Sigurd.

"_The Finnish Maiden._--Can you feel how beautiful it is here?"

"_Sigurd._--Oh, yes! at times I can. When I stand before my cavern
and gaze upon the eternal snow;--o'er it the tree-tops by twilight
resemble weird spectres, each other approaching. Then you, on your
snowshoes, come stormily down the mountains; all your dogs are around
you, your troop follows after, and the size of all seems to grow three
times larger. O'er your wild and blustering train, and this world
of enchanting romance around it, the Northern Lights, with their
brilliant colors and forms, now congregating, now spreading wide their

This keen sense of nature is common to all Björnson's Norse characters
of the olden time. He has imparted to them his own modern feelings.
The little epic poem, "Amljot Gelline" (consisting of fifteen
brief cantos), in particular, is unsurpassed for the beauty of its
descriptions of nature. The song, "During the Springtime Inundation,"
describing the plunge which the mountain streams, swollen by the water
from the melting snow, make into the valleys below, and the anxious
huddling together in the mountain caves of the terrified wild beasts,
paints in indelible colors an annual episode of Norwegian nature,
transplanted some eight hundred years into the past, and which is
consequently rendered wilder and more forcible than at the present
day. The canto "Amljot's Yearning for the Ocean," in whose rhythm
we feel the monotonous ebb and flow of the sea, is one of the most
beautiful of all the poems that have ever portrayed the poetry of the
sea. Byron had depicted the unruliness, the inexorableness, the fury
of the ocean; Björnson paints the deep melancholy, the phlegmatic
coldness, the ransoming freshness of the surging billows. Listen to the
opening stanzas of the poem:--

    "The sea I long for, the mighty ocean,
    That onward rolls in its calm majestic;
    With banks of billowy vapor freighted,
    To meet itself it doth ever wander.
    The sky may lower, the shore may signal,
    The sea recedes not, nor pauses ever;
    In summer nights, 'mid the storms of winter,
    Its billows murmur the self-same yearning.

    "The sea I pine for, ah, yes! the ocean,
    With brow so cold tow'rd the heaven lifted.
    Behold how earth in the sea casts shadows,
    And whispering mirrors there all her sorrows!
    The sun tho' strokes it with warm, bright touches,
    Of life's delights utters words intrepid;
    Yet ever ice-cold, mournfully peaceful
    It buries sorrow and consolation.

    "The full moon draws it, the tempest rouses,
    Yet vain all effort to stay its current;
    Laid waste tho' the lowland, tho' mountains crumble,
    It grandly sweeps tow'rd eternity.
    Yet all it draws must its waves close over;
    What once is sunk in the sea never rises.
    No shrieks are heard, and reveal'd no message,
    The ocean's language there's none can interpret.

    "Then seek the sea, go out on the ocean,
    All ye who never can know atonement!
    To all who sorrow it brings deliv'rance,
    Yet onward carries its own enigma.
    That singular bond with Death but consider,
    It gives him all but itself--the ocean.

    "Thy melancholy allures me, O ocean!
    My feeble plans how they fade and dwindle;
    I swiftly banish my anxious yearnings;
    Thy cold, cold breath brings peace to my bosom."

The music of the waves here produces the effect of a magnificent cradle
song. It is one to the dreaming hero whose great hope is that he may
be able to see the nails give way in the planks of his ship, as death
opens the portals to the stream of ransoming waters, and himself,
covered by eternal silence, rest in the depths below, while in sublime
moonlight nights, when the silver sheen of the moonbeams plays on the
mighty surface, "the waves his name tow'rd the strand are rolling."


Twice in his life Björnson has officiated as theatre-director: 1857-59
in Bergen, 1865-67 in Christiania. In the autumn of 1857, in pursuance
of an invitation from Ole Bull, he undertook the management of the
stage in the former provincial city, which is always alive with
political and intellectual agitations, and he brought the theatre,
which had greatly run down, to a high degree of excellence, while at
the same time he passed happy days of his youth in the society of Ole
Bull. As director of the stage in Christiania he had a successful but
all too brief career. He himself possesses so many of the qualities of
a great actor that he was well calculated to make an admirable manager;
the scenic art of his native land owes much to him, for it was he who
guided the first wavering efforts to make a national stage.

His experiences as a stage-manager have served him in very good stead
as a play-writer; nevertheless, he has never attained technical
perfection in this capacity. His dramas contain far more poetry than
skilful manipulation. "Sigurd," the great trilogy, is not adapted to
the stage, and, as far as I am aware, has never been performed.[3] His
vigorous and wildly passionate youthful drama, "Hulda," gains little
or nothing by being put on the stage. Two of the plays of his first
period, however, have met with a complete stage success. "Maria Stuart
in Scotland" (1864) and "De Nygifte" (The Newly Married Couple, 1865).

"Maria Stuart" is a rich and powerful work, full of dramatic life,
almost too violently intense. All the details of the plot are admirably
linked together,--Rizzio's murder, Damley's death, and Bothwell's
elopement with Maria; the finale alone is weak, or more correctly
speaking, the drama has no finale. It is my belief that the poet
succeeded so well simply because on Scottish soil he still felt himself
encompassed by the atmosphere of Norway. These Scots of his are of
Norse origin. Bothwell says: "Since the hour when my will struck root
in events, I have seen it grow. One day in a tempest I sought refuge
with my fleet among the Orkney Islands; the sea tossed us wildly,
the clouds drifted o'er us like bits of wet sails, the billows broke
with loud rumbling on the sharp and treeless shore. Ah, then I felt
my kindred near at hand, the Norse Viking race that drifted in days
of yore to this coast, and from which we are descended. Aye, it was
a tree of ragged will, that took root in the rocks, but 'neath the
shelter of this tree a people build to-day." In this Norwegian-Scottish
world, the poet feels perfectly at home, and the characters, created
by him without any breach with local coloring, have traits very
nearly akin to the forms from the Norse Middle Ages that he was so
well accustomed to portray. The most marked of the main characters
are the Puritan John Knox, the gloomy yet pleasure-loving, wildly
energetic Bothwell, and the weak, boyishly revengeful and unworthily
humble Damley; Bothwell a genuine Renaissance personality, Damley
almost too modern. Maria Stuart herself is not so successfully drawn;
the traits of her character are too effeminately indistinct. She is
conceived as a being, the mysterious foundation of whose nature is
revealed in two opposite poles,--that of absolute feminine weakness,
and that of absolute feminine strength. Her fate is dependent on her
nature, so far as this weakness is the cause of her power over men,
and this strength is useless in the affairs given her to manage in
that violent age. She is, however, by virtue of Northern idealism,
by virtue of the innate modesty of the poet who is a priest's son,
entirely too lacking in the sensuous element, moreover, too passive
to be the heroine of a drama. She is delineated less through what she
says and does than through enthusiastic or deprecatory mention and
the direct influence exercised by her personality. She is enveloped
in a cloud of adjectives designating her character, hurled at her in
masses by the other characters in the drama. "Maria Stuart" owes its
origin to a period in the progress of Björnson's development, when he
had a tendency, perhaps owing to Kierkegaard's influence, to describe
his characters psychologically, instead of allowing their natures to
unfold of themselves without any commentary. All the personages in
these dramas are psychologists; they study one another, explain one
another's temperaments, and experiment with one another. Even the page,
William Taylor, understands and describes the spiritual condition of
Damley, as a physician understands and draws a diagnosis of a disease.
Murray and Damley paint themselves, Lethington portrays Bothwell and
Murray, Maria queries about the key to Rizzio's character, Knox about
that to Damley's; indeed, the murder of Rizzio is a psychological
experiment performed by Damley on Maria, in view of winning her back
through terror, as he has failed to win her through love. While all
the characters thus think like psychologists, they all speak like
poets, and this Shakespearean splendor of diction, so true to life
because the people of the Renaissance period, being poetic throughout
in their feelings, used a flowery, highly figurative language, enhances
the charm with which the profound originality of the main characters
invests the drama.

The little drama, "The Newly Married Couple," treats of a very simple
yet universal human relation, the severing of the ties that bind a
young wife to the parental home, the collision in the soul of a young
woman between the inbred and familiar affection for her parents, and
the yet new and feeble love for her husband,--a revolution, or rather
an evolution, which is preceded by the natural conditions and the
pangs of a spiritual birth. Under ordinary, normal circumstances the
significance of this breach is not brought into such sharp prominence,
because it is accepted as something which cannot be otherwise, and
which frequently bears the stamp of a release rather than of a rupture.
If, however, the relations be conceived as a trifle less normal, if
the affection of the parents be uncommonly egotistical or tender, and
if the love of the good and dutiful daughter for her husband be far
less developed than her well-cultivated feeling of reverence for her
father and mother, there arises a problem to be solved, a dramatic
collision, and a struggle with an uncertain _dénouement._ It is greatly
to Björnson's credit and honor that he has grasped this idea.

Its execution suffers under a twofold defect. The fact is, the tone
of this drama, as well as of "Maria Stuart," is weakened, in the
first place, by excessive Northern modesty, and in the second place,
by the psychological caprice of the author. Necessarily the question
forces itself upon the spectator: Is Laura, in the beginning of the
play, Axel's wife, in the full sense of the word, or is she not? She
must be his wife, for her coldness is not of a character that would
explain the opposite; and yet, how can it be that she is his wife?
for if she were, the difficulties would be removed, and tenderness
would gradually take effect without all this noise in the presence of
witnesses. A still more serious objection to the plan of the little
drama is the following: How can Axel, when he has already, by a most
energetic effort, tom Laura from the parental home, be weak and stupid
enough to permit this home, in the form of Mathilde, to accompany Laura
on her journey? Without Mathilde, everything would, of course, have
been far more easily managed and have gone far more smoothly. To be
sure, we are told at the end of the play that without her the husband
and wife would never have truly found each other. This is, however,
by no means obvious, and is not at all happy. The poetic task proper
would have been to show how the young couple, without any outside aid,
became truly wedded; it is a very poor expedient to have a _dea ex
machina_ write an anonymous novel, which startles Axel and Laura by its
treatment of their position, and drives them into each other's arms. In
this I see a token of the epoch in which this little drama arose. The
air was filled with the Kierkegaard ideas. The method of the natural
sciences (observation and essay), applied to the intercourse between
one human being and another, the psychologic experiment that plays so
large a rôle with Kierkegaard, and that became so expansive in "Maria
Stuart," is represented in "The Newly Married Couple" by the household
friend Mathilde. The manner in which love and passion are treated
throughout this drama is peculiar to that period in the spiritual life
of Björnson, and of Norwegian-Danish literature in general. Northern
people took very little interest at that time in the tender passion for
itself alone; the emotions were studied and portrayed in their relation
to morality and religion. The representation of love before marriage,
or outside of marriage, was looked upon as trivial or frivolous, and
what was demanded of the poet was conjugal love, which Kierkegaard in
his "Either--Or" had extolled as by far the higher love. The love that
in "The Newly Married Couple" is pointed out as great, is described as
the debt the wife owes her husband, and is held up before her eyes,
from every side, as that which is chiefly required of her. It is no
plant of free, wild growth; it unfolds itself in the hot-house of duty,
nurtured by the tenderness of Axel, artificially forced into growth by
the jealousy, unrest, and dread of loss with which Mathilde heats the
hot-house, A little French folk-song says:--

    "Ah! si l'amour prenait racine,
    J'en planterais dans mon jardin,
    J'en planterais, j'en semerais
    Aux quatre coins,
    J'en donnerais aux amoureux
    Qui n'en out point."

These lines have always come into my mind whenever I have read or
seen "The Newly Married Couple." Yet the fault lies, perhaps, in my
partiality; I love beautiful, great Eros, but I find no satisfaction
in those little, pale, erotic offshoots that have to be wearisomely
nurtured from the bottle. The public has not shared my opinion,
however, for few plays have had so marked a success on the stage, or
lived through so many editions in book form.


An enterprising Danish bookseller, some time during the sixth decade of
the present century, issued a calendar, for which he solicited short
vignette poems by well-known authors, each one of whom was requested
to choose his own month. When the man applied to Björnson, the latter

    "Young April's praise I'll sing!
      The old in April falleth,
    The new is firmly planted;
      Its turmoil wild appalleth,--
    And yet, if peace were granted,
      Nor will, nor deed, 'twould bring.

    "Yes, April's praise I'll sing!
      Because it stormeth, sweepeth,
    Because, with forces living,
      It smileth, melteth, weepeth,
    Because it is life-giving,--
      For summer's born in spring."

It would scarcely have been possible to give a better characterization
of his entrance into his own first period. The beautiful novel,
"Fiskerjenten" (The Fisher Maiden), 1868, which, less idealistic than
the author's tales of peasant life, yet more nearly approaching his
later style, conveyed in the poem introduced into it, called "The Young
Viking," a remarkable presentation of the poet's own first struggles
and his speedily gained mastership. Although Björnson has not written
a large number of lyric poems, and is no correct versifier, he has,
nevertheless, accomplished some ever-memorable and imperishable results
in the domain of lyrics. His popular songs are noted for their purity
and genuineness. His patriotic poems have become national songs. His
few old Norse descriptions or monologues have hit that style of the
ancient North which Oehlenschläger and Tegnér never attained. Read in
the drama "Hulda" the little poem written in dialect, which Gunnar
sings, and of which Lobedanz, the German translator, appropriately
remarks, "In the Norwegian summer, which knows no nightingale, winter
has a terror-inspiring influence as it appears in the song of Nils
Finn, a sort of ballad that may be ranked with Goethe's "Erl-King."
It is the story of a little boy who has lost his snow-shoes, and who,
dragged downward by the powers of the deep, is swallowed up in the
snow. This simple occurrence, however, is represented with a power of
imagination that renders it immortal, especially the concluding lines,
in which the two long snow-shoes are represented as being all that was
left behind, are most impressive and awe-inspiring. Let me here cite
the last stanzas, viz.:--

    "The rock laughs with scorn, snow covers its side,
    But Nils knit his fist, and swore that it lied.
    'Have a care!' was heard below.

    "But the avalanche yawns, the clouds break asunder,
    Thought Nils Finn: 'My grave I see yonder.'
    'Art ready?' was heard below.

    "Two shoes stood in the snow and looked around,
    They saw not a thing, and heard not a sound.
    'Where is Nils?' was heard below."

It is only needful to study a few lines of Björnson's patriotic poems
in order to comprehend fully why it was they became national songs.
Let me choose by way of example four lines of the most peculiarly
Björnsonic national song, which has completely supplanted the older
national songs of Norway. The lines read as follows, in the metrical

    "Yes, we love with fond devotion
      Norway's mountain domes,
    Rising storm-lashed, o'er the ocean,
      With their thousand homes."[4]

Literally they read thus: "Yes, we love this country, as it rises
furrowed, weather-beaten, from the ocean, with its thousand homes." It
would be impossible to reproduce in a more accurate, genial way, the
impression which the coast of Norway makes upon the son of the land
when he approaches it from the ocean.

Among all the shorter compositions of Björnson the most eminent is the
monologue "Bergliot." It is the wail of a chieftain's wife over her
assassinated husband, Einar Tambarskelver, and her only son who lies
slain at his side. I know of nothing in the modern reproduction of old
Norse poetry that has ever made so deep an impression on me as the
refrain-like recurrence of the words with which Bergliot addresses the
driver of the cart on which she had had the dead body of her husband

    "Drive slowly; for thus drove Einar ever--
    Even so will home be reached soon enough."

The first line represents with wonderful simplicity the calm and proud
dignity of the slain chieftain, the second embraces in the fewest
possible words the profound bitterness of the desolated life.


