Part 1 out of 8
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[Etext producer's note: Chapter sub-headings in SECOND LONGER STAY
ABROAD are misnumbered in the original hard copy, skipping from VII
RECOLLECTIONS OF MY CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
AUTHOR OF "WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE," ETC.
[Illustration: DR. GEORGE BRANDES _From a Sketch by G. Rump_]
DISCOVERING THE WORLD
First Impressions--Going to Bed--My Name--Fresh Elements--School--The
King--Town and Country--The King's Gardens--The Friendly World--Inimical
Forces--The World Widens--The Theatre--Progress--Warlike Instincts--
School Adventures--Polite Accomplishments--My Relations
Our House--Its Inmates--My Paternal Grandfather--My Maternal Grandfather
--School and Home--Farum--My Instructors--A Foretaste of Life--Contempt
for the Masters--My Mother--The Mystery of Life--My First Glimpse of
Beauty--The Head Master--Religion--My Standing in School--Self-esteem
--An Instinct for Literature--Private Reading--Heine's _Buch der
Lieder_--A Broken Friendship
School Boy Fancies--Religion--Early Friends--_Daemonic Theory_--A
West Indian Friend--My Acquaintance Widens--Politics--The Reactionary
Party--The David Family--A Student Society--An Excursion to Slesvig--
Temperament--The Law--Hegel--Spinoza--Love for Humanity--A Religious
Julius Lange--A New Master--Inadaption to the Law--The University Prize
Competition--An Interview with the Judges--Meeting of Scandinavian
Students--The Paludan-Muellers--Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson--Magdalene
Thoresen--The Gold Medal--The Death of King Frederik VII--The Political
Situation--My Master of Arts Examination--War--_Admissus cum laude
praecipua_--Academical Attention--Lecturing--Music--Nature--A Walking
Tour--In Print--Philosophical Life in Denmark--Death of Ludwig David--
FIRST LONG SOJOURN ABROAD
My Wish to See Paris--_Dualism in our Modern Philosophy_--A
Journey--Impressions of Paris--Lessons in French--Mademoiselle Mathilde
Feud in Danish Literature--Riding--Youthful Longings--On the Rack--My
First Living Erotic Reality--An Impression of the Miseries of Modern
Coercive Marriage--Researches on the Comic--Dramatic Criticism--A Trip
to Germany--Johanne Louise Heiberg--Magdalene Thoresen--Rudolph Bergh--
The Sisters Spang--A Foreign Element--The Woman Subject--Orla Lehmann--
M. Goldschmidt--Public Opposition--A Letter from Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson--
SECOND LONGER STAY ABROAD
Hamburg--My Second Fatherland--Ernest Hello--_Le Docteur Noir_--
Taine--Renan--Marcelin--Gleyre--Taine's Friendship--Renan at Home--
Philarete Chasles' Reminiscences--_Le Theatre Francais_--Coquelin
--Bernhardt--Beginnings of _Main Currents_--The Tuileries--John
Stuart Mill--London--Philosophical Studies--London and Paris Compared--
Antonio Gallenga and His Wife--Don Juan Prim--Napoleon III--London
Theatres--Gladstone and Disraeli in Debate--Paris on the Eve of War--
First Reverses--Flight from Paris--Geneva, Switzerland--Italy--Pasquale
Villari--Vinnie Ream's Friendship--Roman Fever--Henrik Ibsen's
Influence--Scandinavians in Rome
Italian Landladies--The Carnival--The Moccoli Feast--Filomena's Views
SECOND LONGER STAY ABROAD _Continued_
Reflections on the Future of Denmark--Conversations with Giuseppe
Saredo--Frascati--Native Beauty--New Susceptibilities--Georges
Noufflard's Influence--The Sistine Chapel and Michael Angelo--Raphael's
Loggias--A Radiant Spring
DISCOVERING THE WORLD
First Impressions--Going to Bed--My Name--Fresh Elements--School--The
King--Town and Country--The King's Gardens--The Friendly World--Inimical
Forces--The World Widens--The Theatre--Progress--Warlike Instincts--
School Adventures--Polite Accomplishments--My Relations.
He was little and looked at the world from below. All that happened,
went on over his head. Everyone looked down to him.
But the big people possessed the enviable power of lifting him to their
own height or above it. It might so happen that suddenly, without
preamble, as he lay on the floor, rummaging and playing about and
thinking of nothing at all, his father or a visitor would exclaim:
"Would you like to see the fowls of Kjoege?" And with the same he would
feel two large hands placed over his ears and the arms belonging to them
would shoot straight up into the air. That was delightful. Still, there
was some disappointment mingled with it. "Can you see Kjoege now?" was a
question he could make nothing of. What could Kjoege be? But at the other
question: "Do you see the fowls?" he vainly tried to see something or
other. By degrees he understood that it was only a phrase, and that
there was nothing to look for.
