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Henrik Ibsen by Edmund Gosse

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and humiliating termination was brought in the following August.

In April, 1864, Ibsen took the momentous step of quitting his native
country. He entered Copenhagen at the dark hour when Schleswig as well
as Holstein had been abandoned, and when the citadel of Duepper alone
stood between Denmark and ruin. His agonized sympathy may be read in the
indignant lyrics of that spring. A fortnight later he set out, by Luebeck
and Trieste, for Rome, where he had now determined to reside. He reached
that city in due time, and sank with ineffable satisfaction into the
arms of its antique repose. "Here at last," he wrote to Bjoernson, "there
is blessed peace," and he settled himself down to the close
contemplation of poetry.

The change from the severities of an interminable Northern winter to the
glow and splendor of Italy acted on the poet's spirit like an
enchantment. Ibsen came, another Pilgrim of Eternity, to Rome's "azure
sky, flowers, ruins, statues, music," and at first the contrast between
the crudity he had left and the glory he had found was almost
intolerable. He could not work; all he did was to lie in the flushed air
and become as a little child. There has scarcely been another example of
a writer of the first class who, deeply solicitous about beauty, but
debarred from all enjoyment of it until his thirty-seventh year, has
been suddenly dipped, as if into a magic fountain, into the heart of
unclouded loveliness without transition or preparation. Shelley and
Keats were dead long before they reached the age at which Ibsen broke
free from his prison-house of ice, while Byron, in the same year of his
life, was closing his romantic career.

Ibsen's earliest impressions of what these poets had become accustomed
to at a ductile age were contradictory and even incoherent. The passion
of pagan antiquity for a long while bewildered him. He wandered among
the vestiges of antique art, unable to perceive their relation to modern
life, or their original significance. He missed the impress of the
individual on classic sculpture, as he had missed it--the parallel is
strange, but his own--on the Eddaic poems of ancient Iceland. He liked a
lyric or a statue to speak to him of the man who made it. He felt more
at home with Bernini among sculptors and with Bramante among architects
than with artists of a more archaic type. Shelley, we may remember,
labored under a similar heresy; to each of these poets the
attractiveness of individual character overpowered the languid flavor of
the age in which the artist had flourished. Ibsen's admiration of a
certain overpraised monument of Italian architecture would not be worth
recording but for the odd vigor with which he adds that the man who made
that might have made the moon in his leisure moments.

During the first few months of Ibsen's life in Rome all was chaos in his
mind. He was plunged in stupefaction at the beauties of nature, the
amenities of mankind, the interpenetration of such a life with such an
art as he had never dreamed of and could yet but dimly comprehend. In
September, 1864, he tells Bjoernson that he is at work on a poem of
considerable length. This must have been the first draft of _Brand_,
which was begun, we know, as a narrative, or as the Northerns call it,
an "epic" poem; although a sketch for the _Julianus Apostata_ was
already forming in the back of his head, as a subject which would,
sooner or later, demand poetic treatment. He had left his wife and
little son in Copenhagen, but at the beginning of October they joined
him in Rome. The family lived on an income which seems almost incredibly
small, a maximum of 40 scudi a month. But it was a different thing to be
hungry in Christiania and in Rome, and Ibsen makes no complaints. A sort
of blessed languor had fallen upon him after all his afflictions. He
would loll through half his days among the tombs on the Via Latina, or
would loiter for hours and hours along the Appian Way. It took him weeks
to summon energy to visit S. Pietro in Vincoli, although he knew that
Michelangelo's "Moses" was there, and though he was weary with longing
to see it. All the tense chords of Ibsen's nature were loosened. His
soul was recovering, through a long and blissful convalescence, from the
aching maladies of its youth.

He took some part in the society of those Scandinavian writers, painters
and sculptors who gathered in Rome through the years of their distress.
But only one of them attracted him strongly, the young Swedish lyrical
poet, Count Carl Snoilsky, then the hope and already even the glory of
his country. There was some quaint diversity between the rude and gloomy
Norwegian dramatist, already middle-aged, and the full-blooded,
sparkling Swedish diplomatist of twenty-three, rich, flattered, and
already as famous for his fashionable _bonnes fortunes_ as Byron. But
two things Snoilsky and Ibsen had in common, a passionate enthusiasm for
their art, and a rebellious attitude towards their immediate precursors
in it. Each, in his own way, was the leader of a new school. The
friendship of Ibsen and Snoilsky was a permanent condition for the rest
of their lives, for it was founded on a common basis.

A few years later the writer of these pages received an amusing
impression of Ibsen at this period from the Danish poet, Christian
Molbech, who was also in Rome in 1865 and onwards. Ibsen wandering
silently about the streets, his hands plunged far into the pockets of
his invariable jacket of faded velveteen, Ibsen killing conversation by
his sudden moody appearances at the Scandinavian Club, Ibsen shattering
the ideals of the painters and the enthusiasms of the antiquaries by a
running fire of sarcastic paradox, this is mainly what the somewhat
unsympathetic Molbech was not unwilling to reproduce. He painted a more
agreeable Ibsen when he spoke of his summer flights to the Alban Hills,
planned on terms of the most prudent reference to resources which seemed
ever to be expected and never to arrive. Nevertheless, under the vines
in front of some inn at Genzano or Albano, Ibsen would duly be
discovered, placid and dreamy, always self-sufficient and self-
contained, but not unwilling to exchange, over a flask of thin wine,
commonplaces with a Danish friend. It was at Ariccia, in one of these
periods of _villegiatura_, during the summer and autumn of 1865, that
_Brand_, which had long been under considerature, suddenly took final
shape, and was written throughout, without pause or hesitation. In July
the poet put everything else aside to begin it, and before the end of
September he had completed it.

_Brand_ placed Ibsen at a bound among the greatest European poets of his
age. The advance over the sculptural perfection of _The Pretenders_ and
the graceful wit of _Love's Comedy_ was so great as to be startling.
Nothing but the veil of a foreign language, which the best translations
are powerless to tear away from noble verse, prevented this mastery from
being perceived at once. In Scandinavia, where that veil did not exist,
for those who had eyes to see, and who were not blinded by prejudice, it
was plain that a very great writer had arisen in Norway at last.
Bjoernson had seemed to slip ahead of Ibsen; his _Sigurd Slembe_ (1862)
was a riper work than the elder friend had produced; but _Mary Stuart in
Scotland_ (1864) had marked a step backward, and now Ibsen had once more
shot far ahead of his rival. When we have admitted some want of
clearness in the symbolism which runs through _Brand_, and some shifting
of the point of view in the two last acts, an incoherency and a
turbidity which are natural in the treatment of so colossal a theme,
there is very little but praise to be given to a poem which is as
manifold in its emotion and as melodious in its versification as it is
surprising in its unchallenged originality. In the literatures of
Scandinavia it has not merely been unsurpassed, but in its own peculiar
province it has not been approached. It bears some remote likeness to
_Faust_, but with that exception there is perhaps nothing in the
literature of the world which can be likened to _Brand_, except, of
course, _Peer Gynt_.

For a long while it was supposed that the difficulties in the way of
performing _Brand_ on the public stage were too great to be overcome.
But the task was attempted at length, first in Stockholm in 1895; and
within the last few years this majestic spectacle has been drawn in full
before the eyes of enraptured audiences in Copenhagen, Berlin, Moscow
and elsewhere. In spite of the timid reluctance of managers, wherever
this play is adequately presented, it captures an emotional public at a
run. It is an appeal against moral apathy which arouses the languid. It
is a clear and full embodiment of the gospel of energy which awakens and
upbraids the weak. In the original, its rush of rhymes produces on the
nerves an almost delirious excitement. If it is taken as an oration, it
is responded to as a great civic appeal; if as a sermon, it is sternly
religious, and fills the heart with tears. In the solemn mountain air,
with vague bells ringing high up among the glaciers, no one asks exactly
what _Brand_ expounds, nor whether it is perfectly coherent. Witnessed
on the living stage, it takes the citadel of the soul by storm. When it
is read, the critical judgment becomes cooler.

Carefully examined, _Brand_ is found to present a disconcerting mixture
of realism and mysticism. Two men seem at work in the writing of it, and
their effects are sometimes contradictory. It has constantly been asked,
and it was asked at one, "Is _Brand_ the expression of Ibsen's own
nature?" Yes, and no. He threw much of himself into his hero, and yet he
was careful to remain outside. Ibsen, as we have already pointed out,
was ready in later life to discuss his own writings, and what he said
about them is often dangerously mystifying. He told Georg Brandes that
the religious vocation of Brand was not essential. "I could have applied
the whole syllogism just as well to a sculptor, or a politician, as to a
priest." (He was to deal with each of these alternations later on, but
with what a difference!) "I could quite as well," he persisted, "have
worked out the impulse which drove me to write, by taking Galileo, for
instance, as my hero--assuming, of course, that Galileo should stand
firm and never concede the fixity of the earth--or you yourself in your
struggle with the Danish reactionaries." This is not to the point, since
in fact neither Georg Brandes nor Galileo, as hero of a mystical drama,
could have produced such a capacity for evolution as is presented by the
stern priest whose absolute certitude, although founded, one admits, on
no rational theory of theology, is yet of the very essence of religion.

Brand becomes intelligible when we regard him as a character of the
twelfth century transferred to the nineteenth. He has something of Peter
the Hermit in him. He ought to have been a crusading Christian king,
fighting against the Moslem for the liberties of some sparkling city of
God. He exists in his personage, under the precipice, above the fjord,
like a rude mediaeval anchorite, who eats his locusts and wild honey in
the desert. We cannot comprehend the action of Brand by any reference to
accepted creeds and codes, because he is so remote from the religious
conventions as hardly to seem objectively pious at all. He is violent
and incoherent; he knows not clearly what it is he wants, but it must be
an upheaval of all that exists, and it must bring Man into closer
contact with God. Brand is a king of souls, but his royal dignity is
marred, and is brought sometimes within an inch of the ridiculous, by
the prosaic nature of his modern surroundings. He is harsh and cruel; he
is liable to fits of anger before which the whole world trembles; and it
is by an avalanche, brought down upon him by his own wrath, that he is
finally buried in the ruins of the Ice-Church.

The judicious reader may like to compare the character of Brand with
that extraordinary study of violence, the _Abbe Jules_ of Octave
Mirbeau. In each we have the history of revolt, in a succession of
crises, against an invincible vocation. In each an element of weakness
is the pride of a peasant priest. But in Ibsen there is fully developed
what the cynicism of Octave Mirbeau avoids, a genuine conception of such
a rebel's ceaseless effort after personal holiness. Lammers or
Lammenais, what can it matter whether some existing priest of
insurrection did or did not set Ibsen for a moment on the track of his
colossal imagination? We may leave these discussions to the
commentators; _Brand_ is one of the great poems of the world, and
endless generations of critics will investigate its purpose and analyze
its forms.

There is, however, another than the priestly side. The poem contains a
great deal of superficial and rather ephemeral satire of contemporary
Scandinavian life, echoes of a frightened Storthing in Christiania, of a
crafty court in Stockholm, and of Denmark stretching her bleeding hands
to her sisters in an agony of despair. There is the still slighter local
strain of irony, which lightens the middle of the third act. Here Ibsen
comes not to heal but to slay; he exposes the corpse of an exhausted
age, and will bury it quickly, with sexton's songs and peals of elfin
laughter, in some chasm of rock above a waterfall. "It is Will alone
that matters," and for the weak of purpose there is nothing but ridicule
and six feet of such waste earth as nature carelessly can spare from her
rude store of graves. Against the mountain landscape, Brand holds up his
motto "All or Nothing," persistently, almost tiresomely, like a modern
advertising agent affronting the scenery with his panacea. More
truculently still, he insists upon the worship of a deity, not white-
bearded, but as young as Hercules, a scandal to prudent Lutheran
theologians, a prototype of violent strength.

Yet Brand's own mission remains undefined to him--if it ever takes exact
shape--until Agnes reveals it to him:--

Choose thy endless loss or gain!
Do thy work and bear thy pain. ...
Now (he answers) I see my way aright.
In _ourselves_ is that young Earth,
Ripe for the divine new-birth.

And it is in Agnes--as the marvellous fourth act opens where her love
for the little dear dead child is revealed, and where her patience
endures all the cruelties of her husband's fanaticism--it is in Agnes
that Ibsen's genius for the first time utters the clear, unembittered
note of full humanity. He has ceased now to be parochial; he is a
nursling of the World and Time. If the harsh Priest be, in a measure,
Ibsen as Norway made him, Agnes and Einar, and perhaps Gerd also, are
the delicate offspring of Italy.

Considerable postponements delayed the publication of _Brand_, which saw
the light at length, in Copenhagen, in March, 1866. It was at once
welcomed by the Danish press, which had hitherto known little of Ibsen,
and the poet's audience was thus very considerably widened. The satire
of the poem awakened an eager polemic; the popular priest Wexels
preached against its tendency. A novel was published, called _The
Daughters of Brand_, in which the results of its teaching were analyzed.
Ibsen enjoyed, what he had never experienced before, the light and shade
of a disputed but durable popular success. Four large editions of
_Brand_ were exhausted within the year of its publication, and it took
its place, of course, in more leisurely progress, among the few books
which continued, and still continue, steadily to sell. It has always
been, in the countries of Scandinavia, the best known and the most
popular of all Ibsen's writings.