This eminence was early reached by Björnson. When but thirty-one
years of age he had written all the best works of his first period,
and they were even then viewed by the public as a completed whole.
No one could overlook his magnificent endowments; it produced rather
a painful effect, however, that no development of them could be
detected. His creative power for a long time remained centered in
one and the same point; but his views of life did not expand; they
remained childish and narrow. Sometimes he could actually be trivial.
Now and then he wrote poems that almost had the tone and coloring
of Northern songs of the people's school-teacher style. Too strong
traces of the influence of Grundtvig could be detected in them. It
is to the credit of this great man (1783-1872), the intellectual
awakener of the Northern peasant classes, that he gave a vigorous
impulse to the education of the people through the establishment of
numerous peasants' high schools. For a leader of the people, however,
the culture represented by his high schools was not adequate, and
for a long time Björnson vainly endeavored to make poetic progress
in the wooden shoes of the Grundtvigians. He kept himself, for the
most part, at a distressing distance from the life and the ideas of
his contemporaries. Or rather, if he did represent the ideas of his
contemporaries, it was involuntarily; they were brought forward in the
theatrical costumes of the ancient Norsemen or of the Scottish Middle
Ages. In "Sigurd Slembe," Helga and Frakark discuss in the year 1127
the relation between the immortality of the individual and that of the
race in phrases which remind us too strongly of the year 1862; and the
same chieftains, whose minds are filled with almost modern political
reflections, who use such expressions as vocation and fundamental law,
and speak of establishing order on a foundation without law, etc., have
the imprisoned Sigurd, from motives of revenge, broken limb by limb on
the wheel; in other words, they are guilty of an action which would
presuppose a far more barbarous inner life than they have otherwise
displayed. People that express themselves in terms indicative of so
much culture do not break their enemies on the wheel; they scourge them
with their tongues.

To this lack of unity in passion and thought was added the unhappy
necessity of the poet to so group and combine his principal dramatic
forms that the mantle of the orthodox church faith should be draped
about them at the moment when the curtain falls. In "Maria Stuart" the
form of John Knox is not subject to the dramatic irony that governs
the other personages. Björnson does not reserve to himself a poetic
supremacy over him: for Knox is destined to step forth from the
theatrical framework at the conclusion of the play, with the pathos of
the poet on his lips, and, as the representative of the people, receive
the political inheritance of Maria. The vigorous combats in "Sigurd,"
as well as the passionate emotions in "Maria Stuart," find their outlet
in a hymn. The action in both dramas is brought to so fine a point
that in one it flows into the crusader's song of the pious Danish
poet Ingemann, in the other into the mystic hymn of the Puritans.
Gradually it began to appear as though the once so rich vein of the
poet was well nigh drained. His later stories ("The Railroad and the
Churchyard" and "A Problem of Life") bore no comparison to his earlier
ones, and the drama "Sigurd Jorsalfar" (Sigurd the Crusader) could be
compared quite as little to the older Norse dramas of the poet. The
last cantos of "Amljot Gelline," which were written several years later
than the rest, are decidedly inferior to those composed in the first
glow of inspiration. Evidently no new ideas germinated in Björnson's
mind. People began to ask if the history of this author was to be that
of so many Danish authors who had grown mute in the prime of their
manhood because their genius lacked the capacity to shed its chrysalis.
Björnson had apparently exhausted his original intellectual capital.
The public wondered if he could acquire new wealth, as the others had
been unable to do.

These years are indelibly stamped on my memory. The mind of youth
experienced somewhat of a pang in comparing the literary condition
of the greater part of Europe with that of the North. There was a
sense of being shut out from the cultured life of Europe. In Denmark,
the elder generation, through its repugnance to everything German,
had interrupted the intellectual intercourse with Germany; the canal
through which European civilized thought had hitherto been received was
obstructed; at the same time, French culture was shunned as frivolous,
and English culture was but rarely comprehended, as the English
language was excluded from the course of studies in the schools of
learning. In Denmark people looked to Norway as the land of literary
revival; in Norway all eyes were turned to Denmark as the land of older
civilization, and people scarcely noticed the lull in Danish culture.
Now while intellectual life faded and drooped, as a plant becomes
blighted in a damp place, the cultivated classes of both countries
believed themselves to be the salt of Europe. People did not know that
the foreign nations they had dreamed of rejuvenating through their
idealism, their Grundtvigianism, their faith, had taken a great start
in advance of them, especially in literary culture. In the leading
social circles of the Scandinavian countries, people spoke of David
Strauss and Feuerbach, as the most narrow-minded circles of Germany had
spoken of them in the period from 1840 to 1850; Stuart Mill, Darwin,
and Herbert Spencer were scarcely known by name, and there was not
the slightest conception of the development of English poetry from
Shelley to Swinburne. Modern French literature was condemned without
any conception of the significance of the fact that the drama and the
romance in France had long since forsaken historical and legendary
material, and had grasped subjects from the immediate present, the only
ones a poet can observe with his own eyes and study. People scarcely
dared raise for themselves so much as a corner of the curtain that
concealed the contemporary world from their gaze.


Immediately after this, in the years 1871-72, there began in Denmark
a modern literary movement out of which arose during the succeeding
ten years a new poetic and critical school. The intellectual life
thus awakened in Denmark was quickly transplanted to Norway, and soon
the poetic creations of Björnson revealed the fact, as he has himself
expressed it, that after his fortieth year new and rich streams had
welled up in the innermost depths of his being. Suddenly it became
apparent that his productiveness had soared upward into a new state of
activity. The modern world lay open before his eyes. He had gained,
as he once wrote to me, "eyes that saw and ears that heard." The ideas
of the century had, unconsciously to himself, worked their way into
his receptive spirit and secretly fructified it. During these years
he had read, with ravenous eagerness, books in all languages and of
every variety, works on the natural sciences, critical, philosophical,
and historical works, romances, foreign periodicals, and newspapers
by the quantities. A profound impression was made upon him by the
calm grandeur and the sublime free thought of Stuart Mill; Darwin's
powerful hypotheses widened his intellectual horizon; the philological
critique of a Steinthal, or a Max Müller, taught him to view religions,
the literary critique of a Taine taught him to view literatures with
new eyes. The young Danish school contributed not a little, as he has
himself publicly declared, toward tearing him away from old things.
The significance of the eighteenth, the problems of the nineteenth
century unfolded before him. In a charming private letter once written
to me by him concerning the circumstances that had acted as determining
influences on his youth, and more especially regarding the great change
he had undergone, he expressed himself as follows:--

"With such antecedents I could not but become the prey of Grundtvig.
Yet nothing in the world can bribe me, although I can but too easily
be led astray. Therefore I was released from these circles the day my
eyes were first opened to see. My worst enemy may possess the truth; I
am stupid and strong; but the moment I see the truth, if only through
an accident, it attracts me irresistibly. Tell me, is not such a nature
very easy to understand? Should not you think it would be especially
natural for the Norsemen to understand it? I am a Norseman. I am human.
Of late I might subscribe myself: man. For it seems to me that this
word at present calls up new ideas with us."


The first extensive work with which Björnson made his appearance before
the public, after a silence of several years, was the drama "En Fallit"
(The Bankrupt), that met with such unwonted success in Germany as well
as at home. It was a leap into modern life. The poetic hand which had
wielded the battle-swords of the Sigurds did not esteem itself too good
to count the cash of Tjælde or to sum up his debts. Björnson was the
first Scandinavian poet who entered with serious earnestness into the
tragi-comedy of money, and the victory that crowned his effort was a
brilliant one. Simultaneously with "The Bankrupt" he issued the play
called "Redaktoren" (The Editor), a scathing satire on the condition
of the press in Norway. Then followed in rapid succession the great
dramatic poem "Kongen" (The King), the novels "Magnhild" and "Captain
Mansana," the dramas "Det ny System" (The New System), and "Leonarda,"
new poems, republican essays, etc., and a profound and delicately
written story, entitled "Stöv" (Dust).

In conservative circles of Norway there has been a strenuous effort to
undervalue Björnson's poetic works in this new phase, by calling them
tendency poetry. This word "tendency" is the bugbear by means of which
attempts have too long been made to banish from the Danish-Norwegian
poetry all ideas of the modern world. By so doing the conviction is
fostered naïvely enough, that Björnson's older poetic works, which are
so highly extolled, are without any tendency, because they have the
opposite tendency from the later ones; the fact is, people had become
as thoroughly accustomed to that earlier tendency as to the atmosphere
of a room they never left. The obligato pagan and especially Viking
conversions, so common throughout the Northern literature of this
century, have never been regarded in the light of tendency efforts;
even the conversion in "Amljot Gelline" was not considered so because
the tendency was one that pleased. So what was now frowned upon was
not the idea of a tendency in itself, but the new tendency, that is to
say, the spirit and the ideas of the nineteenth century. These ideas,
however, are to poetry precisely what the circulation of the blood
is to the human body. What must be demanded in the true interest of
poetry is merely, that the veins which people like to see with a blue
glimmer beneath the skin, should not stand out in bold relief, swollen
and black, as in the case of a sick person, or one who is excited to
anger. Very rarely, indeed, does Björnson's tendency take such a form
as, for instance, in the hemorrhage, of which the young politician in
"The Editor" dies, solely that the mark of Cain may be stamped upon the
brow of the main personage of the drama; or in the vision in the drama,
"The King," which terrifies and kills the daughter of the political
martyr on the way to her marriage with the young king. No one, however,
who looks farther than failures in details can be obtuse enough not to
detect the fountain of new and individual poesy which streams through
all of Björnson's works of the second period, or second youth, as it
might be called. An ardent love of truth has imprinted its seal on
these books; a manly firmness of character proclaims itself in them.
What a wealth of new thoughts in all provinces of state and society,
marriage and home! What an energetic demand for veracity toward one's
self and toward others! Finally, what benignity, what sympathy with
people of opposite lines of thought, who are dealt with sparingly, even
idealized, as the bishop in "Leonarda," or the king in the drama of the
same name, while all attacks are aimed at institutions as such. This
is perhaps nowhere more sharply felt than in "The King," the leading
thought of which is the simple, and in itself by no means new idea,
that constitutional monarchy is a mere transitional form leading to the
republic, but whose originality consists in viewing the problem from
the inner ranks, by taking the person of the king as the starting point
of attack on the institution. This the author does by showing how the
nature of this institution must harm the king as an individual, how it
must blight his soul, at the same time portraying the character with a
sympathy, an intense warmth, that makes him the hero of the drama in
the proper sense of the word.

The opponents of Björnson's new departure now maintain that, as long as
he kept outside of the circle of burning questions and living ideas,
he was great and good as a poet, but declare that he has retrograded
since he embarked on the sea of modern problems and thought; that,
at all events, he no longer produces artistically finished works.
Similar judgments have been pronounced all over Europe whenever a poet
who, in his youth, had won the public favor by neutral, inoffensive
productions, showed his contemporaries that he studied and knew
them. There are numberless readers who place Byron's youthful poem
"Childe Harold" above the powerful, yet seldom pleasing realistic
poetry of "Don Juan." In Russia and elsewhere, there may be found a
refined public that prefers the first simple narratives of Turgenief,
the "Memoirs of a Sportsman," to the great romances "Fathers and
Sons" and "Virgin Soil"; there are in Germany many people who are
overwhelmed with regret because Paul Heyse forsook for a time his
peculiar form of love story to write his "Children of the World." It
is true that Björnson, in his second period has not yet attained the
lucidity and harmony of style that characterized his first efforts;
but it is neither just nor wise to declare for this reason that he
has retrograded. A new, rich, and seething group of ideas finds its
form slowly, sometimes fermenting and bubbling over its limits; strong
feelings and thoughts have a certain fire, a certain vibration, that
renders them less capable of appearing in a pleasing form than the idyl
with its poverty of thought.

In spite of all this, how much that is admirable from a technical
point of view Björnson has accomplished of late years! The exposé
in "The Bankrupt" is one of the best the literature of any land can
produce, and the diction in "The Editor," especially in the first act,
is the most excellent that Björnson has attained. These two dramas,
with which he first entered the career opened by Henrik Ibsen with
his drama "De Unges Forbund" (The Young Men's Union), follow close in
the footsteps of the latter's vigorously built and witty play. "The
Young Men's Union" actually contains the germ of both "The Bankrupt"
and "The Editor." There the bankruptcy was that of the light-minded
Erik Brattsberg; feeble outlines of "The Editor" may be found in
Steensgaard's relation to Aslaksen's newspaper and the article against
the chamberlain that was to have been printed first, and so did not get
printed at all. The public has usually viewed "The Young Men's Union"
and "The Editor" as contrasts, that is, as contradictory presentations
of different political situations. This is simply because in the first
play a dishonorable representative of the progressive party is derided,
and in the second a still bolder, more deceitful representative of the
conservative party. Viewed from a purely poetic standpoint, however,
these two plays are very nearly akin. Björnson's editor is Steinhoff
grown older (as years creep on he becomes highly conservative),
a Steensgaard, in whom the softer, more pliant elements, through
disappointments, defeats, and wild attacks of contempt of himself and
others, have been ossified, and in whom, therefore, coarse recklessness
alone remains.

In "The Bankrupt" the demands of truth in the humble walks of life are
urged. The poet holds up, within the plain, commonplace life of the
people, the ideal of truth as a simple matter of rectitude. His poetic
eye, however, sees that rectitude is not so simple as it appears.
Nothing is so reprehensible for the merchant as to risk the money of
others, and yet, to a certain degree, it is impossible for him to
avoid it. The moral problem revolves about the delicate boundary lines
between where it is allowable and where not allowable to risk it. "The
Editor" demands truth in the higher domains, where it is a bounden duty
to keep it in sight, and yet dangerous to carry it into execution.
While in the mercantile world there is danger of disappointing and
ruining others through self deception, in the journalistic world the
temptation is to keep silence concerning the truth, or to deny it. And
this, too, cannot be altogether avoided; for it is out of the question
for the politician to acknowledge everything he knows. It might be
esteemed a defect in Björnson's "Editor" that the representative of
journalism does not fully represent the dialectics of his class, the
inevitable collisions to which those connected with the daily press
are subjected. On the other hand, his opponent and victim, Halvdan,
is too passive and long-suffering to prove of thorough interest to
the reader. Björnson expressly attacks in this play the ideal of
composure which the hard necessities of our day have led us to hold up
as a model; he protests, in the name of the child within our souls,
against the doctrine that we must harden our hearts, and there is some
justice in his protest. But the fact is, we now-a-days only cherish a
qualified sympathy with those public personages who can never succumb
to persecutions of the press. The Christian ideal of the suffering
martyr has, in this case, lost its power over the reading world and
theatre-goers; there is a demand for a man from whom all the combined
written and spoken attacks of his opponents will glance off, leaving
him unharmed,--a man whom no idle words, not even a storm of idle
words can shake. It is not for me to decide whether such a mode of
contemplation is natural, but it certainly has much to recommend it.

"The Editor" may perhaps be most correctly comprehended as a great
allegory. The elder brother, Halvdan, who succumbs in the political and
literary strife, is Wergeland, who, after a life passed in enthusiastic
struggles for freedom, galled by the agitations caused by his own
attacks and the persecution of his opponents, lay so long stretched on
a couch of sickness,--a far greater and more poetic form shortly before
death than during the long feuds of his life. In the younger brother,
Harald, to whom falls the inheritance of Halvdan, I cannot but think
that Björnson wished to symbolize his own political endeavors, together
with the misunderstandings to which they have been exposed, and the
opponents they have found. Hakon, the eldest brother, who became a
farmer, and his wife, who plays a rôle without appearing on the stage,
represent the Norwegian people. The unusual vigor of the play, however,
is dependent on the fact that, in addition to the great breadth of its
horizon, it is individual and characteristic to a degree that has never
been surpassed by Björnson.