It was his first experience of empty phrases, and it made an impression.
It was just as great fun, though, when the big people said to him:
"Would you like to be a fat lamb? Let us play at fat lamb." He would be
flung over the man's shoulder, like a slaughtered lamb, and hang there,
or jump up and ride with his legs round the man's hips, then climb
valiantly several steps higher, get his legs round his shoulders, and
behold! be up on the giddy height! Then the man would take him round the
waist, swing him over, and after a mighty somersault in the air, he
would land unscathed on his feet upon the floor. It was a composite kind
of treat, of three successive stages: first came the lofty and
comfortable seat, then the more interesting moment, with a feeling,
nevertheless, of being on the verge of a fall, and then finally the
jump, during which everything was upside down to him.
But, too, he could take up attitudes down on the floor that added to his
importance, as it were, and obliged the grown-up people to look at him.
When they said: "Can you stand like the Emperor Napoleon?" he would draw
himself up, bring one foot a little forward, and cross his arms like the
little figure on the bureau.
He knew well enough just how he had to look, for when his stout, broad-
shouldered Swedish uncle, with the big beard and large hands, having
asked his parents about the little fellow's accomplishments, placed
himself in position with his arms crossed and asked: "Who am I like?" he
replied: "You are like Napoleon's lackey." To his surprise, but no small
delight, this reply elicited a loud exclamation of pleasure from his
mother, usually so superior and so strict, and was rewarded by her, who
seldom caressed, with a kiss.
The trying moment of the day was when he had to go to bed. His parents
were extraordinarily prejudiced about bedtime, just when he was enjoying
himself most. When visitors had arrived and conversation was well
started--none the less interesting to him because he understood
scarcely half of what was said--it was: "Now, to bed!"
But there were happy moments after he was in bed, too. When Mother came
in and said prayers with him, and he lay there safely fenced in by the
tall trellis-work, each bar of which, with its little outward bend in
the middle, his fingers knew so well, it was impossible to fall out
through them. It was very pleasant, the little bed with its railing, and
he slept in it as he has never slept since.
It was nice, too, to lie on his back in bed and watch his parents
getting ready to go to the theatre, Father in a shining white shirt and
with his curly hair beautifully parted on one side Mother with a crepe
shawl over her silk dress, and light gloves that smelled inviting as she
came up to say goodnight and good-bye.
I was always hearing that I was pale and thin and small. That was the
impression I made on everyone. Nearly thirty years afterwards an
observant person remarked to me: "The peculiarity about your face is its
intense paleness." Consequently I looked darker than I was; my brown
hair was called black.
Pale and thin, with thick brown hair, difficult hair. That was what the
hairdresser said--Mr. [Footnote: Danish _Herre_.] Alibert, who
called Father Erre: "Good-morning, Erre," "Good-bye, Erre." And all his
assistants, though as Danish as they could be, tried to say the same.
Difficult hair! "There is a little round place on his crown where the
hair will stand up, if he does not wear it rather long," said Mr.
I was forever hearing that I was pale and small, pale in particular.
Strangers would look at me and say: "He is rather pale." Others remarked
in joke: "He looks rather green in the face." And so soon as they began
talking about me the word "thin" would be uttered.
I liked my name. My mother and my aunts said it in such a kindly way.
And the name was noteworthy because it was so difficult to pronounce. No
boy or girl smaller than I could pronounce it properly; they all said
I came into the world two months too soon, I was in such a hurry. My
mother was alone and had no help. When the midwife came I had arrived
already. I was so feeble that the first few years great care had to be
taken of me to keep me alive. I was well made enough, but not strong,
and this was the source of many vexations to me during those years when
a boy's one desire and one ambition is to be strong.
I was not clumsy, very agile if anything; I learnt to be a good high
jumper, to climb and run well, was no contemptible wrestler, and by
degrees became an expert fighter. But I was not muscularly strong, and
never could be compared with those who were so.
The world, meanwhile, was so new, and still such an unknown country.
About that time I was making the discovery of fresh elements.
I was not afraid of what I did not like. To overcome dislike of a thing
often satisfied one's feeling of honour.
"Are you afraid of the water?" asked my brisk uncle from Fuenen one day.
I did not know exactly what there was to be afraid of, but answered
unhesitatingly: "No." I was five years old; it was Summer, consequently
rainy and windy.