This success, however, was largely one of sentiment, not of pecuniary
fortune. The total income from four editions of a poem like _Brand_, in
the conditions of Northern literary life forty years ago, would not much
exceed L100. Hardly had Ibsen become the object of universal discussion
than he found himself assailed, as never before, by the paralysis of
poverty. He could not breathe, he could not move; he could not afford to
buy postage stamps to stick upon his business letters. He was threatened
with the absolute extinction of his resources. At the very time when
Copenhagen was ringing with his praise Ibsen was borrowing money for his
modest food and rent from the Danish Consul in Rome.

In the winter of 1865 he fell into a highly nervous condition, in the
midst of which he was assailed by a malarious fever which brought him
within sight of the grave. To the agony of his devoted wife, he lay for
some time between life and death, and the extreme poverty from which
they suffered made it difficult, and even impossible, for her to provide
for him the alleviations which his state demanded. He gradually
recovered, however, thanks to his wife's care and to his own magnificent
constitution, but the springs of courage seemed to have snapped within
his breast.

In March, 1866, worn out with illness, poverty and suspense, he wrote a
letter to Bjoernson, "my one and only friend," which is one of the most
heart-rending documents in the history of literature. Few great spirits
have been nearer the extinction of despair than Ibsen was, now in his
thirty-ninth year. His admirers, at their wits' end to know what to
advise, urged him to write directly to Carl, King of Sweden and Norway,
describing his condition, and asking for support. Simultaneously came
the manifest success of _Brand_, and, for the first time, the Norwegian
press recognized the poet's merit. There was a general movement in his
favor; King Carl graciously received his petition of April 15, and on
May 10 the Storthing, almost unanimously, voted Ibsen a "poet's
pension," restricted in amount but sufficient for his modest needs.

The first use he made of his freedom was to move out of Rome, where he
found it impossible to write, and to settle at Frascati among the hills.
He hired a nest of cheap rooms in the Palazzo Gratiosi, two thousand
feet above the sea. Thither he came, with his wife and his little son,
and there he fitted himself up a study; setting his writing table at a
window that overlooked an immensity of country, and Mont Soracte closing
the horizon with its fiery pyramid. In his correspondence of this time
there are suddenly noticeable a gayety and an insouciance which are
elements wholly new in his letters. The dreadful burden was lifted; the
dreadful fear of sinking in a sea of troubles and being lost for ever,
the fear which animates his painful letter to King Carl, was blown away
like a cloud and the heaven of his temper was serene. At Frascati he
knew not what to be at; he tried that subject, and this, waiting for the
heavenly spark to fall. It seems to have been at Tusculum, and in the
autumn of 1866, that the subject he was looking for descended upon him.
He hurried back to Rome, and putting all other schemes aside, he devoted
himself heart and soul to the composition of _Peer Gynt_, which he
described as to be "a long dramatic poem, having as its chief figure one
of the half-mythical and fantastical personages from the peasant life of
_modern_ Norway."

He wrote this work slowly, more slowly than was his wont, and it was a
whole year on the stocks. It was in the summer that Ibsen habitually
composed with the greatest ease, and _Peer Gynt_ did not trove smoothly
until the poet settled in the Villa Pisani, at Casamicciola, on the
island of Ischia. His own account was: "After _Brand_ came _Peer Gynt_,
as though of itself. It was written in Southern Italy, in Ischia and at
Sorrento. So far away from one's readers one becomes reckless. This poem
contains much that has its origin in the circumstances of my own youth.
My own mother--with the necessary exaggeration--served as the model for
Ase." _Peer Gynt_ was finished before Ibsen left Sorrento at the end of
the autumn, and the MS. was immediately posted to Copenhagen. None of
the delays which had interfered with the appearance of _Brand_ now
afflicted the temper of the poet, and _Peer Gynt_ was published in
November, 1867.

In spite of the plain speaking of Ibsen himself, who declared that _Peer
Gynt_ was diametrically opposed in spirit to _Brand_, and that it made
no direct attack upon social questions, the critics of the later poem
have too often persisted in darkening it with their educational
pedantries. Ibsen did well to be angry with his commentators. "They have
discovered," he said, "much more satire in _Peer Gynt_ than was intended
by me. Why can they not read the book as a poem? For as such I wrote
it." It has been, however, the misfortune of Ibsen that he has
particularly attracted the attention of those who prefer to see anything
in a poem except its poetry, and who treat all tulips and roses as if
they were cabbages for the pot of didactic morality. Yet it is
surprising that after all that the author said, and with the lovely poem
shaking the bauble of its fool's cap at them, there can still be
commentators who see nothing in _Peer Gynt_ but the "awful interest of
the universal problems with which it deals." This obsession of the
critic to discover "problems" in the works of Ibsen has been one of the
main causes of that impatience and even downright injustice with which
his writings have been received by a large section of those readers who
should naturally have enjoyed them. He is a poet, of fantastic wit and
often reckless imagination, and he has been travestied in a long black
coat and white choker, as though he were an embodiment of the
Nonconformist conscience.

Casting aside, therefore, the spurious "lessons" and supposititious
"problems" of this merry and mundane drama, we may recognize among its
irregularities and audacities two main qualities of merit. Above
everything else which we see in _Peer Gynt_ we see its fun and its
picturesqueness. Written at different times and in different moods,
there is an incoherency in its construction which its most whole-hearted
admirers cannot explain away. The first act is an inimitable burst of
lyrical high spirits, tottering on the verge of absurdity, carried along
its hilarious career with no less peril and with no less brilliant
success than Peer fables for himself and the reindeer in their ride
along the vertiginous blade of the Gjende. In the second act, satire and
fantasy become absolutely unbridled; the poet's genius sings and dances
under him, like a strong ship in a storm, but the vessel is rudderless
and the pilot an emphatic libertine. The wild impertinence of fancy, in
this act, from the moment when Peer and the Girl in the Green Gown ride
off upon the porker, down to the fight with the Boeig, gigantic
gelatinous symbol of self deception, exceeds in recklessness anything
else written since the second part of _Faust_. The third act,
culminating with the drive to Soria Moria Castle and the death of Ase,
is of the very quintessence of poetry, and puts Ibsen in the first rank
of creators. In the fourth act, the introduction of which is abrupt and
grotesque, we pass to a totally different and, I think, a lower order of
imagination. The fifth act, an amalgam of what is worst and best in the
poem, often seems divided from it in tone, style and direction, and is
more like a symbolic or mythical gloss upon the first three acts than a
contribution to the growth of the general story.

Throughout this tangled and variegated scene the spirits of the author
remain almost preposterously high. If it were all hilarity and sardonic
laughter, we should weary of the strain. But physical beauty of the most
enchanting order is liberally provided to temper the excess of irony. It
is, I think, no exaggeration to say that nowhere to the dramatic
literature of the world, not by Shakespeare himself, is there introduced
into a play so much loveliness of scenery, and such varied and exquisite
appeal to the eyes, as there is in _Peer Gynt_. The fifth act contains
much which the reader can hardly enjoy, but it opens with a scene so
full of the glory of the mountains and the sea that I know nothing else
in drama to compare with it. This again is followed by one of the finest
shipwrecks in all poetry. Scene after scene, the first act portrays the
cold and solemn beauty of Norwegian scenery as no painter's brush has
contrived to do it. For the woodland background of the Saeter Girls
there is no parallel in plastic art but the most classic of Norwegian
paintings, Dahl's "Birch in a Snow Storm." Pages might be filled with
praise of the picturesqueness of tableau after tableau in each act of
_Peer Gynt_.

The hero is the apotheosis of selfish vanity, and he is presented to us,
somewhat indecisively, as the type of one who sets at defiance his own
life's design. But is Peer Gynt designed to be a useful, a good, or even
a successful man? Certainly Ibsen had not discovered it when he wrote
the first act, in which scarcely anything is observable except a study,
full of merriment and sarcasm, of the sly, lazy and parasitical class of
peasant rogue. This type was not of Ibsen's invention; he found it in
those rustic tales, inimitably resumed by Asbjoernson and Moe, in which
he shows us that his memory was steeped. Here, too, he found the Boeig, a
monster of Norse superstition, vast and cold, slippery and invisible,
capable of infinite contraction and expansion. The conception that this
horror would stand in symbol for a certain development of selfish
national instability seems to have seized him later, and _Peer Gynt_,
which began as a farce, continued as a fable. The nearest approach to a
justification of the moral or "problem" purpose, which Ibsen's graver
prophets attribute to him, is found in the sixth scene of the fifth act,
where, quite in the manner of Goethe, thoughts and watchwords and songs
and tears take corporeal form and assail the aged _Peer Gynt_ with their

_Peer Gynt_ was received in the North with some critical bewilderment,
and it has never been so great a favorite with the general public as
_Brand_. But Ibsen, with triumphant arrogance, when he was told that it
did not conform to the rules of poetic art, asserted that the rules must
be altered, not _Peer Gynt_. "My book," he wrote, "_is_ poetry; and if
it is not, then it shall be. The Norwegian conception of what poetry is
shall be made to fit my book." There was a struggle at first against
this assumption, but the drama has become a classic, and it is now
generally allowed, that so long as poetry is a term wide enough to
include _The Clouds_ and the Second Part of _Faust_, it must be made
wide enough to take in a poem as unique as they are in its majestic
intellectual caprices.

[Note.--By far the most exhaustive analysis of _Peer Gynt_ which has
hitherto been given to the world is that published, as I send these
pages to the press, by the executors of Otto Weininger, in his
posthumous _Ueber die letzte Dinge_ (1907). This extraordinary young
man, who shot himself on October 4, 1903, in the house at Vienna where
Beethoven died, was only twenty-three years of age when he violently
deprived philosophical literature in Europe of by far its most promising
and remarkable recruit. If I confess myself unable to see in _Peer Gynt_
all that Weininger saw in it, the fault is doubtless mine. But in Ibsen,
unquestionably, time will _create_ profundities, as it has in
Shakespeare. The greatest works grow in importance, as trees do after
the death of the mortal men who planted them.]



Ibsen's four years in Italy were years of rest, of solitude, of calm.
The attitude of Ibsen to Italy was totally distinct from that of other
illustrious exiles of his day and generation. The line of pilgrims from
Stendhal and Lamartine down to Ruskin and the Brownings had brought with
them a personal interest in Italian affairs; Italian servitude had
roused some of them to anger or irony; they had spent nights of insomnia
dreaming of Italian liberty. _Casa Guidi Windows_ may be taken as the
extreme type of the way in which Italy did not impress Ibsen. He sought
there, and found, under the transparent azure of the Alban sky, in the
harmonious murmurs of the sea, in the violet shadows of the mountains,
above all in the gray streets of Rome, that rest of the brain, that
ripening of the spiritual faculties, which he needed most after his
rough and prolonged adolescence in Norway. In his attitude of passive
appreciation he was, perhaps, more like Landor than like any other of
the illustrious exiles--Landor, who died in Florence a few days after
Ibsen settled in Rome. There was a side of character, too, on which the
young Norwegian resembled that fighting man of genius.

When, therefore, on September 8, 1867, Garibaldi, at Genoa, announced
his intention of marching upon Rome, an echo woke in many a poet's heart
"by rose hung river and light-foot rill," but left Ibsen simply
disconcerted. If Rome was to be freed from Papal slavery, it would no
longer be the somnolent and unupbraiding haunt of quietness which the
Norwegian desired for the healing of his spleen and his moral
hypochondria. In October the heralds of liberty crossed the Papal
frontier; on the 30th, by a slightly prosaic touch, it was the French
who entered Rome. Of Ibsen, in these last months of his disturbed
sojourn--for he soon determined that if there was going to be civil war
in Italy that country was no home for him--we hear but little. This
autumn, however, we find him increasingly observant of the career of
Georg Brandes, the brilliant and revolutionary Danish critic, in whom he
was later on to find his first great interpreter. And we notice the
beginnings of a difference with Bjoernson, lamentable and hardly
explicable, starting, it would vaguely seem, out of a sense that
Bjoernson did not appreciate the poetry of _Peer Gynt_ at its due value.
Clemens Petersen, who, since the decease of Heiberg, had been looked
upon as the _doyen_ of Danish critics--had pronounced against the poetry
of _Peer Gynt_, and Ibsen, in one of his worst moods, in a bearish
letter, had thrown the blame of this judgment upon Bjoernson.

All through these last months in Rome we find Ibsen in the worst of
humors. If it be admissible to compare him with an animal, he seems the
badger among the writers of his time, nocturnal, inoffensive, solitary,
but at the rumor of disturbance apt to rush out of its burrow and bite
with terrific ferocity. The bite of Ibsen was no joke, and in moments of
exasperation he bit, without selection, friend and foe alike. Among
other snaps of the pen, he told Bjoernson that if he was not taken
seriously as a poet, he should try his "fate as a photographer."
Bjoernson, genially and wittily, took this up at once, and begged him to
put his photography into the form of a comedy. But the devil, as Ibsen
himself said, was throwing his shadow between the friends, and all the
benefits and all the affection of the old dark days were rapidly
forgotten. They quarrelled, too, rather absurdly, about decorations from
kings and ministers; Bjoernson having determined to reject all such
gewgaws, Ibsen announced his intention of accepting (and wearing) every
cross and star that was offered to him. At this date, no doubt, the
temptation was wholly problematical in both cases, yet each poet acted
on his determination to the end. But Bjoernson's hint about the comedy
seems to have been, for some years, the last flicker of friendship
between the two. On this Ibsen presently acted in a manner very
offensive to Bjoernson.