"The King" deals with political questions, as "The Bankrupt" and "The
Editor" with social ones. Here the problem is psychological. The poet
himself fights with the king of the drama his inner fight, and lets
his attempts to reconcile the requirements of his nature with those of
his position strand. Is the problem satisfactorily solved? Is not the
unhappy result in too high a degree caused by the king's wretched past
and his weak character? The worth of the play does not depend on the
answer, but on the depths to which it penetrates, on the fresh charm
which hovers about its love scenes, and on the rich, sparkling wit
of its dialogues. In "Magnhild" and "Leonarda," a new modern problem
is dealt with that had germed in the poet's own soul,--the relation
between morality as a virtue and as an institution, as a law of the
heart, and as a law of society. The doctrine proclaimed in "Magnhild"
is imparted in the modest form of a question: Are there not immoral
marriages, which it is our highest duty to dissolve?

"Magnhild" is a work that, in its search for reality, denotes a
turning-point in Björnson's novel-writing. In its characterizations it
displays a delicacy and a power the author had not previously attained.
The public had scarcely credited him with the ability to portray
figures like the young musician Tande, the beautiful Mrs. Bang and her
husband. And Magnhild's relation to this group is quite as exquisitely
delineated and as correctly conceived. Nevertheless, it is very
apparent that the author is moving in a sphere which is still somewhat
an unfamiliar one to him, that of social high life. It is a curious
fact, too, that Tande's cowardly denial of the woman he loves, at the
moment when she is scorned by the mob, has the poet's sympathy on the
ground of morality.

The novel suffers from a double defect. In the first place there
is a decided lack of clearness in the characterization of one of
the main personages, Skarlie. He is meant to impress the reader as
a sort of monster, and yet the reader feels continually obliged to
sympathize with him in his relations with his reserved, ideal wife.
In the most guarded manner conceivable, it is indicated that Skarlie
is a highly depraved person, and yet this monster of sensuality, in
his dealings with his own wife, of whom he has gained possession by a
not particularly sharp intrigue, displays a moonshine-like ideal of a
Platonic relation between husband and wife, in the Ingemann style, and
is content with the modest satisfaction of clothing and feeding her.
The second deficiency strikes deeper into the philosophy of the novel.
There is a good deal of old mysticism in the handling of the doctrine
concerning the "destiny" of men and women, about which the story
revolves, and (as is always the case with both Björnson and Ibsen) the
mysticism is strangely interwoven with rationalism. Björnson seems
to wish to have it firmly established as the sum of the story that
there is another way to happiness and beneficent activity for woman
than a relation to the man whom she loves, but the idea is not clearly

"Leonarda," although not conspicuous for its dramatic merits, belongs
to the most thoroughly and richly poetic of the author's works.
Outside of the Scandinavian North, a drama of this kind cannot be
fully appreciated; perhaps the powerful, intellectual influence it has
exercised can scarcely be comprehended. When placed upon the boards in
Christiania it made its marked sensation, because it rang like a word
of deliverance into Norwegian affairs. The message of "Leonarda" is
that of moral and religious tolerance, from which the author himself,
in his early days, was so far removed. In this drama, with wonderful
display of intellectual superiority, Björnson brought forward a whole
series of generations of Norwegian society, showing the faults and
virtues of each generation, and allowing the great-grandmother, who,
as the grandmother in George Sand's drama, "L'autre," represents the
culture of the eighteenth century, so meanly estimated during the long
period of Northern reaction, to utter the solemn amen of the play. Her
concluding words read as follows:--

"The time of deep emotions has, indeed, come back again."

With "Leonarda," however, not only the time of deep emotions but
that of hardy thoughts had returned, although the poet, as already
indicated, fought his opponents with a benignity and forbearance, a
benevolence above all partisanship, that forms, perhaps, his most
marked characteristic.

Henrik Ibsen is a judge, stem as one of the judges of Israel of
old; Björnson is a prophet, the delightful herald of a better age.
In the depths of his nature, Ibsen is a great revolutionist. In his
"Kjærlighedens Komedie" (Love's Comedy), and in "Et Dukkehjem" (A Model
Home, known as "Nora" in Germany and England), he applies the scourge
to the marriage relation of the day; in "Brand" to the state church;
in "Samfundets Stötter" (The Pillars of Society), to the entire civil
society of his native land. Whatever he attacks is crushed beneath
the weight of his superior and penetrating criticism. Björnson's is
a conciliatory mind; he wages warfare without bitterness. His poetry
sparkles with the sunshine of April, while that of Ibsen, with its deep
earnestness, seems to lurk in dark shadows. Ibsen loves the idea,--that
logical, and psychological consistency which drives Brand out of the
church, and Nora out of the marriage relation. Ibsen's love of ideas
corresponds with Björnson's love of humanity.


When still young, Björnson began to deal with politics, and throughout
his whole life he has worked in one direction. He has fought
unweariedly to secure the independence of Norway in the (almost purely
dynastic) union with its larger neighbor, Sweden. For four hundred
years Norway, as is well known, was a Danish and indeed a misgoverned
Danish province, until, in the year 1814, it was united with Sweden,
as a free kingdom, with a wellnigh republican constitution. Since that
time the house of Bernadette has made repeated efforts to limit the
independence and curtail the constitutional rights of the sparsely
populated rocky land. Beyond all else it has striven to amalgamate
the land with Sweden, and externally it has so far succeeded that
Norway is viewed throughout Europe, even in Germany, as a province of
Sweden, a sort of "seditious Ireland." As early as 1858, when editor of
"Bergensposten," Björnson fought against the amalgamation plans, and it
was largely due to his efforts that those representatives of Bergen,
who had voted for a closer tariff union between Sweden and Norway, were
not re-elected to the Storthing. In 1839, as editor of "Aften-bladet,"
in Christiania, he successfully contested the right of the king to
place a Swedish royal governor at the head of Norwegian affairs. In
1866-67, as editor of the "Norsk Folkeblad," Björnson was one of the
most valiant opponents of the so-called "union proposition," an attempt
of the government to make a closer union between the two realms that
were bound together in one dynasty. Since the dispute concerning the
king's veto (previously only recognized as suspensive), between King
Oscar and the Storthing, Björnson has become one of the most prominent
political leaders of Norway. Especially since his visit to the United
States, in the year 1880, he has burst forth from the chrysalis as
the greatest popular orator of Scandinavia, teeming with marvellously
captivating and, at the same time, thoroughly calm eloquence. As
soon as his presence at a public assemblage is an established fact,
thousands of peasants stream together to hear him. After the great
president of the Storthing, Johan Sverdrup, no man in Norway has so
powerful an influence as an orator.

The two countries, Norway and Denmark, for so many hundred years
politically united and still united through a common language and a
common ancient literature,--almost more intimately united, since they
became outwardly separated, than before,--have common aspirations and
aims in all political questions and in all problems of civilization.
The same struggle for freedom and modern enlightenment which Björnson
and his comrades in thought carry on in Norway, is fought in Denmark by
the younger school of authors. Norwegians and Danes labor each in their
own way to till the common soil of language and literature. I believe
that the result will be similar to that which Björnson has described
in the little legend that is the prelude to "Arne," and virtually to
his tales of peasant life in general, where juniper, oak, fir, birch,
and heather resolve to clothe the naked mountain lying before them. The
effort long failed; it was all plain enough: the mountain did not wish
to be clad. Whenever the trees had worked their way forward a little,
there appeared a brook that grew and grew, and finally threw them all

"Then the day came when the heather could 'peep with one eye over the
edge of the mountain. 'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!' said the heather,
and away it went. 'Dear me! what is it the heather sees?' said the
juniper, and moved on until it could peer up. 'Oh dear, oh dear!' it
shrieked, and was gone. 'What is the matter with the juniper to-day'
said the fir, and took long strides onward in the heat of the sun. Soon
it could raise itself on its toes and peep up. 'Oh dear!' Branches and
needles stood on end in wonderment. It worked its way forward, came
up, and was gone. 'What is it all the others see, and not I?' said the
birch, and lifting well its skirts, it tripped after. It stretched its
whole head up at once. 'Oh!--oh!--is not here a great forest of fir and
heather, of juniper and birch, standing upon the table-land waiting for
us?' said the birch; and its leaves quivered in the sunshine so that
the dew trembled. They meet the work done on the other side. The trees
of the mountains find the forest of the table-land. 'Aye, this is what
it is to reach the goal!' said the juniper."[5]

[1] Björn signifies bear; Björnstjerne, the constellation The Great

[2] See Arne, pp. 167-169 (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston) and The
Norway Music Album, pp. 173-176 (Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston).

[3] Since this was written it has been placed on the stage by
Björnson's own son Björn Björnson, now manager of the Christiania

[4] See Synnöve Solbakken, p. 16 (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston), and
Norway Music Album, pp. 131, 132 (Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston).

[5] See Arne, pp. 12, 13 (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston). Since this
essay was written, Björnson has published three dramas, "En Hanske" (A
Gauntlet), 1883; "Over Ævne" (Beyond his Power), 1883; and "Geografi
og Kjærlighed" (Geography and Love), 1885; and one novel "Det flager i
Byen og paa Havnen" (Flags in City and Harhor), 1884, besides several
poems and an enormous number of contributions to the press on politics,
religion, and every important topic of the day.--TR.

[Illustration: HENRIK IBSEN.]




When Henrik Ibsen, at thirty-six years of age, left Norway to go into
that exile from which he has not yet returned, it was with a heavy and
embittered heart, after a youth passed on the sunless side of life. He
was born March 20, 1828, in the small Norwegian town of Skien, amid
circumstances of very precarious prosperity. His parents, on their
paternal as well as maternal side, belonged to families of the highest
standing in the town. His father was a merchant, engaged in varied and
extensive activities, and enjoying the exercise of an almost unlimited
hospitality. In 1836, however, the worthy gentleman was compelled to
suspend payments, and from the wreck of his fortunes nothing was saved
for his family but a country estate a short distance from the town.
Thither they removed, and were thus carried beyond the range of the
circles to which they had previously belonged. In "Peer Gynt" Ibsen has
employed the recollections of his own childhood as a sort of model for
his description of life in wealthy Jon Gynt's home. As a lad, Henrik
Ibsen became apprentice in a drug-store. He worked his way through
countless difficulties before he was able, at the age of twenty-two,
to enter on a student's career; even then he had neither inclination
nor means for professional study; for a long time he had not so much
as the means to secure for himself regular meals. His youth was hard
and stem, his daily life a straggle; the paternal roof seems to have
offered him no place of refuge.

Although conditions of this kind signify less in so poor and so
democratic a country as Norway than elsewhere, and although Ibsen
has lacked neither the faculty of youth, nor that of the poet, to
rise superior to actual adversity through enthusiasm for ideas and an
independent dream-life, still, early poverty always leaves its marks
on the character. It may breed humility; it may develop opposition;
it may render the nature wavering, or independent, or hard throughout
life. To Ibsen's reserved, combative, and satirical temperament, which
was far more gifted to occupy the curiosity of the surroundings than to
win their hearts, it must have served as a challenge. It has probably
imparted to him a certain insecurity regarding his social status, a
certain ambition in the direction of those external distinctions that
were calculated to place him on an equal footing with the class from
which in youth he had been cut off, and a powerful sense of being
compelled to depend on himself and his own resources alone.

A nine weeks' activity as publisher of a weekly newspaper without
many subscribers was followed, 1851-57, by a period of labor as
stage-manager of the small theatre in Bergen, and after the last-named
year as director of the Christiania Theatre, which in 1862 went into
bankruptcy. Ibsen, who, as years have gone on, has become so staid and
sedate, and whose days pass with the regularity of clock-work, is said
to have lived a rather irregular life as a young man, and was pursued,
therefore, by that evil report which even some trifling aberration,
especially when caused by the erratic tendency of genius, will call
forth in a small place where all eyes keep watch on each and every
one. I can well imagine Ibsen just entering on manhood, tormented
by creditors, and daily executed in effigy by the followers of the
coffee-party ethics of female gossips. He had written fine poems in
no insignificant number, as well as a series of dramas which are now
celebrated, and some of which belong to his most admired productions,
but which were published in Norway in unsightly editions on wretched
paper, had a sale of only a few hundred copies, and yielded the author,
even on the part of his friends, but a moderately cool recognition of
talent, together with the morally crushing sentence that he "lacked
ideal faith and conviction." He became disgusted with Norway. In
1862, fully equipped with the weapons of polemics and satire, he had
published "Kjærlighedens Komedie" (Love's Comedy), a drama which unites
cutting scorn at the erotic affairs of conventional society, with deep
distrust in the power of love to endure through all the vicissitudes
of life, and profound doubt of its ability to preserve its ideal and
ardent nature unscathed and unchanged in marriage. It could not have
been unknown to the poet that society, with all the tenacity of the
instinct of self-preservation, has made it a duty to have confidence
in the immutability of normal love between man and woman; but he was
young enough, and defiant enough, to justify relatively the most
trivial conceptions of matrimony, as exemplified in the union of
Guldstad and Svanhild, rather than withhold his doubts concerning the
existing dogmatics of love. The book raised a howl of exasperation.
People were indignant at this attack on the amatory relations of
society, betrothals, marriages, etc. Instead of taking home to
themselves his fierce thrusts, they began, as is quite customary in
such cases, to pry into Ibsen's own private life, to investigate
the circumstances of his marriage, and, as Ibsen once remarked to
me, "Though the published criticisms of the comedy might have been
endured, the verbal and private censure was altogether insufferable."
Henrik Ibsen was condemned as a talented _mauvais sujet._ Even so
superb a work as "Kongs-Emneme" (The Pretenders), which followed in
1864, did not suffice to purify and exalt the poet's name. As far as
I am aware, this drama was not actually condemned by the critics, but
it was by no means estimated according to its merits, and it created
no sensation whatever. I do not think twenty copies reached Denmark.
At all events, it was "Brand" that first made the poet's name known
beyond Norway. An essay, in which the works of Ibsen were reviewed by
me in 1867, and which called attention to their rare worth, was the
first presentation of his life as an author given to the public.[1]
To Henrik Ibsen's private reasons for melancholy was added a sense of
profound dissatisfaction with Norway's political attitude during the
Danish-German war. When Norway and Sweden, in 1864, failed to stand by
Denmark against Prussia and Austria, notwithstanding all the promises
given at students' meetings, as well as by a press ostensibly devoted
to Scandinavian interests, and which were understood by Ibsen to be
binding, or at least considered obligatory, home became so odious to
him, as the seat of shallowness, laxity, and pusillanimity, that he
turned his back upon it.