I undressed in the bathing establishment; the old sailor fastened a cork
belt round my waist. It was odiously wet, as another boy had just taken
it off, and it made me shiver. Uncle took hold of me round the waist,
tossed me out into the water, and taught me to take care of myself.
Afterwards I learnt to swim properly with the help of a long pole
fastened to the cork belt and held by the bathing-man, but my
familiarity with the salt element dated from the day I was flung out
into it like a little parcel. Without by any means distinguishing myself
in swimming, any more than in any other athletic exercise, I became a
very fair swimmer, and developed a fondness for the water and for
bathing which has made me very loth, all my life, to miss my bath a
There was another element that I became acquainted with about the same
time, and which was far more terrifying than the water. I had never seen
it uncontrolled: fire.
One evening, when I was asleep in the nursery, I was awaked by my mother
and her brother, my French uncle. The latter said loudly: "We must take
the children out of bed."
I had never been awaked in the night before. I opened my eyes and was
thrilled by a terror, the memory of which has never been effaced. The
room was brightly illuminated without any candle having been lighted,
and when I turned my head I saw a huge blaze shoot up outside the
window. Flames crackled and sparks flew. It was a world of fire. It was
a neighbouring school that was burning. Uncle Jacob put his hand under
my "night gown," a long article of clothing with a narrow cotton belt
round the waist, and said laughing: "Do you have palpitations of the
heart when you are afraid?" I had never heard of palpitations of the
heart before. I felt about with my hand and for the first time found my
heart, which really was beating furiously. Small though I was, I asked
the date and was told that it was the 25th of November; the fright I had
had was so great that I never forgot this date, which became for me the
object of a superstitious dread, and when it drew near the following
year, I was convinced that it would bring me fresh misfortune. This was
in so far the case that next year, at exactly the same time, I fell ill
and was obliged to spend some months in bed.
I was too delicate to be sent to school at five years old, like other
boys. My doctor uncle said it was not to be thought of. Since, however,
I could not grow up altogether in ignorance, it was decided that I
should have a tutor of my own.
So a tutor was engaged who quickly won my unreserved affection and made
me very happy. The tutor came every morning and taught me all I had to
learn. He was a tutor whom one could ask about anything under the sun
and he would always know. First, there was the ABC. That was mastered in
a few lessons. I could read before I knew how to spell. Then came
writing and arithmetic and still more things. I was soon so far advanced
that the tutor could read _Frithiof's Saga_ aloud to me in Swedish
and be tolerably well understood; and, indeed, he could even take a
short German extract, and explain that I must say _ich_ and not
_ish_, as seemed so natural.
Mr. Voltelen was a poor student, and I quite understood from the
conversation of my elders what a pleasure and advantage it was to him to
get a cup of coffee extra and fine white bread and fresh butter with it
every day. On the stroke of half-past ten the maid brought it in on a
tray. Lessons were stopped, and the tutor ate and drank with a relish
that I had never seen anyone show over eating and drinking before. The
very way in which he took his sugar--more sugar than Father or Mother
took--and dissolved it in the coffee before he poured in the cream,
showed what a treat the cup of coffee was to him.
Mr. Voltelen had a delicate chest, and sometimes the grown-up people
said they were afraid he could not live. There was a report that a rich
benefactor, named Nobel, had offered to send him to Italy, that he might
recover in the warmer climate of the South. It was generous of Mr.
Nobel, and Mr. Voltelen was thinking of starting. Then he caught another
complaint. He had beautiful, brown, curly hair. One day he stayed away;
he had a bad head, he had contracted a disease in his hair from a dirty
comb at a bathing establishment. And when he came again I hardly
recognised him. He wore a little dark wig. He had lost every hair on his
head, even his eyebrows had disappeared. His face was of a chalky
pallor, and he coughed badly too.
Why did not God protect him from consumption? And how could God find it
in His heart to give him the hair disease when he was so ill already?
God was strange. He was Almighty, but He did not use His might to take
care of Mr. Voltelen, who was so good and so clever, and so poor that he
needed help more than anyone else. Mr. Nobel was kinder to Mr. Voltelen
than God was. God was strange, too, in other ways; He was present
everywhere, and yet Mother was cross and angry if you asked whether He
was in the new moderator lamp, which burnt in the drawing-room with a
much brighter light than the two wax candles used to give. God knew
everything, which was very uncomfortable, since it was impossible to
hide the least thing from Him. Strangest of all was it when one
reflected that, if one knew what God thought one was going to say, one
could say something else and His omniscience would be foiled. But of
course one did not know what He thought would come next. The worst of
all, though, was that He left Mr. Voltelen in the lurch so.