In March, 1868, Ibsen was beginning to be very much indeed incensed with
things in general. "What Norway wants is a national disaster," he
amiably snarled. It was high time that the badger should seek shelter in
a new burrow, and in May we find him finally quitting Rome. There was a
farewell banquet, at which Julius Lange, who was present, remarks that
Ibsen showed a spice of the devil, but "was very witty and amiable." He
went to Florence for June, then quitted Italy altogether, settling for
three months at Berchtesgaden, the romantic little "sunbath" in the
Salzburg Alps, then still very quiet and unfashionable. There he started
his five-act comedy, _The League of Youth_. All September he spent in
Munich, and in October, 1868, took root once more, this time at Dresden,
which became his home for a considerable number of years. Almost at once
he sank down again into his brooding mood of isolation and quietism,
roaming about the streets of Dresden, as he hail haunted those of Rome,
by night or at unfrequented hours, very solitary, seeing few visitors,
writing few letters, slowly finishing his "photographic" comedy, which
he did not get off his hands until March, 1869. Although he was still
very poor, he refused all solicitations from editors to write for
journals or magazines; he preferred to appear before the public at long
intervals, with finished works of importance.

It is impossible for a critic who is not a Norwegian, or not closely
instructed in the politics and manners of the North, to take much
interest in _The League of Youth_, which is the most provincial of all
Ibsen's mature works. There is a cant phrase minted in the course of it,
_de lokale forhold_, which we may awkwardly translate as "the local
conditions" or "situation." The play is all concerned with _de lokale
forhold_, and there is an overwhelming air of Little Pedlington about
the intrigue. This does not prevent _The League of Youth_ from being, as
Mr. Archer has said, "the first prose comedy of any importance in
Norwegian literature," [Note: It is to be supposed that Mr. Archer
deliberately prefers _The League of Youth_ to Bjoernson's _The Newly
Married Couple_ (1865), a slighter, but, as it seems to me, a more
amusing comedy.] but it excludes it from the larger European view. Oddly
enough, Ibsen believed, or pretended to believe, that _The League of
Youth_ was a "placable" piece of foolery, which could give no annoyance
to the worst of offenders by its innocent and indulgent banter. Perhaps,
like many strenuous writers, he underestimated the violence of his own
language; perhaps, living so long at a distance from Norway and catching
but faintly the reverberations of its political turmoil, he did not
realize how sensitive the native patriot must be to any chaff of "de
lokale forhold." When he found that the Norwegians were seriously angry,
Ibsen bluntly told them that he had closely studied the ways and the
manners of their "pernicious and lie-steeped clique." He was always
something of a snake in the grass to his poetic victims.

Mr. Archer, whose criticism of this play is extraordinarily brilliant,
does his best to extenuate the stiffness of it. But to my own ear, as I
read it again after a quarter of a century, there rise the tones of the
stilted, the unsmiling, the essentially provincial and boringly solemn
society of Christiania as it appeared to a certain young pilgrim in the
early seventies, condensing, as it then seemed to do, all the
sensitiveness, the arrogance, the crudity which made communication with
the excellent and hospitable Norwegians of that past epoch so difficult
for an outsider--so difficult, in particular, for one coming freshly
from the grace and sweetness, the delicate, cultivated warmth of
Copenhagen. The political conditions which led to the writing of _The
League of Youth_ are old history now. There was the "liberal" element in
Norwegian politics, which was in 1868 becoming rapidly stronger and more
hampering to the Government, and there was the increasing influence of
Soeren Jaabaek (1814-94), a peasant farmer of ultra-socialistic views,
who had, almost alone, opposed in the Storthing the grant of any
pensions to poets, and whose name was an abomination to Ibsen.

Now Bjoernson, in the development of his career as a political publicist,
had been flirting more and more outrageously with these extreme ideas
and this truculent peasant party. He had even burned incense before
Jaabaek, who was the accursed Thing. Ibsen, from the perspective of
Dresden, genuinely believed that Bjoernson, with his ardor and his energy
and his eloquence, war, becoming a national danger. We have seen that
Bjoernson had piqued Ibsen's vanity about _Peer Gynt_, and nothing
exasperates a friendship more fatally than public principle grafted on a
private slight. Moreover, the whole nature of Bjoernson was gregarious,
that of Ibsen solitary; Bjoernson must always be leading the majority,
Ibsen had scuples of conscience if ten persons agreed with him. They
were doomed to disagreement. Meanwhile, Ibsen burned his ships by
creating the figure of Stensgaard, in _The League of Youth_, a frothy
and mischievous demagogue whose rhetoric irresistibly reminded every one
of Bjoernson's rolling oratory. What Bjoernson, not without dignity,
objected to was not so much the personal attack, as that the whole play
attempted "to paint our young party of liberty as a troop of pushing,
phrase-mongering adventurers, whose patriotism lay solely in their
words." Ibsen acknowledged that that was exactly his opinion of them,
and what could follow for such a disjointed friendship but anger and

The year 1869, which we now enter, is remarkable in the career of Ibsen
as being that in which he travelled most, and appeared on the surface of
society in the greatest number of capacities. He was enabled to do this
by a considerable increase in his pension. First of all, he was induced
to pay a visit of some months to Stockholm, being seized with a sudden
strong desire to study conditions in Sweden, a country which he had
hitherto professed to dislike. He had a delightful stay of two months,
received from King Carl the order of the Wasa, was feted at banquets,
renewed his acquaintance with Snoilsky, and was treated everywhere with
the highest distinction. Ibsen and Bjoernson were how beginning to be
recognized as the two great writers of Norway, and their droll balance
as the Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat of letters was already becoming defined.
It was doubtless Bjoernson's emphatic attacks on Sweden that at this
moment made Ibsen so loving to the Swedes and so beloved. He was in such
clover at Stockholm that he might have lingered on there indefinitely,
if the Khedive had not invited him, in September, to be his guest at the
opening of the Suez Canal. This sudden incursion of an Oriental
potentate into the narrative seems startling until we recollect that
illustrious persons were invited from all countries to this ceremony.
The interesting thing is to see that Ibsen was now so fatuous as to be
naturally so selected; the only other Norwegian guest being Professor J.
D. C. Lieblein, the Egyptologist.

The poet started for Egypt, by Dresden and Paris, on September 28. _The
League of Youth_ was published on the 29th, and first performed on
October 18; Ibsen, therefore, just missed the scandal and uproar caused
by the play in Norway. In company with eighty-five other people, all
illustrious guests of the Khedive, and under the care of Mariette Bey,
Ibsen made a twenty-four days' expedition up the Nile into Nubia, and
then back to Cairo and Port Said. There, on November 17, in the company
of an empress and several princes of the blood, he saw the Canal
formally opened and graced a grand processional fleet that sailed out
from Port Said towards Ismaila. But on the quay at Port Said Ibsen's
Norwegian mail was handed to him, and letters and newspapers alike were
full of the violent scenes in the course of which _The League of Youth_
had been hissed down at Christiania. Then and there he sent his defiance
back to Norway in _At Port Said_, one of the most pointed and effective
of all his polemical lyrics. A version in literal prose must suffice,
though it does cruel injustice to the venomous melody of the original:

The dawn of the Eastern Land
Over the haven glittered;
Flags from all corners of the globe
Quivered from the masts.
Voices in music
Bore onward the cantata;
A thousand cannon
Christened the Canal.

The steamers passed on
By the obelisk.
In the language of my home
Came to me the chatter of news.
The mirror-poem which I had polished
For masculine minxes
Had been smeared at home
By splutterings from penny whistles.

The poison-fly stung;
It made my memories loathsome.
Stars, be thanked!--
My home is what is ancient!
We hailed the frigate
From the roof of the river-boat;
I waved my hat
And saluted the flag.

To the feast, to the feast,
In spite of the fangs of venomous reptiles!
A selected guest
Across the Lakes of Bitterness!
At the close of day
Dreaming, I shall slumber
Where Pharaoh was drowned--
And when Moses passed over.

In this mood of defiance, with rage unabated, Ibsen returned home by
Alexandria and Paris, and was in Dresden again in December.

The year of 1870 drove him out of Dresden, as the French occupation had
driven him out of Rome. It was essential for him to be at rest in the
midst of a quiet and alien population. He was drawn towards Denmark,
partly for the sake of talk with Brandes, who had now become a factor in
his life, partly to arrange about the performance of one of his early
works, and in particular of _The Pretenders_. No definite plan, however,
had been formed, when, in the middle of June, war was declared between
Germany and France; but a fortnight later Ibsen quitted Saxony, and
settled for three months in Copenhagen, where his reception was
charmingly sympathetic. By the beginning of October, after the fall of
Strasburg and the hemming in of Metz, however, it was plain on which
side the fortunes of the war would lie, and Ibsen returned "as from a
rejuvenating bath" of Danish society to a Dresden full of French
prisoners, a Dresden, too, suffering terribly from the paralysis of
trade, and showing a plentiful lack of enthusiasm for Prussia.

Ibsen turned his back on all such vexatious themes, and set himself to
the collecting and polishing of a series of lyrical poems, the _Digte_
of 1871, the earliest, and, indeed, the only such collection that he
published. We may recollect that, at the very same moment, with far less
cause to isolate himself from the horrors of war, Theophile Gautier was
giving the last touches to _Emaux et Camees_. In December, 1870, Ibsen
addressed to Fru Limnell, a lady in Stockholm, his "Balloon-Letter," a
Hudibrastic rhymed epistle in nearly 400 lines, containing, with a good
deal that is trivial, some striking symbolical reminiscences of his trip
through Egypt, and some powerful ironic references to the caravan of
German invaders, with its Hathor and its Horus, which was then rushing
to the assault of Paris under the doleful colors of the Prussian flag.
Ibsen's sarcasms are all at the ugliness and prosaic utilitarianism of
the Germans; "Moltke," he says, "has killed the poetry of battles."

Ibsen was now greatly developing and expanding his views, and forming a
world-policy of his own. The success of German discipline deeply
impressed him, and he thought that the day had probably dawned which
would be fatal to all revolt and "liberal rebellion" for the future.
More than ever he dreaded the revolutionary doctrines of men like
Jaabaek and Bjoernson, which would lead, he thought, to bloodshed and
national disaster. The very same events were impressing Goldwin Smith at
the very same moment with his famous prophecy that the abolition of all
dynastic and aristocratic institutions was at hand, with "the tranquil
inauguration" of elective industrial governments throughout the world.
So history moves doggedly on, _propheten rechts, propheten links_, a
perfectly impassive _welt-kind_ in the middle of them. In Copenhagen
Ibsen had, after all, missed Brandes, delayed in Rome by a long and
dangerous illness; and all he could do was to exchange letters with this
still unseen but increasingly sympathetic and beloved young friend. To
Brandes Ibsen wrote more freely than to any one else about the great
events which were shaking the face of Europe and occupying so much of
both their thoughts:--

The old, illusory France has collapsed [he wrote to Brandes on December
20, 1870, two days after the engagement at Nuits]; and as soon as the
new, real Prussia does the same, we shall be with one bound in a new
age. How ideas will then come tumbling about our ears! And it is high
time they did. Up till now we have been living on nothing but the crumbs
from the revolutionary table of last century, a food out of which all
nutriment has long been chewed. The old terms require to have a new
meaning infused into them. Liberty, equality and fraternity are no
longer the things they were in the days of the late-lamented Guillotine.
This is what the politicians will not understand, and therefore, I hate
them. They want their own special revolutions--revolutions in externals,
in politics and so forth. But all this is mere trifling. What is
all-important is the revolution of the Spirit of Man.

This revolution, as exemplified by the Commune in Paris, did not satisfy
the anticipations which Ibsen had formed, and Brandes took advantage of
this to tell him that he .had not yet studied politics minutely enough
from the scientific standpoint. Ibsen replied that what he did not
possess as knowledge came to him, to a certain degree, as intuition or
instinct. "Let this be as it may, the poet's essential task is to see,
not to reflect. For me in particular there would be danger in too much
reflection." Ibsen seems, at this time, to be in an oscillating frame of
mind, now bent on forming some positive theory of life out of which his
imaginative works shall crystallize, harmoniously explanatory; at
another time, anxious to be unhampered by theories and principles, and
to represent individuals and exceptions exactly as experience presents
them to him. In neither attitude, however, is there discernible any
trace of the moral physician, and this is the central distinction
between Tolstoi and Ibsen, whose methods, at first sight, sometimes
appear so similar. Tolstoi analyzes a morbid condition, but always with
the purpose, if he can, of curing it; Ibsen gives it even closer
clinical attention, but he leaves to others the care of removing a
disease which his business is solely to diagnose.