Since that time he has dwelt alternately in Italy, in Dresden, in
Munich, and again in Italy, in each of the German cities five or six
years at a time. But a permanent abiding-place he has not had. He has
led a quiet, orderly family-life, or more accurately speaking, he
has, within the framework of family-life, had his real life in his
work. He has had intercourse in public places with the most eminent
men of foreign cities; has received into his house a multitude of
Scandinavians who happened to be passing through the town where he
was staying; but he has lived as in a tent, amidst hired furniture
which could be returned to its owners any day his departure was fixed
upon; for seventeen years he has not set foot beneath his own table,
or reposed in his own bed. He has never settled anywhere in the
stricter sense of the term; he has accustomed himself to feel at home
in homelessness. When last I visited him he replied to my question, if
nothing in the suite of rooms he occupied belonged to him, by pointing
to a row of paintings on the walls; that was all he could there call
his own. Even now, as a man of means, he feels no desire to own his
own house and home, to say nothing of farming lands and buildings,
the pride of Björnson. He is separated from his people, without any
activity that binds him to an institution, or a party, or even so much
as to a magazine, or to a newspaper at home or abroad--a solitary man.
And in his isolation he writes:--

    "My people, who to me from goblet foaming
    A wholesome, bitter draught of strength once gave,
    That roused the poet, ling'ring near his grave,
    To arm himself and labor through the gloaming--
    My people, who on me the exile's stave,
    With sorrow's scrip and sandals swift for roaming,
    Bestowed, the outfit stern for strife completing--
    From distant realms I send thee home my greeting!"

Many and important indeed are the greetings he has sent home; but over
all his productions, both before and during his exile, there lingers
one and the same prevailing mood, that of his temperament, a mood
whose main characteristics are freedom from restraint and cheerless
despondency. This fundamental tone, so natural to the homeless,
permeates everything with which he creates the strongest impression.
Recall some of his most characteristic, moreover some of his most
diametrically opposed works, as for instance, the poem "Paa Viddeme"
(On the Mountain Plains), in which the narrator, from the lofty
mountain heights, sees the cottage of his mother surrounded by lurid
flames and his mother burned alive, while he himself, wholly deprived
of willpower and in a state of utter despair, stands watching the
effective illumination, or "Fra Mit Husliv" (From My Household Life),
in which the creations of the poet's fancy, his winged offspring, take
flight as soon as he sees himself in the glass with his leaden eyes,
closely-buttoned vest, and felt shoes; think of the thrilling poetry of
that dismal scene where Brand wrests from his wife their dead child's
clothing; call to mind the scene where Brand consigns his mother to
hell, and that superbly original scene in which Peer Gynt paves the
way to heaven for his mother with lies; conjure up "Liget i Lasten"
(The Corpse in the Cargo), or the overwhelmingly painful impression
aroused by Nora (A Model Home),--that butterfly, which is pricked with
a needle through three acts, only to be pierced at last,--and it will
be felt that the prevailing atmosphere, corresponding to the landscape
background of a painter, in all pathetic parts is fierce, cheerless
gloom. It may rise to a pitch of tragical awe, but that is no proof
that its author is simply a writer of tragedy. Schiller's tragedies,
as well as those of Oehlenschläger, are gloomy only in occasional
situations, and even the author of "King Lear" and of "Macbeth" has
produced such harmoniously moulded creations as "The Tempest" or,
"A Midsummer Night's Dream." With Ibsen, however, this tone is the
fundamental one. It could not be otherwise in the case of a born
idealist who, from the outset of his career, thirsted for beauty in
its highest forms, as purely ideal, spiritual beauty; or, in the
case of a born rigorist who, thoroughly Germanic, especially Norse,
by character and temperament, influenced, moreover, by circumstances
to Christian views, was inclined to esteem the life of the senses
repellent or sinful, and not to admire seriously, or even to recognize
other than moral beauty. In his innermost soul he was shy; that is to
say, but few disappointments were required to make him withdraw into
himself, even with distrust of the surrounding world in his heart.
How early must he not have been wounded, repulsed, humiliated, as it
were, in his original proneness to believe and to admire! His first
deep impression as an intellectual being must have been, I think, an
impression of the rarity--non-existence, he may have added in moments
of bitterness--of moral worth, and disappointed in his quest for
beauty, he found a certain relief in unveiling the sorrowful truth
that lay concealed behind the glamour of appearances. The atmosphere
about him reverberated with words denoting ideals and telling of
eternal love, of profound seriousness, of fidelity, of decision of
character, of Norse patriotic sentiment (the national sentiment of
"det lille, men klippefaste Klippefolk": the little, yet cliff-like,
steadfast mountain-folk); he looked about him, he searched eagerly,
but found nothing in the world of reality corresponding to these
words. Thus there was developed in him, through his very yearning
for an ideal, a peculiar faculty for discovering everything to be
spurious. It became an instinct with him to apply a crucial test to
whatever seemed genuine, and to feel little if any astonishment when
he proved it to be false. It became a passion with him to rap with
his fingers on all that seemed like solid metal, and it gave him a
sense of painful satisfaction to hear the ring of hollowness, which
at the same time offended his ear and corroborated his foreboding.
Whenever he came into contact with what was supposed to be great, it
became both a habit and a necessity with him, to ask as in "Rimbrevet
til en Svensk Dame" (Letter in Rhyme to a Swedish Lady): "Is it truly
great, this greatness?" He became keenly alive to all the egotism, all
the untruthfulness, inherent in imaginative life, to all the wretched
bungling the phrases of freedom and progress may conceal, and gradually
a stupendous ideal or moral distrust became his muse. It inspired him
to ever more and more daring investigations. Nothing overawed, nothing
startled him, either what appeared like idyllic happiness in domestic
life, or what resembled dogmatic security in social life. The more
audacious his investigations, the greater became his dauntless courage
in communicating, disseminating, proclaiming the result. It came to be
his chief intellectual delight to disturb the equanimity, to arouse
the ire of all those whose interest it was to conceal with euphemisms
existing evils. Just as it had always seemed to him that too much was
said about ideals that were never realized in actual life, so too he
felt, with ever increasing certainty and wrathful indignation, that
people, as it were by common consent, maintained silence in regard to
the deepest, most irretrievable breach with ideals, in regard to the
true, unmistakable causes of horror and dismay. In polite society they
were avoided as improbable, or unsuitable to be mentioned; in poetry,
as appalling and gloomy; for æsthetics had once for all banished from
belles-lettres all that was unduly harsh, painful, or irreconcilable.
Thus it was, as nearly as can be defined, that Ibsen became the poet of
haunting gloom, and thence comes his inherent tendency to justify, in
sharp and bitter expressions, his attitude toward the majority.

Henrik Ibsen's personal appearance is suggestive of the qualities
manifested in his poetry. In his countenance the reflection of a soul
full of tenderness, even though disguised by the stem or sarcastic
earnestness of the physiognomy, will occasionally make itself apparent.
Ibsen is below the medium height, is heavily built, dresses with a
certain style and elegance, and has altogether a very distinguished
appearance. His gait is slow, his bearing dignified, his carriage
worthy. His head is large, interesting, framed with a wealth of
grizzled hair, which he wears pretty long. The forehead, which is the
dominating feature of the face, is unusual in form, is high, almost
perpendicular, broad, and at the same time well modelled, and bears the
impress of greatness and marked intellectual vigor. The mouth, when in
repose, is so tightly compressed that there is scarcely any trace of
lips; its closeness and firmness betray the fact that Ibsen is a man
of few words. In truth, it is his wont, when in the society of a large
number of people, to remain as taciturn as though he were the mute,
and at times almost crabbed guardian of the sanctuary of his mind. He
can talk when in the society of one person alone, or in a very small
circle, but even then he is far from communicative. A Frenchman, whom
I once took in Rome to see Runeberg's bust of the poet, said, "The
expression is more _spirituelle_ than poetic." It is very apparent to
the observer that Ibsen is a satiric poet, a brooding thinker, but
not a visionary. His most exquisite poems, however, such as "Borte"
(Absent) and some others, indicate plainly that at some time in the
battle of life a lyric Pegasus has been slain under him.

I am familiar with two expressions in his face. The first is the
one in which his smile,--his kind, delicate smile, penetrates and
animates the mask of his countenance, in which all that is cordial
and heartfelt, all that lies deepest in his soul, rises uppermost.
Ibsen has a certain tendency to embarrassment, as is apt to be the case
with melancholy, serious natures. He has, however, a most charming
smile, and through smile, look, and pressure of the hand, he expresses
much which he neither could, nor would, clothe in words. And he has
a habit, when engaged in conversation, of smiling playfully, with
a twinkle of good-natured raillery, as he tosses off some brief,
not-at-all-good-natured remark, in which the lovable side of his
character is plainly manifested. The smile softens the sharpness of the

But I am also familiar with another expression in his countenance,
one in which impatience, anger, righteous indignation, cutting scorn,
impart to it a look of almost cruel austerity, forcibly reminding the
observer of the words in his beautiful old poem Terje Vigen:--

    "Yet, sometimes, in stormy weather, a kind
      Of madness would kindle his eye;--
    And few there were then who could courage find
      To come Terje Vigen nigh."

This is the expression his poetic soul has most frequently assumed
before the world.

Ibsen is by nature a polemic, and his first poetic outburst (Catiline)
was at the same time his first declaration of war. From the moment he
arrived at years of maturity--which, by the way, was not very early--he
has never actually doubted that he, the individual, on one scale, and
on the other what is called society--in Ibsen's eyes the embodiment
of those who shun the truth, and who are ever on the alert to conceal
evils with empty phrases--would balance evenly. He is in the habit of
asserting, among many whimsical paradoxes, that in every age there is
a certain sum of intelligence for distribution; in the event of some
individuals being especially well equipped,--as, for instance, Goethe
and Schiller in their day in Germany,--their contemporaries will be all
the more stupid in proportion. Ibsen, I may safely assert, is inclined
to believe that he has received his endowments at a time when there
were very few with whom to divide the sum.

He has, therefore, no consciousness of being the child of a people,
a part of the whole, the leader of a group, a member of society; he
feels himself exclusively a gifted individual, and the sole object in
which he believes, and for which he cherishes respect is personality.
In this emancipation from all natural relations, in this exaltation
of the _ego_ as an intellectual force, there is a lively reminder of
that period in Northern history, in which Ibsen received his culture.
Above all else, the influence of Kierkegaard[2] is apparent. Ibsen's
isolation, however, has a totally different stamp, upon whose moulding
Björnson's quite opposite personality has had no trifling influence. It
is always of vast significance to an individual to be historically so
situated that destiny places at its side a contrasting companion-piece.
Not infrequently it is a misfortune for a noted man to see his name
continually coupled with another, it may be for glorification, it
may be for censure, but always by way of comparison. The compulsory
twin relation that cannot be shaken off may irritate and harm. In the
case of Ibsen, it has, perhaps, aided in forcing the peculiarities
of his nature to their utmost extremities; in other words, it has
intensified his fervor and reserve. No one who, like Ibsen, believes
in the rights and capabilities of the emancipated individual, no one
who, as early in life as he, has placed himself on a war footing with
his surroundings, holds a very flattering opinion of the masses. There
evidently developed within him, on the very threshold of manhood, a
contempt for his fellow-creatures. It was not because he had from the
first an exaggerated opinion of his own talents, or his own worth. His
is a brooding, doubting, questioning nature. He says himself:--

"My calling is to question, not to answer," and minds like his have no
tendency to conceit. It may be noted, too, how long he was in finding
the right language and form with which to clothe his thought; how crude
his first effort "Catiline" was; how strong the evidence displayed in
his unpublished drama "Kjæmpehöjen" (The Barrow), of the influence of
Oehlenschläger, especially of "Landet fundet og forsvundet" (The land
that was found, and that disappeared); how constantly the reader is
reminded, even to the very metre, in the drama "Gildet paa Solhaug"
(The Banquet at Solhaug) of a totally dissimilar genius Henrik Hertz,
especially of the latter's drama, "Svend Dyring's House," and how, in
his "Hærmændene paa Helgeland" (The Warriors of Helgeland), he availed
himself of the effective features of saga literature on a large scale,
before he presumed to take satisfaction in his own resources, and
his own markedly individual style.[3] At the outset of his career he
belonged rather to those natures that enter upon life with profound
reverence, prepared to recognize the superiority of others, until
adversity gives them a consciousness of their own power. From the
moment the discovery is made, however, such natures become, as a
rule, far more rigid and stubborn than those that were originally
self-complacent. They accustom themselves to weigh those whose
superiority formerly they would have accepted as a matter of course,
with the eye as on an invisible scale, and cast them aside the moment
they fall below the standard weight.

Ibsen finds the average mortal petty, egotistic, worthless. His mode
of apprehension is not the purely scientific one of the observer; it
is that of the moralist; and in his quality of moralist he dwells far
more on the wickedness of humanity, than on its blindness and lack of
discretion. To Flaubert mankind is wicked because it is stupid; to
Ibsen, on the contrary, it is stupid because it is wicked. Recall, for
instance, the case of Thorvald Helmer. Throughout the entire drama in
which he plays so sorrowful a rôle, he views his wife with eyes of
utter stupidity,--the hopeless stupidity of a blockhead. In the place
where Nora bids Dr. Rank the last farewell, where thoughts of suicide
are brought face to face with thoughts of death, and the doctor's reply
is couched in terms of sympathizing tenderness, Helmer stands, drunk
and lascivious, his arms outstretched. Yet he is thus stupid solely on
account of his self-righteous egotism.

And simply wrong-doers Ibsen finds mankind, not vicious by nature.
On a previous occasion I quoted an aphorism from Kierkegaard's
"Enten--Eller" (Either--Or), which seems peculiarly well adapted to
be a motto for Ibsen: "Let others lament that the times are evil. I
lament that they are paltry and contemptible, for they are utterly
without passion. The thoughts of mankind are as thin and as feeble
as lace-women. The thoughts of their hearts are too insignificant to
be sinful." What else does Brand say when he bewails the God of his
generation and hold up in contrast his own God, his own ideal, as

    "And like the race, its God is hoary,
    His silv'ry hair its pride and glory.
    But this thy God cannot be mine,
    For mine is storm, while wind is thine.
    *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
    And mine like Hercules is young,
    No aged sire as thou hast sung."

What else says the "Knappestöber" (The Button-moulder)? He answers Peer
Gynt about as Mephistopheles, in Heiberg's "En Sjæl efter Döden" (A
Soul After Death), replied to the "soul." Peer Gynt is not destined to
be plunged into the brimstone pit; he is merely to be returned to the
casting-ladle, that he may be moulded over again. He was no sinner,
for, as the text declares, "der skal Kraft og Alvor til en Synd" (it
requires power and earnestness to commit a sin), he belonged to the
mediocre classes, and therefore, he "must be cast into the waste-box to
be moulded over again."

According to Ibsen's conception, Peer Gynt is the typical expression of
the national vices of the Norwegian people. It is very evident the poet
was inspired with less horror than contempt by these vices.

This view of the matter explains even those of Ibsen's youthful works,
in which his characteristics as an author are yet undeveloped. Margit,
in "The Banquet at Solhaug," for instance, cannot help reminding the
reader of the Ragnhild of Hertz. Yet the figure is moulded of quite
different metal from that of Hertz; it is harder, less pliable, more
tenacious. A woman of to-day, whose heart was filled with despairing
love, would feel more akin to Ragnhild than to Margit; for Margit
stands as a token to such a woman that she, the reader, is the child
of an enfeebled age, devoid of either the courage or the consequence
of passion, lost in half-measures. And wherefore does Ibsen, in
his "Warriors of Helgeland," reach back to the wild tragedy, the
magnificent horror, of the "Volsunga Saga"? In order that he may
present this picture of the past to the contemplation of the present,
in order to awe, in order to reproach the generation of to-day,
by showing it the grandeur of its forefathers,--that passionate
intensity which once unbridled, rushed madly onward toward its goal,
looking neither to the right nor to the left, regardless of all minor
considerations; that pride and strength which is chary of words, which
silently acts, silently suffers, silently dies; those wills of iron;
those hearts of gold; those deeds which a thousand years have not
buried in oblivion. Aye, behold yourselves in the mirror!