Some flashes of terrestrial majesty and magnificence shone on my modest
existence. Next after God came the King. As I was walking along the
street one day with my father, he exclaimed: "There is the King!" I
looked at the open carriage, but saw nothing noticeable there, so fixed
my attention upon the coachman, dressed in red, and the footman's plumed
hat. "The King wasn't there!" "Yes, indeed he was--he was in the
carriage." "Was that the King? He didn't look at all remarkable--he had
no crown on." "The King is a handsome man," said Father. "But he only
puts on his state clothes when he drives to the Supreme Court."
So we went one day to see the King drive to the Supreme Court. A crowd
of people were standing waiting at the Naval Church. Then came the
procession. How splendid it was! There were runners in front of the
horses, with white silk stockings and regular flower-pots on their
heads; I had never seen anything like it; and there were postillions
riding on the horses in front of the carriage. I quite forgot to look
inside the carriage and barely caught a glimpse of the King. And that
glimpse made no impression upon me. That he was Christian VIII. I did
not know; he was only "the King."
Then one day we heard that the King was dead, and that he was to lie in
state twice. These lyings in state were called by forced, unnatural
names, _Lit de Parade_ and _Castrum doloris_; I heard them so
often that I learnt them and did not forget them. On the _Lit de
Parade_ the body of the King himself lay outstretched; that was too
sad for a little boy. But _Castrum doloris_ was sheer delight, and
it really was splendid. First you picked your way for a long time along
narrow corridors, then high up in the black-draped hall appeared the
coffin covered with black velvet, strewn with shining, twinkling stars.
And a crowd of candles all round. It was the most magnificent sight I
had ever beheld.
I was a town child, it is true, but that did not prevent me enjoying
open-air life, with plants and animals. The country was not so far from
town then as it is now. My paternal grandfather had a country-house a
little way beyond the North gate, with fine trees and an orchard; it was
the property of an old man who went about in high Wellington boots and
had a regular collection of wax apples and pears--such a marvellous
imitation that the first time you saw them you couldn't help taking a
bite out of one. Driving out to the country-house in the Summer, the
carriage would begin to lumber and rumble as soon as you passed through
the North gate, and when you came back you had to be careful to come in
before the gate was closed.
We lived in the country ourselves, for that matter, out in the western
suburb, near the Black Horse (as later during the cholera Summer), or
along the old King's Road, where there were beautiful large gardens. In
one such a huge garden I stood one Summer day by my mother's side in
front of a large oblong bed with many kinds of flowers. "This bed shall
be yours," said Mother, and happy was I. I was to rake the paths round
it myself and tend and water the plants in it. I was particularly
interested to notice that a fresh set of flowers came out for every
season of the year. When the asters and dahlias sprang into bloom the
Summer was over. Still the garden was not the real country. The real
country was at Inger's, my dear old nurse's. She was called my nurse
because she had looked after me when I was small. But she had not fed
me, my mother had done that.
Inger lived in a house with fields round it near High Taastrup. There
was no railway there then, and you drove out with a pair of horses. It
was only later that the wonderful railway was laid as far as Roskilde.
So it was an unparalleled event for the children, to go by train to
Valby and back. Their father took them. Many people thought that it was
too dangerous. But the children cared little for the danger. And it went
off all right and they returned alive.
Inger had a husband whose name was Peer. He was nice, but had not much
to say. Inger talked far more and looked after everything. They had a
baby boy named Niels, but he was in the cradle and did not count.
Everything at Inger and Peer's house was different from the town. There
was a curious smell in the rooms, with their chests of drawers and
benches, not exactly disagreeable, but unforgettable. They had much
larger dishes of curds and porridge than you saw in Copenhagen. They did
not put the porridge or the curds on plates. Inger and Peer and their
little visitor sat round the milk bowl or the porridge dish and put
their spoons straight into it. But the guest had a spoon to himself.
They did not drink out of separate glasses, but he had a glass to
It was jolly in the country. A cow and little pigs to play with and milk
warm from the cow. Inger used to churn, and there was buttermilk to
drink. It was great fun for a little Copenhagen boy to roll about in the
hay and lie on the hay-waggons when they were driven home. And every
time I came home from a visit to Inger Mother would laugh at me the
moment I opened my mouth, for, quite unconsciously, I talked just like
Inger and the other peasants.
In the wood attic, a little room divided from the main garret by wooden
bars, in which a quantity of split firewood and more finely chopped fir
sticks, smelling fresh and dry, are piled up in obliquely arranged
heaps, a little urchin with tightly closed mouth and obstinate
expression has, for more than two hours, been bearing his punishment of
being incarcerated there.