The _Poems_, after infinite revision, were published at length, in a
very large edition, on May 3, 1871. One reason why Ibsen was glad to get
this book off his hands was that it enabled him to concentrate his
thoughts on the great drama he had been projecting, at intervals, for
seven years past, the trilogy (as he then planned it) on the story of
Julian the Apostate. At last Brandes came to Dresden (July, 1871) and
found the tenebrous poet plunged in the study of Neander and Strauss,
Gibbon unfortunately being a sealed book to him. All through the autumn
and winter he was kept in a chronic state of irritability by the
intrigues and the menaces of a Norwegian pirate, who threatened to
reprint, for his own profit, Ibsen's early and insufficiently protected
writings. This exacerbated the poet's dislike to his own country, where
the very law courts, he thought, were hostile to him. On this subject he
used language of tiresome over-emphasis. "From Sweden, from Denmark,
from Germany, I hear nothing but what gives me pleasure; it is from
Norway that everything bad comes upon me." It was indicated to would-be
Norwegian visitors that they were not welcome at Dresden. Norwegian
friends, he said, were "a costly luxury" which he was obliged to deny

The First Part of _Julian_ was finished on Christmas Day, but it took
over a year more before the entire work, as we now possess it, was
completed. "A Herculean labor," the author called it, when he finally
laid down a weary pen in February, 1873. The year 1872 had been very
quietly spent in unremitting literary labor, tempered by genial visits
from some illustrious Danes of the older generation, as particularly
Hans Christian Andersen and Meyer Aron Goldschmidt, and by more formal
intercourse with a few Germans such as Konrad Maurer and Paul Heyse; all
this time, let us remember, no Norwegians--"by request." The summer was
spent in long rambles over the mountains of Austria, ending up with a
month of deep repose in Berchtesgaden. The next year was like unto this,
except that its roaming, restless summer closed with several months in
Vienna; and on October 17, 1873, _nonum in annum_, after the Horatian
counsel, the prodigious masterpiece, _Emperor and Galilean_, was
published in Copenhagen at last.

Of all the writings of Ibsen, his huge double drama on the rise and fall
of Julian is the most extensive and the most ambitious. It is not
difficult to understand what it was about the most subtle and the most
speculative of the figures which animate the decline of antiquity that
fascinated the imagination of Ibsen. Successive historians have
celebrated the flexibility of intelligence and firmness of purpose which
were combined in the brain of Julian with a passion for abstract beauty
and an enthusiasm for a restored system of pagan Hellenic worship. There
was an individuality about Julian, an absence of the common purple
convention, of the imperial rhetoric, which strongly commended him to
Ibsen, and in his perverse ascetic revolt against Christianity he
offered a fascinating originality to one who thought the modern world
all out of joint. As a revolutionary, Julian presented ideas of
character which could not but passionately attract the Norwegian poet.
His attitude to his emperor and to his God, sceptical, in each case, in
each case inspired by no vulgar motive but by a species of lofty and
melancholy fatalism, promised a theme of the most entrancing complexity.
But there are curious traces in Ibsen's correspondence of the
difficulty, very strange in his case, which he experienced in forming a
concrete idea of Julian in his own mind. He had been vaguely drawn to
the theme, and when it was too late to recede, he found himself baffled
by the paradoxes which he encountered, and by the contradictions of a
figure seen darkly through a mist of historical detraction.

He met these difficulties as well as he could, and as a prudent dramatic
poet should, by close and observant study of the document. He endeavored
to reconcile the evident superiority of Julian with the absurd
eccentricities of his private manners and with the futility of his
public acts. He noted all the Apostate's foibles by the side of his
virtues and his magnanimities. He traced without hesitation the course
of that strange insurrection which hurled a coarse fanatic from the
throne, only to place in his room a literary pedant with inked fingers
and populous beard. He accepted everything, from the parasites to the
purple slippers. The dangers of so humble an attendance upon history
were escaped with success in the first instalment of his "world drama."
In the strong and mounting scenes of _Caesar's Apostacy_, the rapidity
with which the incidents succeed one another, their inherent
significance, the innocent splendor of Julian's mind in its first
emancipation from the chains of false faith, combine to produce an
effect of high dramatic beauty. Georg Brandes, whose instinct in such
matters was almost infallible, when he read the First Part shortly after
its composition, entreated Ibsen to give this, as it stood, to the
public, and to let _The Emperor Julian's End_ follow independently. Had
Ibsen consented to do this, _Caesar's Fall_ would certainly take a
higher place among his works than it does at present, when its effect is
somewhat amputated and its meaning threatened with incoherence by the
author's apparent _volteface_ in the Second Part.

It was a lifelong disappointment to Ibsen that _Emperor and Galilean_,
on which he expended far more consideration and labor than on any other
of his works, was never a favorite either with the public or among the
critics. With the best will in the world, however, it is not easy to
find full enjoyment in this gigantic work, which by some caprice of
style defiant of analysis, lacks the vitality which is usually
characteristic of Ibsen's least production. The speeches put into the
mouths of antique characters are appropriate, but they are seldom vivid;
as Bentley said of the epistles of Julian's own teacher Libanius, "You
feel by the emptiness and deadness of them, that you converse with some
dreaming pedant, his elbow on his desk." The scheme of Ibsen's drama was
too vast for the very minute and meticulous method he chose to adopt.
What he gives us is an immense canvas, on which he has painted here and
there in miniature. It is a pity that he chose for dramatic
representation so enormous a field. It would have suited his genius far
better to have abandoned any attempt to write a conclusive history, and
have selected some critical moment in the life of Julian. He should
rather have concentrated his energies, independent of the chroniclers,
on the resuscitation of that episode, and in the course of it have
trembled less humbly under the uplifted finger of Ammianus.

Of _Emperor and Galilean_ Ibsen afterwards said: "It was the first" (but
he might have added "the only") "poem which I have written under the
influence of German ideas." He was aware of the danger of living too
long away from his own order of thought and language. But it was always
difficult for him, once planted in a place, to pull up his roots. A
weariness took possession of him after the publication of his double
drama, and he did practically nothing for four years. This marks a
central joint in the structure of his career, what the architects call a
"channel" in it, adding to the general retrospect of Ibsen's work an
aspect of solidity and resource. During these years he revised some of
his early writings, made a closer study of the arts of sculpture and
painting, and essayed, without satisfaction, a very brief sojourn in
Norway. In the spring of 1875 he definitely moved with his family from
Dresden to Munich.

The brief visit to Christiania in 1874 proved very unfortunate. Ibsen
was suspicious, the Norwegians of that generation were constitutionally
stiff and reserved; long years among Southern races had accustomed him
to a plenitude in gesture and emphasis. He suffered, all the brief time
he was in Norway, from an intolerable _malaise_. Ten years afterwards,
in writing to Bjoernson, the discomfort of that experience was still
unallayed. "I have not yet saved nearly enough," he said, "to support
myself and my family in the case of my discontinuing my literary work.
And I should be obliged to discontinue it if I lived in Christiania. ...
This simply means that I should not write at all. When, ten years ago,
after an absence of ten years, I sailed up the fjord, I felt a weight
settling down on my breast, a feeling of actual physical oppression. And
this feeling lasted all the time I was at home; I was not myself under
the stare of all those cold, uncomprehending Norwegian eyes at the
windows and in the streets."

Ibsen had now been more than ten years am exile from Norway, and his
sentiments with regard to his own people were still what they were when,
in July, 1872, he had sent home his _Ode for the Millenary Festival_.
That very striking poem, one of the most solid of Ibsen's lyrical
performances, had opened in the key of unmitigated defiance to popular
opinion at home. It was intended to show Norwegians that they must alter
their attitude towards him, as he would never change his behavior
towards them. "My countrymen," he said:--

My countrymen, who filled for me deep bowls
Of wholesome bitter medicine, such as gave
The poet, on the margin of his grave,
Fresh force to fight where broken twilight rolls,--
My countrymen, who sped me o'er the wave,
An exile, with my griefs for pilgrim-soles,
My fears for burdens, doubts for staff, to roam,--
From the wide world I send you greeting home.

I send you thanks for gifts that help and harden,
Thanks for each hour of purifying pain;
Each plant that springs in my poetic garden
Is rooted where your harshness poured its rain;
Each shoot in which it blooms and burgeons forth
It owes to that gray weather from the North;
The sun relaxes, but the fog secures!
My country, thanks! My life's best gifts were yours.

In spite of these sardonic acknowledgments. Ibsen's fame in Norway,
though still disputed, was now secure. In Denmark and Sweden it was
almost unchallenged, and he was a name, at least, in Germany. In
England, since 1872, he had not been without a prophet. But in Italy,
Russia, France--three countries upon the intelligence of which he was
presently to make a wide and durable impression--he was still quite

Meanwhile, in glancing over the general literature of Europe, we see his
figure, at the threshold of his fiftieth year, taking greater and
greater prominence. He had become, in the sudden exinction of the
illustrious old men of Denmark, the first living writer of the North. He
was to Norway what Valera was to Spain, Carducci to Italy, Swinburne or
Rossetti to England, and Leconte de Lisle to France. These were mainly
lyrical poets, but it must not be forgotten that Ibsen, down at least
till 1871, was prominently illustrious as a writer in metrical form. If,
in the second portion of his career, he resolutely deprived himself of
all indulgence in the ornament of verse, it was a voluntary act of
austerity. It was Charles V at Yuste, wilfully exchanging the crown of
jewels for the coarse brown cowl of St. Jerome. And now, after a year or
two of prayer and fasting, Ibsen began a new intellectual career.


While Ibsen was sitting at Munich, in this climacteric stage of his
career, dreaming of wonderful things and doing nothing, there came to
him, in the early months of 1875, two new plays by his chief rival.
These were _The Editor_ and _A Bankruptcy_, in which Bjoernson suddenly
swooped from his sagas and his romances down into the middle of sordid
modern life. This was his first attempt at that "photography by comedy"
which he had urged on Ibsen in 1868. It is not, I think, recorded what
was Ibsen's comment on these two plays, and particularly on _A
Bankruptcy_, but it is written broadly over the surface of his own next
work. It is obvious that he perceived that Bjoernson had carried a very
spirited raid into his own particular province, and he was determined to
drive this audacious enemy back by means of greater audacities.

Not at once, however; for an extraordinary languor seemed to have fallen
upon Ibsen. His isolation from society became extreme; for nearly a year
he gave no sign of life. In September, 1875, indeed, if not earlier, he
was at work on a five-act play, but what this was is unknown. It seems
to have been in the winter of 1876, after an unprecedented period of
inanimation, that he started a new comedy, _The Pillars of Society_,
which was finished in Munich in July, 1877, that summer being unique in
the fact that the Ibsens do not seem to have left town at all.

Ibsen was now a good deal altered in the exteriors of character. With
his fiftieth year he presents himself as no more the Poet, but the Man
of Business. Molbech told me that at this time the velveteen jacket,
symbol of the dear delays of art, was discarded in favor of a frock-
coat, too tight across the chest. Ibsen was now beginning, rather shyly,
very craftily, to invest money; he even found himself in frequent
straits for ready coin from his acute impatience to set every rix-dollar
breeding. He cast the suspicion of poetry from him, and with his gold
spectacles, his Dundreary whiskers, his broadcloth bosom and his quick
staccato step, he adopted the pose of a gentleman of affairs, very
positive and with no nonsense about him.

He had long determined on the wilful abandonment of poetic form, and the
famous statement made in a letter to myself (January 15, 1874) must be
quoted, although it is well known, since it contains the clearest of all
the explanations by which Ibsen justified his new departure:--

You are of opinion that the drama [_Emperor and Galilean_] ought to have
been written in verse, and that it would have gained by this. Here I
must differ from you. The play is, as you will have observed, conceived
in the most realistic style: the illusion I wished to produce is that of
reality. I wished to produce the impression on the reader that what he
was reading was something that had really happened. If I had employed
verse, I should have counteracted my own intention and prevented the
accomplishment of the task I had set myself. The many ordinary
insignificant characters whom I have intentionally introduced into the
play would have become indistinct, and indistinguishable from one
another, if I had allowed all of them to speak in one and the same
rhythmical measure. We are no longer living in the days of Shakespeare.
Among sculptors there is already talk of painting statues in the natural
colors. Much can be said both for and against this. I have no desire to
see the Venus of Milo painted, but I would rather see the head of a
negro executed in black than in white marble. Speaking generally, the
style must conform to the degree of ideality which pervades the
representation. My new drama is no tragedy in the ancient acceptation;
what I desired to depict were human beings, and therefore I would not
let them talk "the language of the Gods."

This revolt against dramatic verse was a feature of the epoch. In 1877
Alphonse Daudet was to write of a comedy, "Mais, helas! cette piece est
en vers, et l'ennui s'y promene librement entre les rimes."