Take this combative pathos in its first outburst,--it is his "Catiline"
conceived with the entire sympathy of an enthusiastic university
student. Catiline despises and hates the Roman social life, in which
violence and selfishness hold sway; where men become rulers through
intrigue and strategy; and he, the single individual, rebels against
society. Take this combative pathos in one of Ibsen's later works,
in the most admirable of his dramas, "Et Dukkehjem" (A Model Home),
where it rings with a subdued, but none the less penetrating tone from
female lips. Where Nora, the singing-bird, the squirrel, the child,
finally collects herself and says, "I must try to find out which is
right: society, or myself"; where this frail creature dares place
herself on one side and all society on the other, we feel plainly that
she is a true daughter of Ibsen. Take, finally, the pathos, so filled
with thirst for battle, in a later work, "Gjengangere" (Apparitions),
in Mrs. Alving's words concerning the teachings of modern official
society, as follows: "I only intended to meddle with a single knot, but
when that was untied, everything fell to pieces. And then I became
aware that I was handling machine sewing." In these words, remote
though the poet may be from the heroine of the play, may be heard a
sigh of relief, that for once, if only indirectly, utterance has been
given to the utmost that could be said.

With Catiline and with Mrs. Alving,--Ibsen's first male and last
prominent female creation,--there is the same sense of isolation as
in the intermediate characters, Falk, Brand, and Nora, and the same
despairing beating of the head against a stone wall. In his drama "En
Folkefiende" (An Enemy of the People), the entire plot revolves about
the one idea of how much strength there lies in isolation, and the play
ends with the didactically expressed paradox,--"The fact is, you see,
the strongest man in the world is he who stands absolutely alone."

The current name in modern Europe for this mode of regarding the world
and humanity is pessimism. There are, however, many kinds and degrees
of pessimism. It may be, as with Schopenhauer and von Hartmann, a
grave conviction that life itself is an evil, that the sum of joys
is overwhelmingly insignificant in comparison with the sum of griefs
and torments a human life contains; it may content itself by proving
the worthlessness of life's highest good, showing how melancholy is
youth, how joyless labor, how empty pleasure is in itself, and how
repetition dulls our satisfaction in it. By virtue of this insight, it
may either recommend self-denial, as did Schopenhauer, or labor for the
advancement of civilization as does Hartmann, yet with the unwavering
conviction that every advance in civilization bears with it increasing
unhappiness for the human race. Such pessimism is not that of Ibsen. He
too finds the world base, but the question whether life is a good does
not occupy him. His entire mode of contemplation is moral.

The pessimistic philosopher is prone to linger on the illusory nature
of love; he demonstrates how small an amount of happiness it affords;
how it rests mainly on a delusion, as its true goal is not the
happiness of the individual, but the greatest possible perfection of
the coming generation. To Ibsen, the comedy of love does not consist in
the unavoidable erotic illusion,--this alone is in his eyes uplifted
above the province of comedy and has his full sympathy,--but in the
deterioration of character, the abandonment of life ideals, that is the
result of conventional engagements and marriages, even though based
originally on love. That the young theologian, with his preparation for
a missionary's career, should be transformed on his betrothal into an
instructor in a young ladies' seminary, is an occasion for satire to
Ibsen, is the true comedy of love in his eyes. In a single instance,
and then but as though illumined by a passing flash of light, has
he risen far above his usual moral conception of the erotic sphere,
without, therefore, renouncing the satirical standpoint, and that is in
the poem "Forviklinger" (Entanglements), the wittiest, as well as the
most profound of all Ibsen's poems.

The pessimistic philosopher is prone to dwell on the thought that
happiness is as unattainable for the individual as for the masses. He
lays great stress on the fact that enjoyment slips through our fingers,
that all our heart's desires are attained too late, and that when we
have them within our grasp they are far from producing the effect upon
us our craving for them had deluded us into anticipating. In such an
utterance as the well-known remark of Goethe that in seventy-five years
he had not enjoyed four weeks of actual pleasure, but had ever been
compelled to roll a stone which must continually be raised and started
afresh, he sees the decisive proof of the impossibility of happiness.
For what the favorite of gods and men, Goethe, failed to obtain, is
not likely to be gained by any ordinary mortal. This is not so with
Ibsen. Sceptical as he may otherwise be, he by no means doubts the
possibility of happiness. Even Mrs. Alving, hard-pressed as she was
by circumstances, believes that under other conditions she might have
been happy; aye, is truly of the opinion that even her wretched husband
might have been prosperous. And Ibsen apparently shares her opinion.
Her words about the "half great city," which has no joy to offer, only
pleasures; no life vocation, only an office; no actual work, only
business affairs, are spoken from his own heart. Life itself does not
seem an evil to him. Existence itself is not joyless. Nay, some one is
to blame, or rather many are guilty when a life is shorn of joy; and
he points to the dreary, conventional society in Norway, rude in its
pleasures, bigoted in its conceptions of duty, as the sole object of

To the pessimistic philosopher, optimism is a sort of materialism.
In the fact that optimism is preached at every corner, he sees the
cause of the social question threatening to become a firebrand to the
whole world. According to his conception, the most important thing
is to teach the masses they need expect nothing from the future; the
pessimistic recognition of universal suffering alone can explain to
them the fruitlessness of their efforts. This mode of contemplation
is never found in Ibsen. Where he touches the social question, as in
"Samfundets Stötter" (The Pillars of Society), and elsewhere, the evil
designated is always of a moral nature. Every injury sustained is
dependent on a wrong committed. It is the entire stratum of society
that is rotten, whole rows of pillars of society that are decaying
and hollow. The stifling air of a small community is bad; in large
communities there is room for "great deeds." A breath from the outside
world, that is to say, a breath of the spirit of truth and freedom, can
purify the atmosphere.

Thus it is that when Ibsen finds the world bad he feels no compassion
for mankind, only indignation at it. His pessimism is not of a
metaphysical but of a moral nature; it has its roots in a conviction of
the possibility of the realization of the ideal; it is, in a word, an
indignation-pessimism. And his lack of sympathy with many sufferings
is dependent on his firm belief in the educating power of suffering.
These petty, narrow human beings can only become large through
suffering. These small, wretched communities can only become healthy
through struggles, defeats, castigations. He who has himself felt how
mightily a human being may be equipped by adversity, he who has himself
drained the health-giving, tonic draught of bitterness, believes in
the use of pain, of adversity, and of oppression. This is perhaps most
plainly visible in his "Kejser og Galilæer" (Emperor and Galilean). His
conception of Julian is that of a man who, through his persecution of
his Christian subjects, becomes the actual framer of the Christianity
of his time; that is to say, its resuscitator from the dead. Julian's
universal historical significance for Ibsen is this: by transforming
Christianity from a court and state religion to a persecuted and
oppressed belief, he restored to it its original spiritual character
and its primitive martyrdom. Challenged by the Christians, Julian
punishes with severity; but the result of his persecutions is one
he himself has little anticipated. The old comrades of his student
days, that Gregor who lacked courage for any decisive act, but who
had "his little circle, his kinsfolk to protect," and who had neither
powder nor ability to effect more, and that Basilios who "sought for
worldly wisdom in his country estate,"--both rise up, strengthened by
persecution, like lions, against him.


That an author does not wholly reveal himself in his works is a
self-evident fact. In some instances his personal traits give a
pretty different impression than his writings. This, however, is by
no means the case with Henrik Ibsen, and that he does not hold the
views referred to as a mere matter of display, or for the benefit of
his books, I am able to show, after an acquaintance of sixteen years'
standing, by sundry trifling incidents.

Let me call attention to certain of his unpremeditated oral
utterances, illustrating the poet's intellectual life, in the form
of a jest, a paradox, or a figure,--but which I do not claim to be
absolutely correct, although they have been preserved in a faithful
remembrance,--and to certain written remarks, communicated with Ibsen's
consent. Thus some of the main outlines of a pen-and-ink sketch of this
author may be attempted in a more faithful and life-like manner than
from his books alone.

In 1870, when France lay maimed and bleeding at the feet of Germany,
Ibsen, whose sympathies were at that time chiefly on the side of
France, was far from sharing the dejection universally experienced in
the Scandinavian countries on account of the sorrowful fact. While all
other friends of France were exhausting themselves in outbursts of
sympathy, Ibsen wrote, Dec. 20, 1870:--

"... Moreover, historic events are claiming a large share of my
thoughts. The old illusory France is all slashed to pieces; and when
the modern matter-of-fact Prussia shall also be cut into fragments,
we shall have made a leap into the midst of a growing epoch. Oh! how
ideas will then come tumbling about our heads. Verily, it is high time
they should do so. All we have had to live upon up to the present date
are crumbs from the revolutionary table of the past century, and even
this fare has been masticated over and over again. These ideas of the
past require new substance, new interpretation. Freedom, equality, and
fraternity are no longer the same things they were in the days of the
guillotine of blessed memory. This is what the politicians will not
understand, and therefore it is I hate them. These people demand only
special revolutions, revolutions in the outside world, in the sphere of
politics. But all this is sheer nonsense. What is really needed is a
revolting of the human spirit...."

No one can fail to discern in this letter the historic optimism I
have indicated in Ibsen. Gloomy though his views may seem, he has
the highest hopes, the greatest confidence in the new life that will
be called into being through misfortune. Aye, still more; only so
long as the misfortunes and calamities which accompany the entrance
of ideas into the world hold the senses awake, does he esteem the
ideas of actual worth. Even the sound of the guillotine's fall, far
from terrifying him, rings harmoniously into his optimistic and
revolutionary contemplation of the world. Not freedom as a dead
condition, but freedom as a struggle, an endeavor, seems to him of
value. Lessing said that if God should offer him truth with his right
and truth-seeking with his left hand, he for one would grasp God's
left hand. Ibsen would undoubtedly subscribe to the proposition if
for "truth" could be substituted the word "freedom" If he despises
politicians, it is because, according to his opinion, they conceive and
treat freedom as something external and soulless.

From Ibsen's optimistic, and, so to speak, pedagogic conception of
suffering, may in a large measure be explained his zeal to have
Norway stand by Denmark in the Schleswig controversy. As a matter of
course, he took for his starting-point, as did other Scandinavians,
the kinship of the two countries, promises given, Denmark's right;
but it was his optimism that led him to view the use of such aid as
subordinate. To the outburst, "You would have had many a beating,"
he once replied, "To be sure, many a one; but what harm would that
have done? We should have been brought into the movement, should have
belonged to Europe. Anything in preference to remaining outside."

At another time--in 1874, I believe--Ibsen was praising Russia in a
high strain. "A magnificent land," said he, smiling. "The oppression
there is truly brilliant."

"How so?"

"Why, think of all the glorious love of freedom it engenders. Russia
is one of the few countries on earth where men still love freedom,
and offer sacrifices to it. That is the reason why the land stands so
high in poetry and in art. Think of the Russians having a poet like
Turgenief! And there are Turgeniefs among their painters, also. We do
not know them, but I saw their paintings at Vienna."

"If all these good things are the result of oppression," said I, "we
may well bestow our praises on it. But how is it with the knout? Are
you enthusiastic about that, too? Suppose you were a Russian, would
you have your little boy (and I pointed to his then half-grown son)
receive stripes from the knout?" Ibsen was silent for a moment, while
his countenance wore an impenetrable look. Then he replied, laughing,
"No, he should not receive stripes, he should inflict them." This
humorous sally is Ibsen through and through. He himself is all the time
inflicting the knout on his contemporaries in his dramas. It is to be
hoped that the eventual infliction of stripes in Russia, by way of
change, might be bestowed on the oppressors.

It need be no matter of surprise that with such views, Henrik Ibsen
was anything but enthusiastic when Rome was taken possession of by the
Italian troops. In moody despondency, he wrote:--

"And so Rome has been taken from us human beings, and given to the
politicians! Where shall we now seek refuge? Rome was the sole spot in
Europe that was consecrated to freedom, the sole spot that enjoyed true
freedom,--that is to say, freedom from political tyranny.... And then
all the beautiful yearning for freedom,--that, too, is gone now. Ah, I
may well say the one thing I love in freedom is the struggle for its
attainment. Its possession does not greatly concern me."

There is, it seems to me, something dual in this standpoint concerning
politics. It is partly a reminiscence of ancient romance, that
antipathy to utilitarianism, which is common to the romantic schools of
all lands, partly something personal and characteristic,--faith in the
power of the individual and inclination for radical dilemmas. The man
who in "Brand" formulated the motto "All or nothing" could never in the
world lend a willing ear to the practical politician's watchword, "A
little step forward each day." I should really like to know if Ibsen's
warm predilection for Russia did not originate in the fact that there
is no parliament in that country. From the depths of his nature Ibsen
abhors parliaments. He believes in the individual, in the single great
personality. A single individual, according to him, can accomplish
everything, and only a single individual. Such a body as a parliament
is in his eyes an assemblage of speakers and dilettanti, which
naturally does not prevent him from cherishing esteem for individual
members of parliaments as such.

It is, therefore, a continual source of amusement to Ibsen when he
reads in a newspaper: "And then a committee was appointed," or, "After
this a club was formed." He sees a symptom of the enervation of modern
times in the fact that as soon as any one has a plan, or a matter
of business of any kind, his first thought is to have a committee
appointed or a club formed for its benefit. Recall the scornful peals
of laughter that resound through "De Unges Forbund" (The Young Men's

I believe that Ibsen, in the inner recesses of his soul, forces his
individualism to an excess, of which but a faint impression can be
gained from his works. He goes even farther in this particular than
Sören Kierkegaard, of whom in other respects he strongly reminds us.
Ibsen is, for example, a decided opponent of the modern, strait-laced
state idea. Not in the sense that would lead him to favor small states
and narrow communities. No one can cherish a greater horror than
he of the tyranny they exercise, and of the petty tendencies they
lead in their train. Few have been more zealous than he in urging
that the Scandinavian kingdoms should follow the example of Italy
and Germany, and unite in one political whole. His most significant
historic drama, "Kongs-Emneme," (The Pretenders) deals exclusively
with the justification of the idea of a similar union. Ibsen goes so
far in this respect, that he seems to me to overlook the dangers to
the manifoldness and variety of intellectual life this endeavor for
political unity conceals within itself. Italy has never stood higher
in an artistic sense (and generally) than in the days when Siena
and Florence represented two worlds, and Germany never stood higher
intellectually (and generally) than when Königsberg (Kant) and Weimar
(Schiller-Goethe) were centres. Yet in spite of his enthusiasm for
unity, Ibsen's poetic brain dreams of a time when state power will
afford a far greater measure of individual and communal freedom than at
present, when the state, as it now is, will no longer exist. Although
Ibsen reads little, and does not orient himself in the period in which
he lives by means of books, it often seems to me as if he stood in a
sort of secret correspondence with the fermenting, germinating ideas
of the times. Once of late have I received a decided impression that
thoughts which were in their outburst historic, but which were not yet
recognized as such by others, occupied, and at the same time tortured
him. Immediately after the close of the Franco-German war, at a time
when all minds were occupied with it, and when the thought of such
a thing as the commune in Paris had scarcely risen up in a single
Northern brain, Ibsen presented to me as political ideals, conditions
and ideas whose nature did not seem to me quite clear, but which were
unquestionably akin to those that were proclaimed precisely one month
later, in an extremely distorted form, by the Parisian commune. In
reference to our diversity of opinions regarding freedom and politics,
Ibsen wrote to me, Feb. 17, 1871:--