Several times already his anxious mother has sent the housemaid to ask
whether he will beg pardon yet, and he has only shaken his head. He is
hungry; for he was brought up here immediately after school. But he will
not give in, for he is in the right. It is not his fault that the grown-
up people cannot understand him. They do not know that what he is
suffering now is nothing to what he has had to suffer. It is true that
he would not go with the nurse and his little brother into the King's
Gardens. But what do Father and Mother know of the ignominy of hearing
all day from the other schoolboys: "Oh! so you are fetched by the
nurse!" or "Here comes your nurse to fetch you!" He is overwhelmed with
shame at the thought of the other boys' scorn. She is not _his_
nurse, she is his brother's. He could find his way home well enough, but
how can he explain to the other boys that his parents will not trust him
with the little one yet, and so send for them both at the same time! Now
there shall be an end to it; he will not go to the King's Gardens with
the nurse again.
It is the housemaid, once more, come to ask if he will not beg pardon
now. In vain. Everything has been tried with him, scolding, and even a
box on the ear; but he has not been humbled. Now he stands here; he will
not give in.
But this time his kind mother has not let the girl come empty-handed.
His meal is passed through the bars and he eats it. It is so much the
easier to hold out. And some hours later he is brought down and put to
bed without having apologised.
Before I had so painfully become aware of the ignominy of going with the
maid to the King's Gardens, I had been exceedingly fond of the place.
What gardens they were for hide and seek, and puss in the corner! What
splendid alleys for playing Paradise, with Heaven and Hell! To say
nothing of playing at horses! A long piece of tape was passed over and
under the shoulders of two playfellows, and you drove them with a tight
rein and a whip in your hand. And if it were fun in the old days when I
only had tape for reins, it was ever so much greater fun now that I had
had a present from my father of splendid broad reins of striped wool,
with bells, that you could hear from far enough when the pair came
tearing down the wide avenues.
I was fond of the gardens, which were large and at that time much larger
than they are now; and of the trees, which were many, at that time many
more than now. And every part of the park had its own attraction. The
Hercules pavilion was mysterious; Hercules with the lion, instructive
and powerful. A pity that it had become such a disgrace to go there!
I had not known it before. One day, not so long ago, I had felt
particularly happy there. I had been able for a long time to read
correctly in my reading-book and write on my slate. But one day Mr.
Voltelen had said to me: "You ought to learn to read writing." And from
that moment forth my ambition was set upon reading _writing_, an
idea which had never occurred to me before. When my tutor first showed
me _writing_, it had looked to me much as cuneiform inscriptions
and hieroglyphics would do to ordinary grown-up people, but by degrees I
managed to recognize the letters I was accustomed to in this their
freer, more frivolous disguise, running into one another and with their
regularity broken up. In the first main avenue of the King's Gardens I
had paced up and down, in my hand the thin exercise-book, folded over in
the middle,--the first book of writing I had ever seen,--and had already
spelt out the title, "Little Red Riding-Hood." The story was certainly
not very long; still, it filled several of the narrow pages, and it was
exciting to spell out the subject, for it was new to me. In triumphant
delight at having conquered some difficulties and being on the verge of
conquering others, I kept stopping in front of a strange nurse-girl,
showed her the book, and asked: "Can you read writing?"
Twenty-three years later I paced up and down the same avenue as a young
man, once more with a book of manuscript, that I was reading, in my
hand. I was fixing my first lecture in my mind, and I repeated it over
and over again to myself until I knew it almost by heart, only to
discover, to my disquiet, a few minutes later, that I had forgotten the
whole, and that was bad enough; for what I wished to say in my lecture
were things that I had very much at heart.
The King's Garden continued to occupy its place in my life. Later on,
for so many years, when Spring and Summer passed by and I was tied to
the town, and pined for trees and the scent of flowers, I used to go to
the park, cross it obliquely to the beds near the beautiful copper
beeches, by the entrance from the ramparts, where there were always
flowers, well cared for and sweet scented. I caressed them with my eyes,
and inhaled their perfume leaning forward over the railings.
But just now I preferred to be shut up in the wood-loft to being fetched
by the nurse from school to the Gardens. It was horrid, too, to be
obliged to walk so slowly with the girl, even though no longer obliged
to take hold of her skirt. How I envied the boys contemptuously called
street boys! They could run in and out of the courtyard, shout and make
as much noise as they liked, quarrel and fight out in the street, and
move about freely. I knew plenty of streets. If sent into the town on an
errand I should be able to find my way quite easily.