No poet, however, sacrificed so much, or held so rigidly to his
intention of reproducing the exact language of real life, as did Ibsen
in the series of plays which opens with _The Pillars of Society_. This
drama was published in Copenhagen in October, 1877, and was acted almost
immediately in Denmark, Sweden and Norway; it had the good fortune to be
taken up warmly in Germany. What Ibsen's idea was, in the new sort of
realistic drama which he was inventing, was, in fact, perceived at once
by German audiences, although it was not always approved of. He was the
guest of the theatromaniac Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and _The Pillars of
Society_ was played in many parts of Germany. In Scandinavia the book of
the play sold well, and the piece had some success on the boards, but it
did not create anything like so much excitement as the author had hoped
that it would. Danish taste pronounced it "too German."

For the fact that _The Pillars of Society_, except in Scandinavia and
Germany, did not then, and never has since, taken a permanent hold upon
the theatre, Mr. William Archer gives a reason which cannot be
controverted, namely, that by the time the other foreign publics had
fully awakened to the existence of Ibsen, he himself had so far outgrown
the phase of his development marked by _Pillars of Society_, that the
play already seemed commonplace and old-fashioned. It exactly suited the
German public of the eighties; it was exactly on a level with their
theatrical intelligence. But it was above the theatrical intelligence of
the Anglo-American public, and ... below that of the French public. This
is of course an exaggeration. What I mean is that there was no possible
reason why the countrymen of Augier and Dumas should take any special
interest in _Pillars of Society_. It was not obviously in advance of
these masters in technical skill, and the vein of Teutonic sentiment
running through it could not greatly appeal to the Parisian public of
that period.

The subject of _The Pillars of Society_ was the hollowness and
rottenness of those supports, and the severe and unornamented prose
which Ibsen now adopted was very favorable to its discussion. He was
accused, however, of having lived so long away from home as to have
fallen out of touch with real Norwegian life, which he studied in the
convex mirror of the newspapers. It is more serious objection to _The
Pillars of Society_ that in it, as little as in _The League of Youth_,
had Ibsen cut himself off from the traditions of the well-made play.
Gloomy and homely as are the earlier acts, Ibsen sees as yet no way out
of the imbroglio but that known to Scribe and the masters of the "well-
made" play. The social hypocrisy of Consul Bernick is condoned by a sort
of death-bed repentance at the close, which is very much of the usual
"bless-ye-my-children" order. The loss of the Indian Girl is
miraculously prevented, and at the end the characters are solemnized and
warned, yet are left essentially none the worse for their alarm. This,
unfortunately, is not the mode in which the sins of scheming people find
them out in real life. But to the historical critic it is very
interesting to see Bjoernson and Ibsen nearer one another in _A
Bankruptcy_ and _The Pillars of Society_ than they had ever been before.
They now started on a course of eager, though benevolent, rivalry which
was eminently to the advantage of each of them.

No feature of Ibsen's personal career is more interesting than his
relation to Bjoernson. Great as the genius of Ibsen was, yet, rating it
as ungrudgingly as possible, we have to admit that Bjoernson's character
was the more magnetic and more radiant of the two. Ibsen was a citizen
of the world; he belonged, in a very remarkable degree, to the small
class of men whose intelligence lifts them above the narrowness of local
conditions, who belong to civilization at large, not to the system of
one particular nation. He was, in consequence, endowed, almost
automatically, with the instinct of regarding ideas from a central
point; if he was to be limited at all, he might be styled European,
although, perhaps, few Western citizens would have had less difficulty
than he in making themselves comprehended by a Chinese, Japanese or
Indian mind of unusual breadth and cultivation. On the other hand, in
accepting the advantages of this large mental outlook, he was forced to
abandon those of nationality. No one can say that Ibsen was, until near
the end of his life, a good Norwegian, and he failed, by his utterances,
to vibrate the local mind. But Bjoernson, with less originality, was the
typical patriot in literature, and what he said, and thought, and wrote
was calculated to stir the local conscience to the depths of its being.

When, therefore, in 1867, Ibsen, who was bound by all natural
obligations and tendencies to remain on the best terms with Bjoernson,
allowed the old friendship between them to lapse into positive
antagonism, he was following the irresistible evolution of his fate, as
Bjoernson was following his. It was as inevitable that Ibsen should grow
to his full height in solitude as it was that Bjoernson should pine
unless he was fed by the dew and sunlight of popular meetings,
torchlight processions of students and passionate appeals to local
sentiment. Trivial causes, such as those which we have chronicled
earlier, might seem to lead up to a division, but that division was
really inherent in the growth of the two men.

Ibsen, however, was not wholly a gainer at first even in genius, by the
separation. It cut him off from Norway too entirely, and it threw him
into the arms of Germany. There were thirteen years in which Ibsen and
Bjoernson were nothing to one another, and these were not years of
unmingled mental happiness for either of them. But during this long
period each of these very remarkable men "came into his kingdom," and
when there was no longer any chance that either of there could warp the
nature of the other, fate brought them once more together.

The reconciliation began, of course, with a gracious movement from
Bjoernson. At the end of 1880, writing for American readers, Bjoernson had
the generous candor to say: "I think I have a pretty thorough
acquaintance with the dramatic literature of the world, and I have not
the slightest hesitation in saying that Henrik Ibsen possesses more
dramatic power than any other play-writer of our day." When we remember
that, in France alone, Augier and Dumas _fils_ and Hugo, Halevy and
Meilhac and Labiche, were all of them alive, the compliment, though a
sound, was a vivid one. Sooner or later, everything that was said about
Ibsen, though it were whispered in Choctaw behind the altar of a Burmese
temple, came round to Ibsen's ears, and this handsome tribute from the
rival produced its effect. And when, shortly afterwards, still in
America, Bjoernson was nearly killed in a railway accident, Ibsen broke
the long silence by writing to him a most cordial letter of

The next incident was the publication of _Ghosts_, when Bjoernson, now
thoroughly roused, stood out almost alone, throwing the vast prestige of
his judgment into the empty scale against the otherwise unanimous black-
balling. Then the reconcilement was full and fraternal, and Ibsen wrote
from Rome (January 24, 1882), with an emotion rare indeed for him: "The
only man in Norway who has frankly, boldly and generously taken my part
is Bjoernson. It is just like him; he has, in truth, a great, a kingly
soul; and I shall never forget what he has done now." Six months later,
on occasion of Bjoernson's jubilee, Ibsen telegraphed: "My thanks for the
work done side by side with me in the service of freedom these twenty-
five years." These words wiped away all unhappy memories of the past;
they gave public recognition to the fact that, though the two great
poets had been divided for half a generation by the forces of
circumstance, they had both been fighting at wings of the same army
against the common enemy.

This, however, takes us for the moment a little too far ahead. After the
publication of _The Pillars of Society_, Ibsen remained quiet for some
time; indeed, from this date we find him adopting the practice which was
to be regular with him henceforth, namely, that of letting his mind lie
fallow for one year after the issue of each of his works, and then
spending another year in the formation of the new play. Munich gradually
became tedious to him, and he justly observed that the pressure of
German surroundings was unfavorable to the healthy evolution of his
genius. In 1878 he went back to Rome, which, although it was no longer
the quiet and aristocratic Rome of Papal days, was still immensely
attractive to his temperament. He was now, in some measure, "a person of
means," and he made the habit of connoisseurship his hobby. He formed a
small collection of pictures, selecting works with, as he believed,
great care. The result could be seen long afterwards by those who
visited him in his final affluence, for they hung round the rooms of the
sumptuous flat in which he spent his old age and in which he died. His
taste, as far as one remembers, was for the Italian masters of the
decline, and whether he selected pictures with a good judgment must be
left for others to decide. Probably he shared with Shelley a fondness
for the Guercinos and the Guido Renis, whom we can now admire only in
defiance of Ruskin.

In April, 1879, it is understood, a story was told him of an incident in
the Danish courts, the adventure of a young married woman in one of the
small towns of Zealand, which set his thoughts running on a new dramatic
enterprise. He was still curiously irritated by contemplating, in his
mind's eye, the "respectable, estimable narrowmindedness and
worldliness" of social conditions in Norway, where there was no
aristocracy, and where a lower middle-class took the place of a
nobility, with, as he thought, sordid results. But he was no longer
suffering from what he himself had called "the feeling of an insane man
staring at one single, hopelessly black spot." He went to Amalfi for the
summer, and in that delightful spot, so curiously out of keeping with
his present rigidly prosaic mood, he set himself to write what is
probably the most widely famous of all his works, _A Doll's House_. The
day before he started he wrote to me from Rome (in an unpublished letter
of July 4, 1879): "I have been living here with my family since
September last, and most of that time I have been occupied with the idea
of a new dramatic work, which I shall now soon finish, and which will be
published in October. It is a serious drama, really a family drama,
dealing with modern conditions and in particular with the problems which
complicate marriage." This play he finished, lingering at Amalfi, in
September, 1879. It was an engineer's experiment at turning up and
draining a corner of the moral swamp which Norwegian society seemed to
be to his violent and ironic spirit.

_A Doll's House_ was Ibsen's first unqualified success. Not merely was
it the earliest of his plays which excited universal discussion, but in
its construction and execution it carried out much further than its
immediate precursors Ibsen's new ideal as an unwavering realist. Mr.
Arthur Symons has well said [Note: The _Quarterly Review_ for October,
1906.] that "_A Doll's House_ is the first of Ibsen's plays in which the
puppets have no visible wires." It may even be said that it was the
first modern drama in which no wires had been employed. Not that even
here the execution is perfect, as Ibsen afterwards made it. The arm of
coincidence is terribly shortened, and the early acts, clever and
entertaining as they are, are still far from the inevitability of real
life. But when, in the wonderful last act, Nora issues from her bedroom,
dressed to go out, to Helmer's and the audience's stupefaction, and when
the agitated pair sit down to "have it out," face to face across the
table, then indeed the spectator feels that a new thing has been born in
drama, and, incidentally, that the "well-made play" has suddenly become
as dead as Queen Anne. The grimness, the intensity of life, are amazing
in this final scene, where the old happy ending is completely abandoned
for the first time, and where the paradox of life is presented without
the least shuffling or evasion.

It was extraordinary how suddenly it was realized that _A Doll's House_
was a prodigious performance. All Scandinavia rang with Nora's
"declaration of independence." People left the theatre, night after
night, pale with excitement, arguing, quarrelling, challenging. The
inner being had been unveiled for a moment, and new catchwords were
repeated from mouth to mouth. The great statement and reply--"No man
sacrifices his honor, even for one he loves," "Hundreds of thousands of
women have done so!"--roused interminable discussion in countless family
circles. The disputes were at one time so violent as to threaten the
peace of households; a school of imitators at once sprang up to treat
the situation, from slightly different points of view, in novel, poem
and drama. [Note: The reader who desires to obtain further light on the
technical quality of _A Doll's House_ can do no better than refer to Mr.
William Archer's elaborate analysis of it (_Fortnightly Review_, July,

The universal excitement which Ibsen had vainly hoped would be awakened
by _The Pillars of Society_ came, when he was not expecting it, to greet
_A Doll's House_. Ibsen was stirred by the reception of his latest play
into a mood rather different from that which he expressed at any other
period. As has often been said, he did not pose as a prophet or as a
reformer, but it did occur to him now that he might exercise a strong
moral influence, and in writing to his German translator, Ludwig
Passarge, he said (June 16, 1880):

Everything that I have written has the closest possible connection with
what I have lived through, even if it has not been my own personal
experience; in every new poem or play I have aimed at my own spiritual
emancipation and purification--for a man shares the responsibility and
the guilt of the society to which he belongs.

It was in this spirit of unusual gravity that he sat down to the
composition of _Ghosts_. There is little or no record of how he occupied
himself at Munich and Berchtesgaden in 1880, except that in March he
began to sketch, and then abandoned, what afterwards became _The Lady
from the Sea_. In the autumn of that year, indulging once more his
curious restlessness, he took all his household gods and goods again to
Rome. His thoughts turned away from dramatic art for a moment, and he
planned an autobiography, which was to deal with the gradual development
of his mind, and to be called _From Skien to Rome_. Whether he actually
wrote any of this seems uncertain; that he should have planned it shows
a certain sense of maturity, a suspicion that, now in his fifty-third
year, he might be nearly at the end of his resources. As a matter of
fact, he was just entering upon a new inheritance. In the summer of 1881
he went, as usual now, to Sorrento, and there [Note: So the authorities
state: but in an unpublished letter to myself, dated Rome, November 26,
1880, I find Ibsen saying, "Just now I am beginning to exercise my
thoughts over a new drama; I hope I shall finish it in the course of
next summer." It seems to have been already his habit to meditate long
about a subject before it took any definite literary form in his mind.]
the plot of _Ghosts_ revealed itself to him. This work was composed with
more than Ibsen's customary care, and was published at the beginning of
December, in an edition of ten thousand copies.