"... The struggle for freedom is to be sure nothing but the perpetual
living appropriation of the idea of freedom. He who possesses freedom
otherwise than as something for which he is striving, has a dead,
soulless possession; for the idea of freedom bears that within itself
which causes it to broaden and expand under appropriation, and if any
one, during the struggle for its attainment, pauses and cries, Now, I
have it,--he proves thereby that he has lost it. Yet it is just this
dead stand-still in a certain grade of freedom that is characteristic
of the body politic, and it is this that I have had occasion to
censure. To be sure, there may be some advantage in the possession
of the right of the ballot and a voice in regard to taxation, etc.,
but whom does it profit? The citizen, not the individual. There is,
however, no rational necessity whatever for the individual to become a
citizen. On the contrary. The state is the curse of the individual. How
is the strength of the state of Prussia purchased? By the absorption
of the individual into the political and geographic idea. The waiter
makes the best soldier. The opposite case may be exemplified by
the Jews, the nobility of the human race. How have they maintained
their individuality in isolation, in poetry, notwithstanding all the
brutality of the outside world? Through the fact that they have had no
state burdens on their shoulders. Had they remained in Palestine, they
would have gone to ruin in their construction long ago, as all other
peoples have done. The state must be abolished. In a revolution that
would bring about so desirable a consummation, I should gladly take
part. Undermine the idea of the commonwealth, set up spontaneity and
spiritual kinship as the sole determining points in a union, and there
will be attained the beginning of a freedom that is of some value.
Changes in the form of government are nothing else than different
degrees of trifling, a little more, or a little less--absurd folly.
The state has its root in time; it will attain its summit in time.
Greater things than it will fall. All existing forms of religion will
pass away. Neither moral conceptions, nor art forms have an eternity
before them. To how much, after all, is it our duty to hold fast?
Who will vouch for me that two and two do not make five on Jupiter?"
Henrik Ibsen was certainly not aware of the ingenuous, yet paradoxical
attempt of the anonymous author "A Barrister," to prove exactly how
two and two might be considered to make five on Jupiter; nor was it
likely that he was aware how vigorously Stuart Mill, and all other
adherents of radical empiricism, would applaud the last-cited lines;
the natural bent of his intellectual powers, however, has led him to
universal scepticism, which, in his case, is so marvellously united
with vigorous, practical faith. In as early a work as his "Brand," he
put into his hero's month the words:--

    "No dogma and no church shall ever
    Exalted be through my endeavor;
    They both have seen their natal day,
    'Twould, therefore, but in reason be
    That both their final hour should see.
    For all that's made must pass away;
    It gathers moths, is gnawed by worms,
    And must, obeying laws and norms,
    Give place to other unborn forms."

The passage cited from his letter affords an energetic commentary
on these words, and may readily be communicated as a proof of the
presentiments of the hidden occurrences of the age, that were the
natural outgrowths of Ibsen's genius, without the least danger of
lowering the poet in the eyes of an honored public, since even Prince
Bismarck has publicly recognized the "grain of sound reason" that was
the kernel of the bewildered efforts of the commune. On May 18, 1871,
Ibsen wrote:--

"Is it not impudent of the commune in Paris to go and destroy my
admirable state theory, or rather no state theory? The idea is now
ruined for a long time to come, and I cannot even set it forth in
verse with any propriety. But it bears within itself a healthy core,
that I see very plainly, and some day it will be practised without any

It is in his maintenance of the sovereignty of the individual, that
Ibsen comes to take a polemic stand in regard to the state idea as well
as to the idea of society. I am not sure that I fully comprehend him
on this point; his mode of thought is foreign to me. I can understand
why there are those, as for instance, Lorenz von Stein, and after
him Gneist, who recognize in the history of modern times a continual
struggle between the state and society and who, proceeding from a new,
energetic comprehension of the state idea, can turn in a polemic way
against society; but I do not thoroughly understand the double front
presented by Ibsen, nor am I quite sure that he is himself conscious
that there is any double front in question.

But his anxiety, lest the sting of personality be dulled and its
choicest treasures laid waste, extends still further. He firmly
believes that the individual must stand alone, must be absolutely free,
if all the fruitful possibilities of its nature are to be developed,
and so his eyes are open to all the hindrances to individual growth
that every association, even friendship, even marriage, bears within
itself. I well remember his answer to a letter written by me in one of
those melancholy moods to which youth so readily gives expression, and
in which I declared, with a little sigh, as it were, that I had few or
no friends. Ibsen wrote, March 6, 1870, as follows:--

"... You say you have no friends at home. So I have long thought. Any
one who like yourself stands in close relation to his life-work, cannot
reasonably expect to retain his friends. Friends are an expensive
luxury, and he who invests his capital in a calling and a mission in
this life has no means left wherewith to maintain friends. The cost of
keeping friends does not consist in what we do for them, but in what we
leave undone out of regard for them. Thereby many intellectual germs
are stunted in their growth. I have experienced this myself, and that
is the reason why I can look back on a number of years, during which I
failed to succeed in becoming myself...."

Is not Ibsen's absolute need of independence and sense of isolation
felt in the words "the cost of keeping friends"; and is there not in
the words cited, the chief explanation of Ibsen's comparatively late
outburst of originality. His career, as I have asserted before, was
apparently begun without any high degree of self-confidence.

As friendship under certain circumstances may be a hindrance to the
independence of the individual, so too may marriage. Therefore it
is that Nora refuses to consider her duties toward her husband and
children as her most sacred duties; for a far more sacred duty she
believes she owes herself. Therefore it is that to Helmer's "You are
before all else a wife and mother"; she replies:--

"I am before all else a human being,--or, at all events, I shall
endeavor to become one."

Ibsen shares with Kierkegaard the conviction that in every single human
being there slumbers the soul of a warrior, an invincible power; but he
cherishes it in another form than Kierkegaard, for whom the worth of
the individual is something supernatural, while with Ibsen, we rest on
human grounds. He believes that the individuality of the human being is
to be preserved for its own sake, not for the sake of higher powers;
and since beyond all else the individual should remain free and whole,
all concessions made to the world represent to Ibsen the foul fiend,
the evil principle.

Here we touch upon the fundamental thought in "Brand." It is embodied
in the passage where Brand speaks of all those scattered fragments of
the soul,--those torsos of the spirit, those heads, those hands, from
which one day a noble whole shall proceed: a hero, in whom the Lord
shall recognize man, His greatest work, His Adam, young and strong.

Thus, "all or nothing" becomes Brand's apparently inhuman motto.
Therefore the "spirit of compromise," even in the hour of his death,
is nothing to Brand but a fair temptress who demands a little finger,
in order to gain possession of the whole hand; and, therefore, the
spirit of compromise returns in "Peer Gynt" as the mighty "Böjgen," the
incarnation of all that is cowardly and pliable in human nature, all
that readily bends and curves.

    "Defend thyself!
                      Böjgen is not mad!
             Böjgen never strikes!
                                   Fight! Thou shalt!
    The mighty Böjgen wins without e'er fighting!
    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
    The mighty Böjgen wins all things through gentleness."

To extricate the race from "Böjgen's" stifling embrace, to capture
the spirit of compromise, force it into a casket and hurl it into the
deepest part of the sea,--this is the goal at which Ibsen, as a poet,
has aimed. This extrication of the individual from compromise, and from
the mighty "Böjgen," is the revolution that is his own.

I once asked Henrik Ibsen, "Is there among all the Danish poets a
single one about whom, in your present stage of development (1871),
you concern yourself in the least." After leaving me for some time
to vain conjectures, he replied: "Once upon a time there was an old
man in Seeland who stood behind his plough in a peasant's smock, and
who had viewed mankind and the world with angry eyes. I rather like
him." Is it not a significant fact that Bredahl is the Danish writer
who of all others is nearest Ibsen's heart? Bredahl, too, was an
indignation pessimist,--no deep-seeing psychologist, it is true, but
a thinker in whose pathos may be found, as it were, the thunder which
precedes Ibsen's lightning. Bredahl sees only the exterior tyranny and
hypocrisy, while Ibsen searches these out in the hidden recesses of
the heart. His standpoint is that of Ibsen's revolutionary orator,--

    "He looks after the inundations for the world's meadows."

    His great successor goes more thoroughly to work,--

    "He takes delight in placing torpedoes under the ark."

If, then, I have designated Ibsen as a revolutionary nature, I need
scarcely defend myself from the charge of having declared his to
be one of those natures that are enthusiastic for violent exterior
convulsions. Far from it! Indeed, quite the contrary! For, isolated
as he is and feels himself to be, reluctantly opposed to all parties,
simply as parties, stately, polished, reserved, "awaiting the approach
of time in a spotless wedding garment," he is, so far as exteriors
are concerned, strictly conservative, although his conservatism is of
a peculiar nature; that is, it proceeds from radicalism, because he
expects nothing from special reforms. In the depths of his soul he is a
decided revolutionist, but the revolution he raves about and labors for
is the purely spiritual one I have pictured. The reader will not have
overlooked the concluding words of the letter of December, 1870, "What
is really needed is a revolting of the human spirit." I have never been
able to forget these words; for they contain, in a measure, Ibsen's
entire poetic programme--an admirable programme for a poet.

I should, however, fail to be true to myself if I said that Ibsen's
view of life seemed to me to possess more than a powerful element
of truth. It is a view of life by virtue of which one may think
and produce poetic creations, but not act, which, indeed, strictly
considered, cannot even be put into plain language in the world, as
it is, because it is calculated to instigate others to action, which
in this instance means--capital offence. Whoever, through a yearning
for great, decisive, sweeping overthrows, is led to look indifferently
or contemptuously on the slow, insignificant changes of the natural
course of development; on the tardy, gradual, petty improvements, the
compromises, with which the practical worker must be content, because
through them alone he can hope to attain the partial realization of
his ideal; on the associations without which it is impossible for any
one who is not in a position of brutal command to transmit a single
thought into the reality of life,--such a man must relinquish all hopes
of raising a finger in practical life. Like Sören Kierkegaard, like
Brand, he can do nothing but point helplessly at the yawning gulf that
separates existing reality from the ideal. To attempt to act himself
or induce others to act in harmony with the desired goal, would simply
mean to lead his followers headlong over the brink of that dizzy abyss
which parts what exists from what is desired, and to expose himself
to immediate arrest. Indeed, even the poet can only express so ideal
a view of life indirectly, insinuatingly, ambiguously, in the drama;
only through thoroughly responsible personages, and thus with a certain
reservation, so far as the author himself is concerned. Only the rudest
kind of opponents could possibly have taken the hideous jest about the
torpedoes beneath the ark for literal, bloodthirsty earnest. This mode
of contemplating life involves and necessitates, therefore, a dualism
between the theoretic and the practical, between the individual and the
citizen, between spiritual freedom and that practical freedom which has
the form of an obligation, a dualism that in actual life can only be
carried out by a dramatic poet who lives in exile, who is not obliged
to have the slightest dealings with state, society, politics, groups of
human beings, parties, or reforms.

Therefore the ideal of intellectual reserve that has its origin in
this mode of contemplating life seems not to me the highest. To be
sure, a distinguished author provides best for his outward dignity
when he is never found in a skirmish or amid an excited throng. It
is unquestionably aristocratic to hold one's self aloof from the
vulgar crowd, never to mingle in the turmoil of the day, never to
write a newspaper article. Yet to my taste it savors of a still
higher aristocracy to act as did the legitimist generals who reported
themselves as simple soldiers in Condé's army, and who, notwithstanding
their general's epaulettes, did not disdain to fight now and then on
foot and in the first rank. Not one whit of true inner dignity is
sacrificed by such a course.


The psychological analysis has now reached a point from which we can
view this poetic mind in the light of the literary consciousness and
endeavors of its contemporaries. I say expressly contemporaries,
not people; for Ibsen is as strongly marked a European character as
Björnson, notwithstanding his cosmopolitan culture, is national. A
poet's attitude in regard to the consciousness of his contemporaries
is indicative of his relation to the ideas and forms of his age. Every
period has its own peculiar ideas, which in art appear in the shape of
themes and ideals.

Ideas are not begotten by poets. They emerge from the labors
of thinkers and inquirers; they come forward as large, genial
presentiments of the laws and relations of realities; they develop and
take form amid scientific investigations, amid historic or philosophic
inquiries; they grow, become purified and strengthened through
struggles for and against their truth, until, like the angels of the
Bible, they become powers, thrones, kingdoms, and reign over the epoch.

Poets do not beget ideas; it is neither their vocation nor their
business to do so. Genuine poets, however, become overwhelmed with
ideas while these are still growing and struggling, and take their
stand in the great conflict of the age at the side of these ideas. They
are transported by them, nor can they do otherwise; they comprehend,
and yet have never learned. Mediocre poets, those who possess no poetic
quality unless it may be a transmitted or an acquired routine, have no
ear for the hollow rumbling of ideas as they penetrate the subterranean
passages of the earth, no ear for their pinion-beats in the air. In
the preface to his "Neue Gedichte," Heine states that while engaged
in writing these poems it seemed to him as though he could hear the
flutter of a bird's wings above his head. "When I related this to
my friends, the young Berlin poets," he continues, "they exchanged
significant glances, and unanimously assured me that nothing of the
kind had ever come within their experience." This whizzing sound, which
the Berlin poets had never heard, was nothing in the world but the
pinion-beat of those ideas.

Wholly without ideas, however, it is impossible for a poet to create.
Even bad poets have at their command ideas, viz., those of the past;
and these ideas that were invested by the masters of an earlier period
with distinctly marked poetic expressions are reproduced by them in a
feeble, ineffective way. The ideas of the age, as a rule, appear to
them thoroughly "unpoetic." To evolve poetry from these ideas seems
to them utterly impossible. But the poet who in his youth (in "The
Pretenders") wrote the memorable sentence, "For you it is impossible;
all you can do is to repeat the old story; but for me it is as easy
as it is for the falcon to cleave the skies," could never have been
permanently alarmed by the thoughts of his day. He has invested many
new ideas with flesh and blood, and in thus incarnating them has aided
in their dissemination; he has, moreover, given breadth and depth to
many contemporary ideas by watering them from the well-springs of his
own emotional nature. How profoundly he has felt the necessity of a
vital relation to the germinating ideas about him may be conjectured
from the superb lament of the balls of yam, withered leaves, and broken
straws, to Peer Gynt:--

    "Thoughts are we,
      Thou shouldst have thought us.
       *   *   *   *   *   *   *
    "We'd soar aloft
      As songs consoling,
    Yet here as balls
      Of yarn we're rolling.

    "We are a watchword,
      Thou shouldst have proclaimed us;
    See how indifference
      Hath seized and shamed us.

    "We are duties,
      Thou hast neglected us.
    Doubts and hesitations
      Have maimed and dejected us."

Words of reproach these are by which we may well fancy that the poet
has been incited to action in periods of laxity, but which it is
impossible to conceive of in the form of a Peer Gynt self-accusation.
How in the world could poor Peer have given himself a watchword?
How could he reproach himself with not having proclaimed it? Let
us now see what topics and ideals are especially uppermost in the
consciousness of the age. They may be divided, it seems to me, into the
following groups:--

First, such ideals and topics as stand in direct relation to religion;
that is to say, the reverential relation of men to ideas which in their
eyes are powers,--to some outward, to some inward powers--especially
those ideals and topics that have a bearing on the conflict between
individuals who deem these powers outward and those who deem them
inward realities.

Second, those topics and ideals that revolve about distinctions between
two ages, past and future, ancient and modern, old and new, especially
regarding distinctions and conflicts between two generations.

Next, those that have a bearing on the grades of society and their
struggle for existence, on class distinctions,--especially those
between rich and poor,--social influence, and social dependence.