And at last I obtained permission. Happy, happy day! I flew off like an
arrow. I could not possibly have walked. And I ran home again at full
galop. From that day forth I always ran when I had to go out alone. Yes,
and I could not understand how grown-up people and other boys could
walk. I tried a few steps to see, but impatience got the better of me
and off I flew. It was fine fun to run till you positively felt the
hurry you were in, because you hit your back with your heels at every
My father, though, could run very much faster. It was impossible to
compete with him on the grass. But it was astonishing how slow old
people were. Some of them could not run up a hill and called it trying
to climb stairs.
On the whole, the world was friendly. It chiefly depended on whether one
were good or not. If not, Karoline was especially prone to complain and
Father and Mother were transformed into angry powers. Father was, of
course, a much more serious power than Mother, a more distant, more
hard-handed power. Neither of them, in an ordinary way, inspired any
terror. They were in the main protecting powers.
The terrifying power at this first stage was supplied by the bogey-man.
He came rushing suddenly out of a corner with a towel in front of his
face and said: "Bo!" and you jumped. If the towel were taken away there
soon emerged a laughing face from behind it. That at once made the
bogey-man less terrible. And perhaps that was the reason Maren's threat:
"Now, if you are not good, the bogey-man will come and take you,"
quickly lost its effect. And yet it was out of this same bogey-man, so
cold-bloodedly shaken off, that at a later stage a personality with whom
there was no jesting developed, one who was not to be thrust aside in
the same way, a personality for whom you felt both fear and trembling--
the Devil himself.
But it was only later that he revealed himself to my ken. It was not he
who succeeded first to the bogey-man. It was--the police. The police was
the strange and dreadful power from which there was no refuge for a
little boy. The police came and took him away from his parents, away
from the nursery and the drawing-room, and put him in prison.
In the street the police wore a blue coat and had a large cane in his
hand. Woe to the one who made the acquaintance of that cane!
My maternal grandfather was having his warehouse done up, a large
warehouse, three stories high. Through doors at the top, just under the
gable in the middle, there issued a crane, and from it hung down a
tremendously thick rope at the end of which was a strong iron hook. By
means of it the large barrels of sky-blue indigo, which were brought on
waggons, were hoisted. Inside the warehouse the ropes passed through
every storey, through holes in the floors. If you pulled from the inside
at the one or the other of the ropes, the rope outside with the iron
crook went up or down.
In the warehouse you found Jens; he was a big, strong, taciturn,
majestic man with a red nose and a little pipe in his mouth, and his
fingers were always blue from the indigo. If you had made sure of Jens'
good-will, you could play in the warehouse for hours at a time, roll the
empty barrels about, and--which was the greatest treat of all--pull the
ropes. This last was a delight that kept all one's faculties at extreme
tension. The marvellous thing about it was that you yourself stood
inside the house and pulled, and yet at the same time you could watch
through the open doors in the wall how the rope outside went up or down.
How it came about was an enigma. But you had the refreshing
consciousness of having accomplished something--saw the results of your
efforts before your eyes.
Nor could I resist the temptation of pulling the ropes when Jens was out
and the warehouse empty. My little brother had whooping cough, so I
could not live at home, but had to be at my grandfather's. One day Jens
surprised me and pretty angry he was. "A nice little boy you are! If you
pull the rope at a wrong time you will cut the expensive rope through,
and it cost 90 Rigsdaler! What do you think your grandfather will
say?" [Footnote: A Rigsdaler was worth about two shillings and
threepence, English money. It is a coin that has been out of use about
It was, of course, very alarming to think that I might destroy such a
valuable thing. Not that I had any definite ideas of money and numbers.
I was well up in the multiplication table and was constantly wrestling
with large numbers, but they did not correspond to any actual conception
in my mind. When I reckoned up what one number of several digits came to
multiplied by another of much about the same value, I had not the least
idea whether Father or Grandfather had so many Rigsdaler, or less, or
more. There was only one of the uncles who took an interest in my gift
for multiplication, and that was my stout, rich uncle with the crooked
mouth, of whom it was said that he owned a million, and who was always
thinking of figures. He was hardly at the door of Mother's drawing-room
before he called out: "If you are a sharp boy and can tell me what
27,374 times 580,208 are, you shall have four skilling;" and quickly
slate and pencil appeared and the sum was finished in a moment and the
four skilling pocketed. [Footnote: Four skilling would be a sum equal to
1-1/2d. English money.]
I was at home then in the world of figures, but not in that of values.