Before the end of 1881 Ibsen was aware of the terrific turmoil which
_Ghosts_ had begun to occasion. He wrote to Passarge: "My new play has
now appeared, and has occasioned a terrible uproar in the Scandinavian
press. Every day I receive letters and newspaper articles decrying or
praising it. I consider it absolutely impossible that any German theatre
will accept the play at present. I hardly believe that they will dare to
play it in any Scandinavian country for some time to come." It was, in
fact, not acted publicly anywhere until 1883, when the Swedes ventured
to try it, and the Germans followed in 1887. The Danes resisted it much

Ibsen declared that he was quite prepared for the hubbub; he would
doubtless have been much disappointed if it had not taken place;
nevertheless, he was disconcerted at the volume and the violence of the
attacks. Yet he must have known that in the existing condition of
society, and the limited range of what was then thought a defensible
criticism of that condition, _Ghosts_ must cause a virulent scandal.
There has been, especially in Germany, a great deal of medico-
philosophical exposure of the under-side of life since 1880. It is
hardly possible that, there, or in any really civilized country, an
analysis of the causes of what is, after all, one of the simplest and
most conventional forms of hereditary disease could again excite such a
startling revulsion of feeling. Krafft-Ebing and a crew of
investigators, Strindberg, Brieux, Hauptmann, and a score of probing
playwrights all over the Continent, have gone further and often fared
much worse than Ibsen did when he dived into the family history of
Kammerherre Alving. When we read _Ghosts_ to-day we cannot recapture the
"new shudder" which it gave us a quarter of a century ago. Yet it must
not be forgotten that the publication of it, in that hide-bound time,
was an act of extraordinary courage. Georg Brandes, always clearsighted,
was alone in being able to perceive at once that _Ghosts_ was no attack
on society, but an effort to place the responsibilities of men and women
on a wholesomer and surer footing, by direct reference to the relation
of both to the child.

When the same eminent critic, however, went on to say that _Ghosts_ was
"a poetic treatment of the question of heredity," it was more difficult
to follow him. Now that the flash and shock of the playwright's audacity
are discounted, it is natural to ask ourselves whether, as a work of
pure art, _Ghosts_ stands high among Ibsen's writings. I confess, for my
own part, that it seems to me deprived of "poetic" treatment, that is to
say, of grace, charm and suppleness, to an almost fatal extent. It is
extremely original, extremely vivid and stimulating, but, so far as a
foreigner may judge, the dialogue seems stilted and uniform, the
characters, with certain obvious exceptions, rather types than persons.
In the old fighting days it was necessary to praise _Ghosts_ with
extravagance, because the vituperation of the enemy was so stupid and
offensive, but now that there are no serious adversaries left, cooler
judgment admits--not one word that the idiot-adversary said, but--that
there are more convincing plays than _Ghosts_ in Ibsen's repertory.

Up to this time, Ibsen had been looked upon as the mainstay of the
Conservative party in Norway, in opposition to Bjoernson, who led the
Radicals. But the author of _Ghosts_, who was accused of disseminating
anarchism and nihilism, was now smartly drummed out of the Tory camp
without being welcomed among the Liberals. Each party was eager to
disown him. He was like Coriolanus, when he was deserted by nobles and
people alike, and

suffer'd by the voice of slaves to be Whoop'd out of Rome.

The situation gave Ibsen occasion, from the perspective of his exile, to
form some impressions of political life which were at once pungent and

"I am more and more confirmed" [he said, Jan, 3, 1882] "in my belief
that there is something demoralizing in politics and parties. I, at any
rate, shall never be able to join a party which has the majority on its
side. Bjoernson says, 'The majority is always right'; and as a practical
politician he is bound, I suppose, to say so. I, on the contrary, of
necessity say, 'The minority is always right.'"

In order to place this view clearly before his countrymen, he set about
composing the extremely vivid and successful play, perhaps the most
successful pamphlet-play that ever was written, which was to put forward
in the clearest light the claim of the minority. He was very busy with
preparations for it all through the summer of 1882, which he spent at
what was now to be for many years his favorite summer resort, Gossensass
in the Tyrol, a place which is consecrated to the memory of Ibsen in the
way that Pornic belongs to Robert Browning and the Bel Alp to Tyndall,
holiday homes in foreign countries, dedicated to blissful work without
disturbance. Here, at a spot now officially named the "Ibsenplatz," he
composed _The Enemy of the People_, engrossed in his invention as was
his wont, reading nothing and thinking of nothing but of the persons
whose history he was weaving. Oddly enough, he thought that this, too,
was to be a "placable" play, written to amuse and stimulate, but
calculated to wound nobody's feelings. The fact was that Ibsen, like
some ocelot or panther of the rocks, had a paw much heavier than he
himself realized, and his "play," in both senses, was a very serious
affair, when he descended to sport with common humanity.

Another quotation, this time from a letter to Brandes, must be given to
show what Ibsen's attitude was at this moment to his fatherland and to
his art:

"When I think how slow and heavy and dull the general intelligence is at
home, when I notice the low standard by which everything is judged, a
deep despondency comes over me, and it often seems to me that I might
just as well end my literary activity at once. They really do not need
poetry at home; they get along so well with the party newspapers and the
_Lutheran Weekly_."

If Ibsen thought that he was offering them "poetry" in _The Enemy of the
People_, he spoke in a Scandinavian sense. Our criticism has never
opened its arms wide enough to embrace all imaginative literature as
poetry, and in the English sense nothing in the world's drama is denser
or more unqualified prose than _The Enemy of the People_, without a
tinge of romance or rhetoric, as "unideal" as a blue-book. It is,
nevertheless, one of the most certainly successful of its author's
writings; as a stage-play it rivets the attention; as a pamphlet it
awakens irresistible sympathy; as a specimen of dramatic art, its
construction and evolution are almost faultless. Under a transparent
allegory, it describes the treatment which Ibsen himself had received at
the hands of the Norwegian public for venturing to tell them that their
spa should be drained before visitors were invited to flock to it.
Nevertheless, the playwright has not made the mistake of identifying his
own figure with that of Dr. Stockmann, who is an entirely independent
creation. Mr. Archer has compared the hero with Colonel Newcome, whose
loquacious amicability he does share, but Stockmann's character has much
more energy and initiative than Colonel Newcome's, whom we could never
fancy rousing himself "to purge society."

Ibsen's practical wisdom in taking the bull by the horns in his reply to
the national reception of _Ghosts_ was proved by the instant success of
_The Enemy of the People_. Presented to the public in this new and
audacious form, the problem of a "moral water-supply" struck sensible
Norwegians as less absurd and less dangerous than they had conceived it
to be. The reproof was mordant, and the worst offenders crouched under
the lash. _Ghosts_ itself was still, for some time, tabooed, but _The
Enemy of the People_ received a cordial welcome, and has remained ever
since one of the most popular of Ibsen's writings. It is still extremely
effective on the stage, and as it is lightened by more humor than the
author is commonly willing to employ, it attracts even those who are
hostile to the intrusion of anything solemn behind the footlights.


With the appearance of _An Enemy of the People_, which was published in
November, 1882, Ibsen entered upon a new stage in his career. He had
completely broken with the Conservative party in Norway, without having
gratified or won the confidence of the Liberals. He was now in personal
relations of friendliness with Bjoernson, whose generous approval of his
work as a dramatist sustained his spirits, but his own individualism had
been intensified by the hostile reception of _Ghosts_. His life was now
divided between Rome in the winter and Gossensass in the summer, and in
the Italian city, as in the Tyrolese village, he wandered solitary,
taciturn, absorbed in his own thoughts. His meditations led him more and
more into a lonely state. He floated, as on a prophet's carpet, between
the political heavens and earth, capriciously refusing to ascend or to
alight. He had come to a sceptical stage in his mental evolution, a
stage in which he was to remain for a considerable time, gradually
modifying it in a conservative direction. One wonders what the simple-
minded and stalwart Bjoernson thought of being quietly told (March 28,
1884) that the lower classes are nowhere liberal-minded or self-
sacrificing, and that "in the views expressed by our [Norwegian]
peasants there is not an atom more of real Liberalism than is to be
found among the ultramontane peasantry of the Tyrol." In politics Ibsen
had now become a pagan; "I do not believe," he said, "in the
emancipatory power of political measures, nor have I much confidence in
the altruism and good will of those in power." This sense of the
uselessness of effort is strongly marked in the course of the next work
on which he was engaged, the very brilliant, but saturnine and sardonic
tragi-comedy of _The Wild Duck_. The first sketch of it was made during
the spring of 1884 in Rome, but the dramatist took it to Gossensass with
him for the finishing touches, and did not perfect it until the autumn.
It is remarkable that Ibsen invariably speaks of _The Wild Duck_, when
he mentions it in his correspondence, in terms of irony. He calls it a
collection of crazy tricks or tomfooleries, _galskaber_, an expression
which carries with it, in this sense, a confession of wilful paradox. In
something of the same spirit, Robert Browning, in the old days before he
was comprehended, used to speak of "the entirely unintelligible
_Sordello_," as if, sarcastically, to meet criticism half-way.

When _The Wild Duck_ was first circulated among Ibsen's admirers, it was
received with some bewilderment. Quite slowly the idea received
acceptance that the hitherto so serious and even angry satirist was, to
put it plainly, laughing at himself. The faithful were reluctant to
concede it. But one sees now, clearly enough, that in a sense it was so.
I have tried to show, we imagine Ibsen saying, that your hypocritical
sentimentality needs correction--you live in "A Doll's House." I have
dared to point out to you that your society is physically and morally
rotten and full of "Ghosts." You have repudiated my honest efforts as a
reformer, and called me "An Enemy of the People." Very well, then, have
it so if you please. What a fool am I to trouble about you at all. Go
down a steep place in Gadara and drown yourselves. If it amuses you, it
can amuse me also to be looked upon as Gregers Werle. _Vogue la galere_.
"But as the play is neither to deal with the Supreme Court, nor the
right of absolute veto, nor even with the removal of the sign of the
union from the flag," burning questions then and afterwards in Norwegian
politics, "it can hardly count upon arousing much interest in Norway";
it will, however, amuse me immensely to point out the absurdity of my
caring. It is in reading _The Wild Duck_ that for the first time the
really astonishing resemblance which Ibsen bears to Euripedes becomes
apparent to us. This is partly because the Norwegian dramatist now
relinquishes any other central object than the presentation to his
audience of the clash of temperament, and partly because here at last,
and for the future always, he separates himself from everything that is
not catastrophe. More than any earlier play, more even than _Ghosts_,
_The Wild Duck_ is an avalanche which has begun to move, and with a
movement unaffected by the incidents of the plot, long before the
curtain rises. The later plays of Ibsen, unlike almost all other modern
dramas, depend upon nothing that happens while they are being exhibited,
but rush downwards to their inevitable close in obedience to a series of
long-precedent impulses. In order to gain this effect, the dramatist has
to be acquainted with everything that has ever happened to his
personages, and we are informed that Ibsen used to build up in his own
mind, for months at a time, the past history of his puppets. He was now
master of this practice. We are not surprised, therefore, to find one of
the most penetrating of dramatic critics remarking of _The Wild Duck_
that "never before had the poet displayed such an amazing power of
fascinating and absorbing us by the gradual withdrawal of veil after
veil from the past."

The result of a searching determination to deal with personal and not
typical forms of temperament is seen in the firmness of the portraiture
in _The Wild Duck_, where, I think, less than ever before, is to be
found a trace of that incoherency which is to be met with occasionally
in all the earlier works of Ibsen, and which seems like the effect of a
sudden caprice or change of the point of view. There is, so far as I can
judge, no trace of this in _The Wild Duck_, where the continuity of
aspect is extraordinary. Confucius assures us that if we tell him our
past, he will tell us our future, and although several of the characters
in _The Wild Duck_ are the most sordid of Ibsen's creations, the author
has made himself so deeply familiar with them that they are absolutely
lifelike. The detestable Hialmar, in whom, by the looking-glass of a
disordered liver, any man may see a picture of himself; the pitiable
Gregers Werle, perpetually thirteenth at table, with his genius for
making an utter mess of other people's lives; the vulgar Gina; the
beautiful girlish figure of the little martyred Hedvig--all are wholly
real and living persons.

The subject of the play, of course, is one which we do not expect, or
had not hitherto expected, from Ibsen. It is the danger of "a sick
conscience" and the value of illusion. Society may be full of poisonous
vapors and be built on a framework of lies; it is nevertheless prudent
to consider whether the ideal advantages of disturbing it overweigh the
practical disadvantages, and above all to bear in mind that if you rob
the average man of his illusions, you are almost sure to rob him of his
happiness. The topsy-turvy nature of a this theme made Ibsen as nearly
"rollicking" as he ever became in his life. We can imagine than as he
wrote the third act of _The Wild Duck_, where so horrible a luncheon
party--"we'll all keep a corner"--gloats over the herring salad, he
indulged again and again in those puffs of soundless and formidable
mirth which Mr. Johan Paulsen describes as so surprising an element of
conversation with Ibsen.

To the gossip of that amiable Boswell, too, we must turn for a valuable
impression of the solidification of Ibsen's habits which began about
this time, and which marked then even before he left Munich. He had now
successfully separated himself from all society, and even his family saw
him only at meals. Visitors could not penetrate to him, but, if
sufficiently courageous, must hang about on the staircase, hoping to
catch him for a moment as he hurried out to the cafe. Within his study,
into which the daring Paulsen occasionally ventured, Ibsen, we are to
believe, did nothing at all, but "sat bent over the pacific ocean of his
own mind, which mirrored for him a world far more fascinating, vast and
rich than that which lay spread around him." [Note: _Samliv med Ibsen_,
1906, p. 30.]