Finally, a whole group of topics and ideals that revolve about
distinctions between the two sexes, about the mutual erotic and social
relation of man and woman, especially about woman's economical, moral,
and spiritual emancipation.

Religious topics and problems are dealt with in our day in the most
diverse ways, although always in the modern spirit. Allow some of the
principal instances to pass in review before your mind. The greatest of
the elder generation of poets in France, Victor Hugo, notwithstanding
his passionate tendency to free thought, displays the remnants of a
vague deism, colored with pantheism. Traces of the influence of the
past century may readily be detected in him: religion is glorified at
the cost of religions; love which unites is extolled in opposition to
faith which parts and destroys. Most of the prominent authors of the
present generation, as for instance Flaubert, represent religion with
scientific coldness, but always from the dark side. To him, and to
his spiritual kindred, the object of religion is a hallucination, in
which one believes. The greatest English poet of our day, Swinburne,
is a passionate heathen with a rich poetic vein, and he conceives
Christianity to be a denial of nature, the enemy with whom he must
do combat. In Italy, the greatest poet of the land, Leopardi, became
absorbed in a sort of sublime metaphysical pessimism, which found
vent in stoic resignation. Carducci, the foremost of Italy's living
poetic thinkers, is quite as modern and even more polemic than he. In
Germany, the most prominent poets, as Gottfried Keller, Paul Heyse,
Fr. Spielhagen, have displayed in their works a soul-felt atheistic

In the North the conditions were totally different. The Danish poets
of the past generation had almost invariably paid homage to orthodoxy;
the only philosophically inclined one among them, J. L. Heiberg, who
had begun by protesting as a free thinker, ended by making at least
apparent concessions to the teachings of the clergy; and the attempt in
Denmark to undermine the authority of the church, namely, Kierkegaard's
violent attack on the state church, had not been aimed at the truth of
the dogmas taught, but exclusively at their professors, especially in
cases where the lives of the priests failed to correspond with their
teachings. This attitude of Kierkegaard has been a decisive one for
Danish-Norwegian polite literature, down to the present day. Modern
poetry in Denmark and Norway has rarely, if ever, touched the objective
side of the question, the essence of religion, but almost exclusively
its subjective side; hence the extraordinary wealth of priestly forms
in this literature, both before and after its authors were emancipated
from orthodoxy. The priests in Björnson's and in Magdalene Thoresen's
peasant stories denote the standpoint before emancipation, the priests
in Björnson's, Schandorph's, Kielland's, Ibsen's, Gjellerup's latest
works the standpoint after emancipation.

Ibsen follows the clue given by Kierkegaard. Like all men of his
generation in the North, who have grown up in the period of romance,
his early relations to religion lack clearness. Moreover, there was
in his nature a dual tendency, which must necessarily expose him
to inner tumults: a native propensity to mysticism and an equally
inbred inclination to sharp, dry common sense. Few poets who are
capable of such almost convulsive flights of fancy as he, are able
to linger as calmly as he can amid the prose of life. "Brand" and
"Samfundets Stötter" (The Pillars of Society) differ as widely in main
essentials as though written by different authors. The character of
the first-named work is that of pure, unqualified mysticism, the other
revolves about simple, unadulterated prose. Here boundless exultation;
there good, wholesome, social morality.

No one who is familiar with the mental characteristics of the Norsemen
can doubt that "Brand," which laid the foundation for Ibsen's poetic
fame, excited universal attention merely because it was regarded as a
sort of poetic sermon, a homily, a devotional work. It was not the real
merits of the book that made it seem imposing to the public and caused
the sale of so many editions; no, people streamed into the bookstores
to purchase "Brand" precisely as people pour into church when a new and
severely zealous priest appears. In a correspondence that Ibsen carried
on with me regarding this book, he expressly stated that Brand's
ministerial career was the purely exterior, incidental side of the
question. In a letter, dated June 26, 1869, he writes:--

"Brand has been misunderstood, so far, at least, as my intention was
concerned. The misconception is unquestionably rooted in the fact that
Brand is a priest, and that the problem of the work is placed in the
realm of religion. It would have been just as possible for me to apply
the same syllogism to a sculptor, or a politician, as to a priest. I
could just as well have given vent to the mood that impelled me to
literary production, had I, instead of Brand, for instance, dealt with
Galileo (with the trifling alteration in the latter's history, that he
must, as a matter of course, remain firm and not concede that the earth
stood still). Indeed, who knows, had I been born a hundred years later,
I might with equal relish have treated yourself and your struggle with
Rasmus Nielsen's philosophy of compromise. Taken as a whole, there is
much more objectivity in Brand than has hitherto been discovered, and
of this, as a poet, I am proud."

Although it is my wont carefully to withhold everything of a personal
nature from these quotations, I have here permitted myself to retain
a playful allusion to the literary warfare of those days, because
it proves how little the mere idea of priesthood concerned Ibsen.
A further proof of this is afforded by an expression in one of the
letters I received from Ibsen during the time when I was brooding over
the introduction to my book "Hovedströmninger i det 19de. Aarhundredes
Litteratur" (The Main Currents of the Literature of the 19th Century).
It reads as follows:--

"It seems to me you have reached the same crisis which I had attained
in the days when I was about to write Brand, and I am convinced that
you, too, will know how to find the healing drug that can expel disease
from your body. In energetic production lies an admirable cure."

As the reader will see for himself, the emphasis in "Brand" is
placed, according to the poet's own construction, upon the power
of self-sacrifice and strength of character, not upon any special
religious dogma. Now although Ibsen is, of course, the best, the
only competent judge of his own design in the work, he nevertheless
underrates, in my estimation, the weight of the unconscious power by
which he was impelled to choose the precise materials he has chosen
and no others. And this unconscious power, as I believe, was Ibsen's
Norse-romantic tendency to mysticism. Yet even if "Brand" should be
understood exactly in accordance with Ibsen's own interpretation of the
character, the resemblance to religious phenomena in Northern religious
life is equally obvious. It might look to the Danes as though Ibsen had
Kierkegaard especially _in mente_; for he, too, laid the entire stress
on personal sincerity. This would be due to our unfamiliarity with
Ibsen's Norwegian models. Independent priests of Norway, Lammers, for
instance, have had a larger share in the formation of the character of
"Brand" than any direct influence from Denmark. Lammers, however, was
himself led to the stand he took by the Kierkegaard agitation.

In "Kejser og Galilæer" (Emperor and Galilean), the influence of the
Kierkegaard standpoint, although still strong, is on the wane. True,
the passion for martyrdom is here set up as a measure for truth,
and the psychological principle of the work is that no doctrine has
intrinsic worth that is incapable of inspiring a spirit of martyrdom;
but with this there is united a determinism that is half-mystic,
half-moulded in the modern spirit; moreover, a Schopenhauer-like faith
in the unconscious and irresistible world-will; finally, a modern
prophecy that Christianity, as well as paganism, will one day be
resolved into a third kingdom which will be an amalgamation of the two.
It is characteristic of Ibsen's intellectual _habitus_ that in both of
his attempts at dealing with religious themes everything that savors
of conflict and endeavor is infinitely more prominent and successful
than portions touching on reconciliation and harmony. "The Third
Kingdom" in his "Emperor and Galilean," stands quite as obscurely in
the background as that _Deus caritatis_ at the conclusion of "Brand."

Themes that revolve about the relations between two successive ages or
generations, or simply about the relations between different stages of
life, which in Russia, Germany, Denmark, and Norway have been treated
in so many different ways, have also occupied Ibsen, during his first
period in "Kongs Emnerne" (The Pretenders), during the transition to
his second period in "De Unges Forbund" (The Young Men's Union). Both
these dramas are remarkable works, but the strength of neither lies in
historic insight or historic impartiality.

"The Pretenders" is not really an historic drama; it displays no design
on the part of its author to produce, through a series of pictures
of the past, a portrayal of human nature as it appears under certain
conditions at a defined period. The poet did not proceed from an
historic standpoint; he simply used the historic as a pretext. The
background of the play is mediæval, the foreground modern, for Skule
Jarl is a modern figure. An historic construction would have led to the
presentation of Skule as a full-blooded aristocrat, and Bishop Nicolas
as a fanatical, yet thoroughly devoted and conscientious clergyman.
Skule's conflict with Haakon denotes historically the last unsuccessful
attempt of the aristocracy to limit the power of the king; and the
bishop's conflict indicates that hatred, which was so well justified
from a priestly point of view, against the enemy of the church and
usurper Sverre and his race. Instead, Ibsen has transformed Nicolas
into a monster, who symbolizes bigotry, envy, and dissension in Norway
through long ages, and Skule into an ambitious person who, while
striving to attain the highest goal, is at the same time tormented
with a wretched doubt of his right and ability to reach it. Haakon
and Skule are contrasted as representatives of two epochs,--the age
of dissension and the age of union. But, as the poet's interest in
the psychological is so much greater than his sense of the historic
element, this contrast is thrust into the background by the contrast
between the individual characters and their relation to ideas. Haakon
represents "the king's thought," which he himself first conceived,
and is wholly submerged in this relation. Skule represents no ancient
historic idea, but simply lack of self-confidence. He steals Haakon's
"king's thought" in order to procure for himself through it a right
to the throne. He does not succeed. The skald declares to him that he
cannot live for the life-work of another, and he himself recognizes
the truth of this. The skald's thought is not expressed with any too
great lucidity; for why could not a man live for the ideas of another,
if he has himself endeavored to appreciate and transform them into his
own flesh and blood, without stealing them, and causing them to pass
for his own discovery? The theft, not the fact of living for the ideas
of others, would make a person unhappy; and this it is which causes
the unhappiness of Skule. The fact is, however, that Ibsen, with the
whole intensity of his nature, interests himself more in the struggle
that is taking place in the soul of the individual than in any struggle
between historic powers. What attracted him to Skule, and made the
latter the main personage of the play, was the "interesting" element in
the character of Skule,--his complex nature, his struggling soul, which
even when in the wrong eclipsed that of the simple-hearted Haakon with
his certainty of coming victory. It is the despairing power in the
great Nureddin which, in spite of his craving for the lamp, in spite
of the theft of the lamp, is doomed to ruin. It is the representation
of a soul whose aspiration is greater than its ability to rise; and
this same representation it is that is varied in Bishop Nicolas, whose
gigantic powers are wrecked in partly physical, partly spiritual, but
wholly powerless yearning and craving. It is the relation between the
ability and the desire, between the will and the possibility, in the
soul of the individual, this relation which is already indicated in
Catiline and in Gunnar in "The Warriors of Helgeland," which is brought
forward anew in the relation of Skule to Haakon's thought. Skule stands
in the same relation to the "king's thought" as Julian to Christianity.
Filled with a foreboding of the greatness of the power he is combating,
he holds an irreconcilably distorted relation to the great, victorious
idea. The psychological interest completely routs the historic.

The relation between two succeeding generations is again represented
in "The Young Men's Union," a drama which furnishes in an extremely
witty manner a parody on the efforts of the younger generation, without
at the same time offering any justification for these efforts. This
work cannot be compared with such works as Turgenief's "Fathers and
Sons," or "Virgin Soil," which unite relentless severity against the
elder generation with their stem judgments on the younger, and at the
same time extend to both thorough sympathy and comprehension. Ibsen's
pessimism has repelled his sympathy. The sole honorable representative
of the younger generation in the play last mentioned is Dr. Fjeldbo,
a man of a thoroughly passive nature. That he is a physician is
scarcely a matter of pure accident. The skilful physician plays, on
the whole, a striking rôle in modern poetry; he is evidently the hero
of the day. The cause of this is, doubtless, that he can be used
as the incarnation of the ideals of the age, those strictly modern
ideals, which are in respect to theory science, with its relationship
to the true and the false, in respect to practice humanity, with its
relationship to happiness and suffering, the opposing psychologic and
social forces that claim the attention of the age.

In the dramas of Schiller, as well as in those of modern Germany, the
struggle for political and spiritual freedom plays a prominent rôle.
Class distinctions, too, are a favorite theme in various German dramas
of an earlier period, even though it had not then become customary
for poetry to deal with what is called at the present time the social
problem. A glimmer of the latter appeared much earlier in the French
drama, from the days of Beaumarchais to those of Victor Hugo, as this
question had become a burning one in public discussion in France far
earlier than elsewhere. In the polite literature of our day, the
social question has gradually banished the political from its high
seat. Modern poetry, in many lands, is inspired by sympathy with the
poor and lowly; it reminds those who are well placed in life of their
duties. The question is not one of those that have chiefly occupied
Ibsen, and yet he has touched upon it. When he wrote "Catiline," he
was too undeveloped to comprehend the social problem aright; but many
years later, in "Samfundets Stötter" (The Pillars of Society), he aimed
a blow at the leading circles of his fatherland. The play is wholly
without a socialistic tendency, as is well known, yet so profound is
its pessimism that those who are unfamiliar with Norwegian affairs,
especially with the attitude of the poet to his public and to the
various parties of his native land, might take it for granted that
there was a tendency of the kind in the work. When it was played in
Berlin, many spectators (and, it may safely be asserted, not those
who were by any means lacking in judgment) yielded to the error that
it was written by a socialist. I was myself obliged to assure many
people that its author was, on the contrary, the favorite poet (at that
time) of the conservative party in Norway. In "The Pillars of Society,"
which has the effect of a supplement to "The Young Men's Union," the
two sides of the question are as little apparent as in the last-named
comedy. Ibsen proceeds here, as everywhere else, from a one-sided point
of view.

The relation between man and woman is one of those that has most
intensely absorbed Ibsen, and in regard to which he has cherished the
most original and the most modern sentiments.

In his first youthful works this relation is treated somewhat in the
traditional way. He attacks in his "Gildet paa Solhaug" (Banquet at
Solhaug) the same theme Björnson has chosen for his "Halte Hulda"
(Lame Hulda); that is, the position of a young man between the woman a
little older than himself whom he has loved in his youth, and the young
girl whom he longs with his whole heart to make his bride,--a theme
both human and universal, yet one that has frequently been varied. He
next represents, in his "Catiline" and in his "Fru Inger til Österaat"
(Mistress Inger at Österaat) the same rather forced yet stirring
motive, how a man who had led a licentious life in his youth is
punished through his love for a young girl who at the same time loves,
abhors, and curses him, because he had betrayed her sister and sent her
to her grave.

In his "Kjærlighedens Komedie" (Love's Comedy), Ibsen for the first
time takes up the erotic condition of his fatherland for his theme.
He had apparently received no trifling stimulus from contemporary
Norwegian literature. While Björnson during his first period was
influenced by popular tradition and popular poetry, Ibsen was incited
to action in his early days by the most advanced thinkers of the time.
There is something in the inspiration of "Love's Comedy" that may be
traced back to Camilla Collet's "Amtmandens Dötre" (The Magistrate's
Daughters). The latter daring book at that time occupied every
Norwegian mind; and it contained the same witty, though rather less
well planned attack on betrothals and marriages that in Ibsen's drama
is conducted by a firm, manly hand. So far as similes and figures are
concerned, the influence of Camilla Collet is very perceptible. Ibsen's
celebrated "tea-comparison" is derived from her. In "The Magistrate's
Daughters" we read of love, as follows:--

"Guard, O mankind, this our life's first bloom.... Heed its growth and
its fruit.... Do not lightly disturb its tender, budding leaf, in the
belief that the coarse blossoms that come later are good enough....
No; they are not good enough. There is as great a difference between
the two kinds, as there is between the tea we ordinary mortals must
be content with, and that which the emperor of the Celestial Kingdom
drinks, and which is the only genuine tea; it is gathered first, and is
so delicate and tender that it must be plucked with gloves, after the
gleaners have washed twenty-four times."