All the same, it would be a terrible thing to destroy such a value as 90
Rigsdaler seemed to be. But might it not be that Jens only said so? He
surely could not see from the rope whether it had been pulled or not.
So I did it again, and one day when Jens began questioning me sternly
could not deny my guilt. "I saw it," said Jens; "the rope is nearly cut
in two, and now you will catch it, now the policeman will come and fetch
For weeks after that I did not have one easy hour. Wherever I went, or
whatever I did, the fear of the police followed me. I dared not speak to
anyone of what I had done and of what was awaiting me. I was too much
ashamed, and I noticed, too, that my parents knew nothing. But if a door
opened suddenly I would look anxiously at the incomer. When I was
walking with the nurse and my little brother I looked all round on every
side, and frequently peeped behind me, to see whether the police were
after me. Even when I lay in my bed, shut in on all four sides by its
trellis-work, the dread of the police was upon me still.
There was only one person to whom I dared mention it, and that was Jens.
When a few weeks had gone by I tried to get an answer out of him. Then I
perceived that Jens did not even know what I was talking about. Jens had
evidently forgotten all about it. Jens had been making fun of me. If my
relief was immense, my indignation was no less. So much torture for
nothing at all! Older people, who had noticed how the word "police" was
to me an epitome of all that was terrible, sometimes made use of it as
an explanation of things that they thought were above my comprehension.
When I was six years old I heard the word "war" for the first time. I
did not know what it was, and asked. "It means," said one of my aunts,
"that the Germans have put police in Schleswig and forbidden the Danes
to go there, and that they will beat them if they stay there." That I
could understand, but afterwards I heard them talking about soldiers.
"Are there soldiers as well?" I asked. "Police and soldiers," was the
answer. But that confused me altogether, for the two things belonged in
my mind to wholly different categories. Soldiers were beautiful, gay-
coloured men with shakos, who kept guard and marched in step to the
sound of drums and fifes and music, till you longed to go with them.
That was why soldiers were copied in tin and you got them on your
birthday in boxes. But police went by themselves, without music, without
beautiful colours on their uniforms, looked stern and threatening, and
had a stick in their hands. Nobody dreamt of copying them in tin. I was
very much annoyed to find out, as I soon did, that I had been misled by
the explanation and that it was a question of soldiers only.
Not a month had passed before I began to follow eagerly, when the grown-
up people read aloud from the farthing newspaper sheets about the
battles at Bov, Nybboel, etc. The Danes always won. At bottom, war was a
Then one day an unexpected and overwhelming thing happened. Mother was
sitting with her work on the little raised platform in the drawing-room,
in front of the sewing-table with its many little compartments, in
which, under the loose mahogany lid, there lay so many beautiful and
wonderful things--rings and lovely earrings, with pearls in them--when
the door to the kitchen opened and the maid came in. "Has Madame heard?
The _Christian VIII_. has been blown up at Eckernfoerde and the
_Gefion_ is taken."
"Can it be possible?" said Mother. And she leaned over the sewing-table
and burst into tears, positively sobbed. It impressed me as nothing had
ever done before. I had never seen Mother cry. Grown-up people did not
cry. I did not even know that they could. And now Mother was crying till
the tears streamed down her face. I did not know what either the
_Christian VIII_. or the _Gefion_ were, and it was only now
that the maid explained to me that they were ships. But I understood
that a great misfortune had happened, and soon, too, how people were
blown up with gunpowder, and what a good thing it was that one of our
acquaintances, an active young man who was liked by everyone and always
got on well, had escaped with a whole skin, and had reached Copenhagen
in civilian's dress.
About this time it dawned upon me in a measure what birth and death
were. Birth was something that came quite unexpectedly, and afterwards
there was one child more in the house. One day, when I was sitting on
the sofa between Grandmamma and Grandpapa at their dining-table in
Klareboderne, having dinner with a fairly large company, the door at the
back of the room just opposite to me opened. My father stood in the
doorway, and, without a good-morning, said: "You have got a little
brother"--and there really was a little one in a cradle when I went
Death I had hitherto been chiefly acquainted with from a large, handsome
painting on Grandfather's wall, the death of the King not having
affected me. The picture represented a garden in which Aunt Rosette sat
on a white-painted bench, while in front of her stood Uncle Edward with
curly hair and a blouse on, holding out a flower to her. But Uncle
Edward was dead, had died when he was a little boy, and as he had been
such a very good boy, everyone was very sorry that they were not going
to see him again. And now they were always talking about death. So and
so many dead, so and so many wounded! And all the trouble was caused by
There were other inimical forces, too, besides the police and the Enemy,
more uncanny and less palpable forces. When I dragged behind the
nursemaid who held my younger brother by the hand, sometimes I heard a
shout behind me, and if I turned round would see a grinning boy, making
faces and shaking his fist at me. For a long time I took no particular
notice, but as time went on I heard the shout oftener and asked the maid
what it meant. "Oh, nothing!" she replied. But on my repeatedly asking
she simply said: "It is a bad word."