And now the celebrated afternoons at the cafes had begun. In Rome Ibsen
had his favorite table, and he would sit obliquely facing a mirror in
which, half hidden by a newspaper and by the glitter of his gold
spectacles, he could command a sight of the whole restaurant, and
especially of the door into the street. Every one who entered, every
couple that conversed, every movement of the scene, gave something to
those untiring eyes. The newspaper and the cafe mirror--these were the
books which, for the future, Ibsen was almost exclusively to study; and
out of the gestures of a pair of friends at a table, out of a paragraph
in a newspaper, even out of the terms of an advertisement, he could
build up a drama. Incessant observation of real life, incessant capture
of unaffected, unconsidered phrases, actual living experience leaping in
his hands like a captive wild animal, this was now the substance from
which all Ibsen's dreams and dramas were woven. Concentration of
attention on the vital play of character, this was his one interest.

Out of this he was roused by a sudden determination to go at last and
see for himself what life in Norway was really like. A New England wit
once denied that a certain brilliant and Europe-loving American author
was a cosmopolitan. "No," he said, "a cosmopolitan is at home even in
his own country." Ibsen began to doubt whether he was not too far off to
follow events in Norway--and these were now beginning to be very
exciting--well enough to form an independent judgment about them; and
after twenty years of exile there is no doubt that the question was
fairly put. _The Wild Duck_ had been published in November, 1884, and
had been acted everywhere in Scandinavia with great success. The critics
and the public were agreed for the first time that Ibsen was a very
great national genius, and that if Norway was not proud of him it would
make a fool of itself in the eyes of Europe.

Ibsen had said that Norway was a barbarous country, inhabited by two
millions of cats and dogs, but so many agreeable and highly-civilized
compliments found their way to him in Rome that he began to fancy that
the human element was beginning to be introduced. At all events, he
would see for himself, and in June, 1885, instead of stopping at
Gossensass, he pushed bravely on and landed in Christiania.

At first all went well, but from the very beginning of the visit he
observed, or thought he observed, awkward phenomena. The country was
thrilled with political excitement, and it vibrated with rhetorical
resolutions which seemed to Ibsen very empty. He had a constitutional
horror of purely theoretical questions, and these were occupying Norway
from one end to the other. The King's veto, the consular difficulty, the
Swedish emblem in the national flag, these were the subjects of frenzied
discussion, and in none of these did Ibsen take any sort of pleasure. He
was not politically far-sighted, it must be confessed, nor did he guess
what practical proportions these "theoretical questions" were to assume
in the immediate future.

That great writer and delightful associate, the Swedish poet, Count
Snoilsky, one of the few whose company never wearied or irritated Ibsen,
joined him in the far north. They spent a pleasant, quiet time together
at Molde, that enchanting little sub-arctic town, where it looks
southward over the shining fjord, with the Romsdalhorn forever guarding
the mountainous horizon. Here no politics intruded, and Ibsen, when
Snoilsky had left him, already thinking of a new drama, lingered on at
Molde, spending hours on hours at the end of the jetty, gazing into the
clear, cold sea. His passion for the sea had never betrayed him, and at
Rome, where he had long given up going to any galleries or studios, he
still haunted the house of a Norwegian marine painter, Nils Hansteen,
whose sketches reminded him of old days and recollected waters.

But the autumn comes on apace in these high latitudes, and Ibsen had to
return to Christiania with its torchlight processions, and late noisy
feasts, and triumphant revolutionary oratory. He disliked it extremely,
and he made up his mind to go back to the indifferent South, where
people did not worry about such things. Unfortunately, the inhabitants
of Christiania did not leave him alone. They were not content to have
him among them as a retired observer, they wanted to make him stand out
definitely on one political side or the other. He was urged, at the end
of September, to receive the inevitable torchlight procession planned in
his honor by the Union of Norwegian Students. He was astute enough to
see that this might compromise his independence, but he was probably too
self-conscious in believing that a trap was being laid for him. He said
that, not having observed that his presence gave the Union any great
pleasure, he did not care to have its expression of great joy at t his
departure. This was not polite, for it does not appear that the students
had any idea that he intended to depart. He would not address a reply to
the Union as a body, but to "my friends among the students."

A committee called upon him to beg him to reconsider his resolution, but
he roundly told them that he knew that they were reactionaries, and
wanted to annex him to their party, and that he was not blind to their
tricks. They withdrew in confusion, and Ibsen, in an agony of nervous
ness, determined to put the sea between himself and their machinations.
Early in October he retreated, or rather fled, to Copenhagen, and thence
to Munich, where he breathed again. Meanwhile, the extreme liberal
faction among the students claimed that his action had meant that he was
heart and soul with them, as against the reactionaries. A young Mr. Ove
Rode, who had interviewed him, took upon himself to say that these were
Ibsen's real sentiments. Ibsen fairly stamped with rage, and declared,
in furious communications, that all these things were done on purpose.
"It was an opportunity to insult a poet which it would have been a sad
pity to lose," he remarked, with quivering pen. A reverberant
controversy sprang up in the Norwegian newspapers, and Ibsen, in his
Bavarian harbor of refuge, continued to vibrate all through the winter
of 1885. The exile's return to his native country had proved to be far
from a success.

Already his new play was taking shape, and the success of his great
personal ambition, namely that his son, Sigurd, should be taken with
honor into the diplomatic service of his country, did such to calm his
spirits. Ibsen was growing rich now, as well as famous, and if only the
Norwegians would let him alone, he might well be happy. The new play was
_Rosmersholm_, and it took its impulse from a speech which Ibsen had
made during his journey, at Trondhjem, where he expounded the gospel of
individualism to a respectful audience of workingmen, and had laid down
the necessity of introducing an aristocratic strain, _et adeligt
element_, into the life of a truly democratic state, a strain which
woman and labor were to unite in developing. He said: "I am thinking, of
course, not of birth, nor of money, nor even of intellect, but of the
nobility which grows out of character. It is _character_ alone which can
make us free." This nobility of character must be fostered, mainly, by
the united efforts of motherhood and labor. This was quite a new creed
in Norway, and it bewildered his hearers, but it is remarkable to notice
how the best public feeling in Scandinavia has responded to the appeal,
and how little surprise the present generation would express at a
repetition of such sentiments. And out of this idea of "nobility" of
public character _Rosmersholm_ directly sprang.

We are not left to conjecture in this respect. In a letter to Bjoern
Kristensen (February 13, 1887), Ibsen deliberately explained, while
correcting a misconception of the purpose of _Rosmersholm_, that "the
play deals with the struggle which all serious-minded human beings have
to wage with themselves in order to bring their lives into harmony with
their convictions. ... Conscience is very conservative. It has its deep
roots in tradition and the past generally, and hence the conflict." When
we come to read _Rosmersholm_ it is not difficult to see how this order
of ideas dominated Ibsen's mind when he wrote it. The mansion called by
that name is typical of the ancient traditions of Norwegian bourgeois
aristocracy, which are not to be subservient to such modern and timid
conservatism as is represented by Rector Kroll, with his horror of all
things new because they are new. The Rosmer strain, in its inherent
nobility, is to be superior to a craven horror of the democracy, and is
to show, by the courage with which it fulfils its personal destiny, that
it looks above and beyond all these momentary prejudices, and accepts,
from all hands, whatever is wise and of good report.

The misfortune is that Ibsen, in unconscious bondage to his ideas, did
not construct his drama sturdily enough on realistic lines. While not
one of his works is more suggestive than _Rosmersholm_, there is not one
which gives the unbeliever more opportunity to blaspheme. This ancestral
house of a great rich race, which is kept up by the ministrations of a
single aged female servant, stands in pure Cloud-Cuckoo Land. The
absence of practical amenities in the Rosmer family might be set down to
eccentricity, if all the other personages were not equally ill-provided.
Rebecca, glorious heroine according to some admirers, "criminal, thief
and murderess," as another admirer pleonastically describes her, is a
sort of troll; nobody can explain--and yet an explanation seems
requisite--what she does in the house of Rosmer. In his eagerness to
work out a certain sequence of philosophical ideas, the playwright for
once neglected to be plausible. It is a very remarkable feature of
_Rosmersholm_ that in it, for the first time, and almost for the last,
Ibsen, in the act of theorizing, loses his hold upon reality. He places
his ingenious, elaborate and--given the premises--inevitable denouement
in a scene scarcely more credible than that of a Gilbert and Sullivan
opera, and not one-tenth as amusing. Following, as it does, immediately
on the heels of _The Wild Duck_, which was as remarkable a slice of real
life as was ever brought before a theatrical audience, the artificiality
of _Rosmersholm_ shows Ibsen as an artist clearly stepping backward that
he may leap the further forward.

In other words, _Rosmersholm_ is the proof of Ibsen's desire to conquer
another field of drama. He had now for some years rejected with great
severity all temptations from the poetic spirit, which was nevertheless
ineradicable in him. He had wished to produce on the mind of the
spectator no other impression than that he was observing something which
had actually happened, exactly in the way and the words in which it
would happen. He had formulated to the actress, Lucie Wolf, the
principle that ideal dramatic poetry should be considered extinct, "like
some preposterous animal form of prehistoric times." But the soul of man
cannot be fed with a stone, and Ibsen had now discovered that perfectly
prosaic "slices of life" may be salutary and valuable on occasion, but
that sooner or later a poet asks for more. He, therefore, a poet if ever
there was one, had grown weary of the self-made law by which he had shut
himself out from Paradise. He determined, grudgingly, and hardly knowing
how to set about it, that he would once more give the spiritual and the
imaginative qualities their place in his work. These had now been
excluded for nearly twenty years, since the publication of _Peer Gynt_,
and he would not resume them so far as to write his dramas again in
verse. Verse in drama was doomed; or if not, it was at least a juvenile
and fugitive skill not to be rashly picked up again by a business-like
bard of sixty. But he would reopen the door to allegory and symbol, and
especially to fantastic beauty of landscape.

The landscape of Rosmersholm has all, or at least much, of the old
enchantment. The scene at the mill-dam links us once more with the woods
and the waters which we had lost sight of since _Peer Gynt_. But this
element was still more evident in _The Lady from the Sea_, which was.
published in 1888. We have seen that Ibsen spent long hours, in the
summer of 1885, at the end of the pier at Molde, gazing down into the
waters, or watching the steamers arriving and departing, coming from the
great sea beyond the fjord or going towards it. As was his wont, he
stored up these impressions, making no immediate use of them. He
actually prepared _The Lady from the Sea_ in very different, although
still marine surroundings. He went to Jutland, and settled for the
summer at the pretty and ancient, but very mild little town of Saeby,
with the sands in front of him and rolling woods behind. From Saeby it
was a short journey to Frederikshavn, "which he liked very much--he
could knock about all day among the shipping, talking to the sailors,
and so forth. Besides, he found the neighborhood of the sea favorable to
contemplation and constructive thought." So Mr. Archer, who visited him
at Saeby; and I myself, a year or two later, picked up at Frederikshavn
an oral tradition of Ibsen, with his hands behind his back, and the
frock-coat tightly buttoned, stalking, stalking alone for hours on the
interminable promenade between the great harbor moles of Frederikshaven,
no one daring to break in upon his formidable contemplation.

In several respects, though perhaps not in concentration of effect, _The
Lady from the Sea_ shows a distinct advance on _Rosmersholm_. It is
never dull, never didactic, as its predecessor too often was, and there
is thrown over the whole texture of it a glamour of romance, of mystery,
of beauty, which had not appeared in Ibsen's work since the completion
of _Peer Gynt_. Again, after the appearance of so many strenuous
tragedies, it was pleasant to welcome a pure comedy. _The Lady from the
Sea [Note: In the _Neue Rundschau_ for December, 1906, there was
published a first draft of _The Lady from the Sea_, dating as far back
as 1800.] is connected with the previous plays by its emphatic defence
of individuality and its statement of the imperative necessity of
developing it; but the tone is sunny, and without a tinge of pessimism.
It is in some respects the reverse of _Rosmersholm_; the bitterness of
restrained and balked individuality, which ends in death, being
contrasted with the sweetness of emancipated and gratified
individuality, which leads to health and peace. To the remarkable
estimate of _The Lady from the Sea_ formed by some critics, and in
particular by M. Jules de Gaultier, we shall return in a general
consideration of the symbolic plays, of which it is the earliest. Enough
to say here that even those who did not plunge so deeply into its
mysteries found it a remarkably agreeable spectacle, and that it has
continued to be, in Scandinavia and Germany, one of the most popular of
its author's works.