Henrik Ibsen writes:--

    "Ah, ladies, in your hearts, you one and all
    A special small Celestial Empire hold,
    Where many precious budding germs unfold
    Behind your maidenhood's crumbling Chinese wall."

And the passage ends thus:--

    "Behold, to us a second growth there fares
    That with the first like hemp with silk compares;
    And stalks and rubbish 'midst the leaves we see;
    This is the blackened tea--
                               It fills the market."

Ibsen has simply given further development to the simile and invested
it with the solid mould of verse.

It is a well-known fact, that there is nothing clear in "Love's
Comedy" except its mockery. The play presents a satire on marriage
which imparts to the reader as little sympathy for the defenders of
the conventional standard, as for its assailers, and from which it is
impossible to detect whether in the poet's opinion it is better to
maintain the present practices of society or to overthrow them. The
only thing that is certain is his misanthropic view of the betrothals
and marriages that have come under his observation. I remember a
conversation with Ibsen in reference to this drama, which revolved
about the ideal of love among betrothed couples in general. I said,
"There are blighted potatoes and there are sound potatoes." Ibsen
replied, "I very much fear I have never seen any of those potatoes that
were sound."

Nevertheless, there runs through Ibsen's works a continually increasing
faith in woman, and tendency to glorify woman. At times this appears
in a rather revolting, dogmatic way, as when Solveig, in "Peer Gynt"
after the traditional style of Goethe's "Faust" and Paludan-Müller's
"Adam Homo," through her faithful love, saves the soul of her
lover,--in this instance an altogether too unworthy being; but this
faith in woman, with which Ibsen evidently desires to counterbalance
his contempt for man, is ever present, and has been productive of a
series of true and beautiful female characterizations, such as Margrete
in "The Pretenders," who is represented by a few delicate strokes in
imperishable beauty; or Selma in "The Young Men's Union," who may be
regarded as the first draught of Nora. When this figure was new, I
remarked in a review that the drama did not afford sufficient play for
it, that an entire new drama should be written expressly for it. This
was done in "Et Dukkehjem" (A Model Home).

As far as I can judge, the idea of woman's emancipation, in the modern
acceptation of the phrase, was far from being familiar and dear to
Henrik Ibsen at the outset of his career. On the contrary, he did not
originally possess a large amount of sympathy for woman. There are
authors who have a peculiar affinity for women, who have, indeed, a
decided feminine element in their own natures. Ibsen does not belong
to this class. I am quite confident he takes far more pleasure in
conversation with men than with women, and he has certainly passed much
less time in the society of women than is the wont of poets. Moreover,
the attempt of modern literature to prove the justice of a change in
woman's social status, was at first far from finding an enthusiastic
admirer in him.. Mill's book on the woman question was, if I mistake
not, actually repulsive to him in the early days of its appearance,
and Mill, as a writer, inspired him with no sympathy whatever. Indeed,
to Ibsen, with his marked individuality, Mill's statement, or rather
confession, that he owed much in his writings, indeed the best they
contained, to his wife, seemed absurdly ludicrous. "Only fancy," he
said, smiling, "what it would be to read Hegel or Krause with the idea
that it was quite uncertain whether we were following the thoughts of
Mr. or of Mrs. Hegel, of Mr. or of Mrs. Krause!"

It does not seem to me that this aversion on the part of Ibsen was
wholly without a connection with the poet's sentiments in regard to the
woman question. I am rather inclined to think there was in his mind an
opposition to the latter during its early stages, partly owing to the
influences of his education, partly owing to a natural irritation at
the caricature forms of female emancipation, but an opposition whose
destiny it was to give place to passionate adherence. It is Ibsen's
reason that has wrought the change in his emotional nature. Like a true
poet, he is capable of becoming, with his whole soul, the organ of an
idea which once had left him cold, the moment he feels this idea to be
one of those battle-thoughts of the period that are fraught with rich
meaning for the future. And when we read those words, that fall like
sword-strokes, in the last scene of _"A_ Model Home," Helmer's--

"There is no one who yields up his honor for those whom he loves,"

and Nora's--

    "'Tis what hundreds and thousands of women have done,"

words in which a more hideous abyss yawns between the husband and
wife that sit opposite each other at table than the nether world ever
opened in the old dramas of romance, we feel, indeed, that Ibsen
has not merely filled his soul with the thoughts of the age; he has
fashioned them on a grander scale than any one else, he has ground
them until they are sharper than in the hands of others, so that with
his consummate art he can make them penetrate even the most hardened
hearts. This drama produced a powerful, although alarming effect.
For centuries society, through its priests and poets, had conceived
of marriage, founded in love and undisturbed by the influence of a
third person, as a sure haven of bliss, and had celebrated it as such
in song. Now it was discovered that this haven was full of rocks and
shoals. It actually seemed as though Ibsen had extinguished all the
beacon lights.

"Gjengangere" (Apparitions) followed. Here, again, as in "A Model
Home," a marriage was analyzed, the opposite of the one in the
last-named drama. The grandeur and exquisite delicacy of "A Model Home"
consisted chiefly in the fact that Ibsen had conceded so much to the
husband. For what had he not conceded to this man! He is a thoroughly
honorable, conscientiously upright man, an excellent provider for
his family, a man who is properly jealous of his independence in his
dealings with strangers and subordinates, a strict and loving father, a
good-hearted, highly cultivated man,--and yet! Yet this man's wife was
a victim, and his marriage a whited sepulchre.

The man into whose marriage we gain deep insight in "Apparitions"
is a person of a totally opposite character; he is a coarse-natured
drunkard, is recklessly dissolute, yet is endowed with so many of
those qualities licentious men often have at their command with which
to win hearts, and knows how to make himself so agreeable, that it
is possible for his wife to screen his life and save appearances. By
remaining with him, by giving herself to him, she not only sacrifices
her own welfare and happiness, she also becomes the mother of a being
whose life is wrecked from birth, a son who is overtaken by deadly
impotence, despair, insanity, and idiocy, as he crosses the threshold
of manhood,--and yet! Yet that portion of the community which is
represented by Pastor Manders deems her sacrifice of herself and her
son her simple duty, and her attempted revolt at her hideous fate a

This is the pathos of the play, and this same pathos it was that
terrified the great Philistine world more than "A Model Home" had done.
This time it seemed as though the stars had been extinguished by
Ibsen. "Not the faintest ray of light appears."

The relation between man and woman in "Apparitions" is placed in a
totally new light, inasmuch as it is measured by responsibility to the
child. The drama treats, in a poetic form, the thought of heredity,
represents, on the basis of that determinism which is the latest word
of modern science on the question, the dependence of the child's
destiny on the parents, and gives this fact a background of a nature
calculated to arouse profound thought and feeling by indicating the
more universal fact to which the title points; namely, the hereditary
transmission of emotions (and through these of dogmas) whose essential
conditions are extinct, and have given place to others at variance with
these emotions.

In close relation to Ibsen's psychological development there is
associated a principal interest in this grasp or choice of themes,
inasmuch as we here for the first time see the great dramatist break
the circle it has been the wont of his disposition to cast about the
single individual. In a letter of the year 1871, Ibsen wrote me the
following words, which are indicative of much in his character:--

"To tell the truth, I have never had a very great fancy for solidarity.
I have, indeed, only taken it into my cargo as a matter of traditional
dogmatism. If we only had the courage to leave it entirely out of
consideration, we might possibly become rid of the ballast that weighs
most heavily on personality...."

Now, ten years later, his eyes are opened to the significance of
solidarity; he has become thoroughly convinced that "courage" is of no
avail in the attempt to cast it overboard, and that we are all from our
birth consolidated with persons and things in a way we ourselves cannot
control. Evidently, as years pass on, Ibsen enters into a more and
more intimate relation with the fundamental ideas of the age.

Thus we see him, who at first, with almost all the now living older
writers of the day, stood waist-deep in the romantic period, gradually
work his way out of it, and become more and more modern, until finally
he grows to be the most modern of modern writers. In my estimation,
this is his imperishable glory, and will invest his works with enduring
life. For the modern is not the ephemeral; it is the vital flame
itself, the life-spark, the ideal soul of an age.

The ill feeling aroused by "Apparitions" in many circles, and the
coarse criticism aimed at the drama, could have no power to repress
Ibsen's literary productivity, but at first it had a very depressing
effect on him. He wrote of it:--

"When I think how sluggish and dull and stupid affairs are in
Norway, when I observe how superficial, how shallow, the entire mode
of contemplation proves itself to be, a profound melancholy takes
possession of me, and I feel inclined to put an immediate end to
my literary activity. There is no demand at home for poetic works
proper; people have all that is required in the "Storthing" organ and
in the Lutheran weekly journal, and, besides, they have the party
newspapers. I have not the least talent either for citizenship or
for orthodoxy, and that for which I feel no talent I avoid. To me,
freedom is the highest and first life requisite. At home, however,
people do not concern themselves much about freedom; they care only for
special liberties, for some more, for some less, according to party
standpoint. Most painfully am I moved by this crude state of affairs,
this vulgarism in our public discussions. Under the very laudable
endeavor to transform our people into a democratic community, quite a
long stretch of the road is being traversed that leads to plebeian
conditions. The intellectual aristocracy seems to be on the decline at

The storm aroused by "Apparitions" could exercise no other influence on
Ibsen than one that strengthened him in his conviction of the stupidity
of the majority. He wrote to me about this, Jan. 3, 1882, as follows:--

"Björnson says, 'The majority is always right,' and for a practical
politician this is the proper thing to say. I, on the contrary, must
necessarily say, The minority is always right. As a matter of course,
I do not refer to that minority of people who are in a state of
stagnation, and who are left in the lurch by the great intermediate
party, with us called liberals; but I mean that minority which is the
advance guard in the forward march toward a goal the majority is not
yet in a condition to attain."[4]

A good omen for the future works of Ibsen is the fact that, in the
same ratio that he becomes modern, his greatness as a literary artist
increases. The ideas of the new era have not assumed the forms of
symbols or of types with him, but of individuals. In his younger years,
he had a proclivity for great symbolic ideals,--Brand, Peer Gynt, etc.;
but, singularly enough, the more his store of thoughts increased, the
clearer they became and the more artistic his presentation of them.
His mastery of technicalities, of late years, has increased from work
to work. In "A Model Home," he surpassed the _technique_ of the most
celebrated French dramatists; and in "Apparitions" (notwithstanding
certain unsatisfactory points), he displayed a dramatic firmness,
simplicity, and delicacy, which recalls the antique tragedy in the
hands of Sophocles (especially King Œdipus).

This continual progress is a matter dependent on Ibsen's artistic
earnestness, his conscientious industry. He labors very slowly, writes
and re-writes his works, until they appear in a neat-looking manuscript
without a single correction, each page as smooth and as firm as a
marble plate, on which the tooth of time can leave no impression. This
never-ceasing ascent in perfection depends, too, even more closely
on the fact that Ibsen is solely and entirely a poet, and has never
wished to be anything but a poet. True, it may give the impression of
coldness and undue reserve, when an author can be led by no outward
recurrence whatever to mingle his voice in the universal debate;
when nothing that occurs can irritate or inspire him to an outburst.
The only newspaper articles Ibsen has written during the past five
years are probably a few that bore on his rights in reference to his
publishers, or his griefs in regard to the plunderings of his foreign
translators,--therefore, on his personal and private interests; but it
should not be forgotten that this reserve of his has permitted him to
hold the mastery in his art unwaveringly before his eyes as a fixed
idea, an ideal of which he never loses sight; and this mastery he has
attained. A sharper contrast can scarcely be imagined than that which
is presented by this poet, who remains alone in the South, shut off
on every side from the surrounding world, free from all distraction,
shaping and fashioning his artistic master-works; and his brother-poet
in the North, who with full, perhaps too full hands, pours into the
press his great and small articles on political, social, and religious
questions, who is never afraid to let his name appear anywhere, who,
paying no heed to the ordinary laws of prudence which prescribe that
one should allow one's absence to be felt occasionally and one's
presence to be desired, writes poems, makes public speeches, causes
agitations, travels from one public gathering to another, and is most
at his ease on the speaker's platform, with a thousand friends and a
hundred enemies about him, holding them breathless with his daring and
consummate art.

Henrik Ibsen bears no likeness to any other living poet, and is
influenced by none. As minds that bear a somewhat distant relationship
to him, may, perhaps with some justice, be mentioned the late German
poets, Otto Ludwig and Friedrich Hebbel, both of whom, however, are
far less modern in their tendencies than he. In the severity of his
satire, too, there may be said to be a reminder of Dumas and Sardou.
With Björnson, whose name almost insensibly falls from the pen when it
busies itself with Ibsen, he has, notwithstanding all dissimilarities
of nature, those things in common which naturally follow in the track
of compatriots and contemporaries whose development has proceeded
side by side, and who have been roused to emulation in the treatment
of the same themes. That Ibsen had written "De Unges Forbund" (The
Young Men's Union), gave Björnson an impulse to write dramas on civil
conditions. When Björnson had written "En Fallit" (The Bankrupt), Ibsen
was impelled to vary the subject in "Samfundets Stötter" (The Pillars
of Society). Björnson was obliged, as he has informed me, to strike out
a passage in the manuscript of his "Stöv" (Dust), because it appeared
almost word for word in Henrik Ibsen's "Gjengangere" (Apparitions),
which was issued before the story was printed. The fact is, the two
poets have traversed an almost parallel path of development. Henrik
Ibsen succeeded rather earlier than Björnson in working his way out of
the old historic, legendary, and fantastic materials; for in the freer
position he held, tom loose from home and standing amid the breakers
of contemporary ideas, he had less to hold him back from following the
call of his age, less naïveté, less reverence. But the difference
in time between the transition of the two poets from the period when
their materials were viewed from the standpoint of romance, to that
where the realistic point of view predominated, was confined to a few
years, and is lost sight of entirely, when we consider the remarkable
uniformity of the stages of their poetic career. Björnson and Ibsen
may be compared in this respect, as it seems to me, to the two old
Norse kings, Sigurd and Eystein, in the famous dialogue furnished by
the saga, and of which Björnson has availed himself in his "Sigurd
Jorsalfar" (Sigurd the Crusader). The one has remained at home and
there civilized his fatherland; the other has tom himself away from
home, has journeyed far and wide, and in his bold, adventurous courses
has won honor for his fatherland. Each has his admirers, each his
martial suite, who elevates the one at the expense of the other. Still,
they are brothers, even though for a season they were hostile brothers,
and it is simple justice that the kingdom--as it is done in the drama
of Björnson--should peacefully be divided between them.[5]

[1] Let me here take the liberty of referring the reader to this essay
(Æsthetiske Studier, 234-286), as I consider it in the main correct,
and will not here repeat its statements. A few individual sentences,
however, I have felt compelled to reproduce.

[2] Let me here call the reader's attention to my work, Sören
Kierkegaard, Copenhagen; German edition, Leipsic, 1879.

[3] In the preface to the second edition of Gildet paa Solhaug, issued
in 1883, after the work had been out of print some twenty-seven years,
Ibsen offered a protest against this suggestion of the influence of
Henrik Hertz.

[4] In these words lie the germ of the later production, "En
Folkefiende" (An Enemy of the People).

[5] To the list of the dramas of Henrik Ibsen furnished in this essay
may be added "Vildanden" (The Wild Duck), 1884, and "Den Ensomme" (The
Lonely One), 1886.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Eminent Authors of the Nineteenth Century - Literary Portraits" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.