Ibsen left his little tavern at Saeby towards the end of September,
1887, in consequence of an invitation to proceed directly to Stockholm,
where his Swedish admirers, now very numerous and enthusiastic, would no
longer be deprived of the pleasure of entertaining him publicly. He
appeared before them, the breast of his coat sparkling with foreign
stars and crosses, the Urim and Thummim of general European recognition.
He was now in his sixtieth year, and he had out lived all the obscurity
of his youth. In the three Scandinavian countries--even in recalcitrant
Norway--he was universally hailed as the greatest dramatist of the age.
In Germany his fame was greater than that of any native writer of the
sang class. In Italy and Russia he was entering on a career of high and
settled popularity. Even in France and England his work was now
discussed with that passionate interest which shows the vitality of what
is even, for the moment, misinterpreted and disliked. His admirers at
Stockholm told him that he had taken a foremost place in re-creating
their sense of life, that he was a fashioner and a builder of new social
forms, that he was, indeed, to thousands of them, the Master-Builder.
The reply he made to their enthusiasm was dignified and reserved, but it
revealed a sense of high gratification. Skule's long doubt was over; he
believed at last in his own kingdom, and that the world would be
ultimately the better for the stamp of his masterful soul upon its

It was in an unusually happy mood that he sat dreaming through the early
part of the uneventful year 1889. But it gradually sank into melancholy
when, in the following year, he settled down to the composition of a new
play which was to treat of sad thoughts and tragic passions. He told
Snoilsky that for several reasons this work made very slow progress,
"and it robbed him of his summer holidays." From May to November, 1890,
he was uninterruptedly in Munich writing what is known to us now as
_Hedda Gabler_. He finished it at last, saying as he did so, "It has not
been my desire to deal in this play with so-called problems. What I
principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions and
human destinies, upon a groundwork of certain of the social conditions
and principles of the present day." It was a proof of the immense growth
of Ibsen's celebrity that editions of _Hedda Gabler_ were called for
almost simultaneously, in the winter of 1890, in London, New York, St.
Petersburg, Leipzig, Berlin and Moscow, as well as in Copenhagen,
Stockholm and Christiania. There was no other living author in the world
at that moment who excited so much curiosity among the intellectual
classes, and none who exercised so much influence on the younger
generation of authors and thinkers.

In _Hedda Gabler_ Ibsen returned, for the last time, but with
concentrated vigor, to the prosaic ideal of his central period. He never
succeeded in being more objective in drama, he never kept more closely
to the bare facts of nature nor rejected more vigorously the ornaments
of romance and rhetoric than in this amazing play. There is no poetic
suggestion here, no species of symbol, white horse, or gnawing thing, or
monster from the sea. I am wholly in agreement with Mr. Archer when he
says that he finds it impossible to extract any sort of general idea
from _Hedda Gabler_, or to accept it as a satire of any condition of
society. Hedda is an individual, not a type, and it was as an individual
that she interested Ibsen. We have been told, since the poet's death,
that he was greatly struck by the case, which came under his notice at
Munich, of a German lady who poisoned herself because she was bored with
life, and had strayed into a false position. _Hedda Gabler_ is the
realization of such an individual case. At first sight, it seemed as
though Ibsen had been influenced by Dumas _fils_, which might have been
true, in spite of the marked dislike which each expressed for the other;
[Note: It is said that _La Route de Thebes_, which Dumas had begun when
he died, was to have been a deliberate attack on the methods and
influence of Ibsen. Ibsen, on his part, loathed Dumas.] but closer
examination showed that Hedda Gabler had no sort of relation with the
pamphlets of the master of Parisian problem-tragedy.

The attempt to show that _Hedda Gabler_ "proved" anything was annoying
to Ibsen, who said, with more than his customary firmness, "It was not
my purpose to deal with what people call problems in this play. What I
chiefly tried to do was to paint human beings, human emotions and human
fate, against a background of some of the conditions and laws of society
as it exists to-day." The German critics, a little puzzled to find a
longitude and latitude for Tesman's "tastefully decorated" villa,
declared that this time Ibsen had written an "international," not a
locally Norwegian, play. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the
contrary, _Hedda Gabler_ is perhaps the most fatally local and Norwegian
of all Ibsen's plays, and it presents, not of course the highly
civilized Christiania of to-day, but the half-suburban, half-rural
little straggling town of forty years ago. When I visited Norway as a
lad, I received kind but sometimes rather stiff and raw hospitality in
several tastefully decorated villas, which were as like that of the
Tesmans as pea is like pea. Why Ibsen chose to paint a "west end of
Christiania" of 1860 rather than of 1890 I cannot guess, unless it was
that to so persistent an exile the former was far more familiar than the

A Russian actress of extreme talent, Madame Alla Nazimova, who has had
special opportunities of studying the part of Hedda Gabler, has lately
(1907) depicted her as "aristocratic and ill-mated, ambitious and doomed
to a repulsive alliance with a man beneath her station, whom she had
mistakenly hoped would give her position and wealth. In other
circumstances, Hedda would have been a power for beauty and good." If
this ingenious theory be correct, _Hedda Gabler_ must be considered as
the leading example of Ibsen's often-repeated demonstration, that evil
is produced by circumstances and not by character. The portrait becomes
thrillingly vital if we realize that the stains upon it are the impact
of accidental conditions on a nature which might otherwise have been
useful and fleckless. Hedda Gabler is painted as Mr. Sargent might paint
a lady of the London fashionable world; his brush would divine and
emphasize, as Ibsen's pen does, the disorder of her nerves, and the
ravaging concentration of her will in a sort of barren and impotent
egotism, while doing justice to the superficial attractiveness of her
cultivated physical beauty. He would show, as Ibsen shows, and with an
equal lack of malice prepense, various detestable features which the
mask of good manners had concealed. Each artist would be called a
caricaturist because his instinctive penetration had taken him into
regions where the powder-puff and the rouge-pot lose their power.



With the publication of _Hedda Gabler_ Ibsen passed into what we may
call his final glory. Almost insensibly, and to an accompaniment of his
own growls of indignation, he had taken his place, not merely as the
most eminent imaginative writer of the three Scandinavian countries, but
as the type there of what literature should be and the prophet of what
it would become. In 1880, Norway, the youngest and long the rawest of
the three civilizations, was now the foremost in activity, and though
the influence of Bjoernson and Jonas Lie was significant, yet it was not
to be compared for breadth and complexity with that of Ibsen. The nature
of the revolution, exercised by the subject of this memoir between 1880
and 1890, that is to say from _Ghosts_ to _Hedda Gabler_, was
destructive before it was constructive. The poetry, fiction and drama of
the three Northern nations had become stagnant with commonplace and
conventional matter, lumbered with the recognized, inevitable and
sacrosanct forms of composition. This was particularly the case in
Sweden, where the influence of Ibsen now proved more violent and
catastrophic than anywhere else. Ibsen destroyed the attraction of the
old banal poetry; his spirit breathed upon it in fire, and in all its
faded elegance it withered up and vanished.

The next event was that the new generation in the three Northern
countries, deprived of its traditional authorities, looked about for a
prophet and a father, and they found what they wanted in the exceedingly
uncompromising elderly gentleman who remained so silent in the cafes of
Rome and of Munich. The zeal of the young for this unseen and
unsympathetic personage was extraordinary, and took forms of amazing
extravagance. Ibsen's impassivity merely heightened the enthusiasm of
his countless admirers, who were found, it should be stated, almost
entirely among persons who were born after his exile from Norway. His
writings supplied a challenge to character and intelligence which
appealed to those who disliked the earlier system of morals and
aesthetics against which he had so long fought single-handed.

Among writers in the North Ibsen began to hold very much the position
that Whistler was taking among painters and etchers in this country,
that is to say the abuse and ridicule of his works by a dwindling group
of elderly conventional critics merely stung into more frenzied
laudation an ever-widening circle of youthful admirers. Ibsen repented,
for a time almost exclusively, "serious" aims in literature, and with
those of Herbert Spencer, and in less measure of Zola, and a little
later of Nietzsche, his books were the spiritual food of all youthful
minds of any vigor or elasticity.

In Sweden, at this time, the admiration for Ibsen took forms of almost
preposterous violence. The great Swedish novelist, Gustaf af Geijerstam,
has given a curious and amusing account of the rage for Ibsen which came
to its height about 1880. The question which every student asked his
friend, every lover his mistress, was "What do you think of Ibsen?" Not
to be a believer in the Norwegian master was a reef upon which love or
friendship might easily be shipwrecked. It was quoted gravely as an
insufferable incompatibility for the state of marriage. There was a
curious and secret symbolism running through the whole of youthful
Swedish society, from which their elders were cunningly excluded, by
which the volumes of Ibsen, passed from hand to hand, presented on
solemn occasions, became the emblems of the problems interesting to
generous youth, flags carried in the moral fight for liberty and truth.
The three Northern countries, in their long stagnation, had become
clogged and deadened with spiritual humbug, which had sealed the sources
of emotion. It seemed though, after the long frost of the seventies,
spring had come and literature had budded a at last, and that it was
Ibsen who had blown the clarion of the West Wind and heralded the

The enthusiasm for the Norwegian dramatist was not always according to
knowledge, and sometimes it took grotesque forms. Much of the abuse
showered in England and France upon Ibsen at the time we are now
describing was due to echoes of the extravagance of his Scandinavian and
German idolaters. A Swedish satirist [Note: "Stella Kleve" (Mathilda
Malling, in _Framat_ 1886)] said that if Ibsen could have foreseen how
many "misunderstood" women would leave their homes in imitation of Nora,
and how many lovesick housekeepers drink poison on account of Rebecca,
he would have thrown ashes on his head and have retreated into the
deserts of Tartary. The suicide of the novelist, Ernst Ahlgren, was the
tragic circumstance where much was so purely comic. But if there were
elements of tragicomedy in the Ibsen idolatry, there were far more
important elements of vigorous and wholesome intellectual independence;
and it was during this period of Ibsen's almost hectic popularity that
the foundations of a new fiction and a new drama were laid in Sweden,
Denmark and Norway. A whole generation sucked strength and energy from
his early writings, since it is to be remarked that, from 1880 to 1890,
the great prestige of Ibsen did not depend so much on the dramas he was
then producing, as on the earlier works of his poetic youth, now reread
with an unexampled fervor. So, with us, the tardy popularity of Robert
Browning, which faintly resembles that of Ibsen, did not attract the
younger generation to the volumes which succeed _The Ring and the Book_,
but sent them back to the books which their fathers had despised, to
_Pippa Passes_ and _Men and Women_. To the generation of 1880, Ibsen was
not so much the author of the realistic social dramas as of those old
but now rediscovered miracles of poetry and wit, _The Pretenders_,
_Brand_ and _Peer Gynt_.

In 1889 Ibsen had been made very pleasantly conscious of this strong
personal feeling in his favor among young men and women. Nor did he find
it confined to Scandinavia. He had travelled about in Germany, and
everywhere his plays were being acted. Berlin was wild about him; at
Weimar he was feted like a conqueror. He did not settle down at Munich
until May, and here, as we have seen, he stayed all the summer, hard at
work. After the success of _Hedda Gabler_, which overpowered all adverse
comment, Ibsen began to long to be in Norway again, and this feeling was
combined, in a curious way, with a very powerful emotion which now
entered into his life. He had lived a retired and peaceful existence,
mainly a spectator at the feast, as little occupied in helping himself
to the dishes which he saw others enjoy as is an eremite in the desert
in plucking the grape-clusters of his dreams. No adventure, of any
prominent kind, had ever been seen to diversify Ibsen's perfectly
decorous and domestic career. And now he was more than sixty, and the
gray tones were gathering round him more thickly than ever, when a real
ray of vermilion descended out of the sky and filled his horizon with

In the season of 1889, among the summer boarders at Gossensass, there
appeared a young Viennese lady of eighteen, Miss Emilie Bardach. She
used to sit on a certain bench in the Pferchthal, and when the poet,
whom she adored from afar, passed by, she had the courage to smile at
him. Strange to say, her smile was returned, and soon Ibsen was on the
bench at her side. He readily discovered where she lived; no less
readily he gained an introduction to the family with whom she boarded.
There was a window-seat in the _salle a manger_; it was deep and shaded
by odorous flowering shrubs; it lent itself to endless conversation. The
episode was strange, the passion improbable, incomprehensible,
profoundly natural and true. Perhaps, until they parted in the last days
of September, neither the old man nor the young girl realized what their
relations had meant to each. Youth secured its revenge, however; Miss
Bardach soon wrote from Vienna that she was now more tranquil, more
independent, happy at last. Ibsen, on the other hand, was heart-broken,
quivering with ecstasy, overwhelmed with joy and despair.

It was the enigma in his "princess," as he called her; that completed
Miss Bardach's sorcery over the old poet. She seems to have been no
coquette; she flung her dangerous fascinations at his feet; she broke
the thread which bound the charms of her spirit and poured them over
him. He, for his part, remaining discreet and respectful, was shattered
with happiness. To a friend of mine, a young Norwegian man of letters,
Ibsen said about this time: "Oh, you can always love, but I am happier
than the happiest, for I am beloved." Long afterwards, on his seventieth
birthday, when his own natural force was failing, he wrote to Miss
Bardach, "That summer at Gossensass was the most beautiful and the most
harmonious portion of my whole existence. I scarcely venture to think of
it, and yet I think of nothing else. Ah! forever!" He did not dare to
send her _The Master-Builder_, since her presence interpenetrated every
line of it like a perfume, and when, we are told, she sent him her
photograph, signed "Princess of Orangia," her too-bold identification of
herself with Hilda Wangel hurt him as a rough touch, that finer tact
would have avoided. There can be no doubt at all that while she was now
largely absorbed by the compliment to her own vanity, he was still

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