But one day, when I had heard the shout again, I made up my mind that I
would know, and when I came home asked my mother: "What does it mean?"
"Jew!" said Mother. "Jews are people." "Nasty people?" "Yes," said
Mother, smiling, "sometimes very ugly people, but not always." "Could I
see a Jew?" "Yes, very easily," said Mother, lifting me up quickly in
front of the large oval mirror above the sofa.
I uttered a shriek, so that Mother hurriedly put me down again, and my
horror was such that she regretted not having prepared me. Later on she
occasionally spoke about it.
Other inimical forces in the world cropped up by degrees. When you had
been put to bed early the maids often sat down at the nursery table, and
talked in an undertone until far on into the evening. And then they
would tell stories that were enough to make your hair stand on end. They
talked of ghosts that went about dressed in white, quite noiselessly, or
rattling their chains through the rooms of houses, appeared to people
lying in bed, frightened guilty persons; of figures that stepped out of
their picture-frames and moved across the floor; of the horror of
spending a night in the dark in a church--no one dared do that; of what
dreadful places churchyards were, how the dead in long grave-clothes
rose up from their graves at night and frightened the life out of
people, while the Devil himself ran about the churchyard in the shape of
a black cat. In fact, you could never be sure, when you saw a black cat
towards evening, that the Devil was not inside it. And as easily as
winking the Devil could transform himself into a man and come up behind
the person he had a grudge against.
It was a terrifying excitement to lie awake and listen to all this. And
there was no doubt about it. Both Maren and Karoline had seen things of
the sort themselves and could produce witnesses by the score. It caused
a revolution in my consciousness. I learnt to know the realm of Darkness
and the Prince of Darkness. For a time I hardly ventured to pass through
a dark room. I dared not sit at my book with an open door behind me. Who
might not step noiselessly in! And if there were a mirror on the wall in
front of me I would tremble with fear lest I might see the Devil,
standing with gleaming eyes at the back of my chair.
When at length the impression made upon me by all these ghost and devil
stories passed away, I retained a strong repugnance to all darkness
terror, and to all who take advantage of the defenceless fear of the
ignorant for the powers of darkness.
The world was widening out. It was not only home and the houses of my
different grandparents, and the clan of my uncles, aunts, and cousins;
it grew larger.
I realized this at the homecoming of the troops. They came home twice.
The impression they produced the first time was certainly a great,
though not a deep one. It was purely external, and indistinctly merged
together: garlands on the houses and across the streets, the dense
throng of people, the flower-decked soldiers, marching in step to the
music under a constant shower of flowers from every window, and looking
up smiling. The second time, long afterwards, I took things in in much
greater detail. The wounded, who went in front and were greeted with a
sort of tenderness; the officers on horseback, saluting with their
swords, on which were piled wreath over wreath; the bearded soldiers,
with tiny wreaths round their bayonets, while big boys carried their
rifles for them. And all the time the music of _Den tapre
Landsoldat_, when not the turn of _Danmark dejligst_ or _Vift
stolt!_ [Footnote: Three favourite Danish tunes: "The Brave Soldier,"
"Fairest Denmark," and "Proudly Wave." ]
But the second time I was not wholly absorbed by the sight, for I was
tormented by remorse. My aunt had presented me the day before with three
little wreaths to throw at the soldiers; the one I was to keep myself,
and I was to give each of my two small brothers one of the others; I had
promised faithfully to do so. And I had kept them all three, intending
to throw them all myself. I knew it was wrong and deceitful; I was
suffering for it, but the delight of throwing all the wreaths myself was
too great. I flung them down. A soldier caught one on his bayonet; the
others fell to the ground. I was thoroughly ashamed of myself, and have
never forgotten my shame.
I knew that the theatre (where I had never been) was the place where
Mother and Father enjoyed themselves most. They often talked of it, and
were most delighted if the actors had "acted well," words which conveyed
no meaning to me.
Children were not at that time debarred from the Royal Theatre, and I
had no more ardent wish than to get inside. I was still a very small
child when one day they took me with them in the carriage in which
Father and Mother and Aunt were driving to the theatre. I had my seat
with the others in the pit, and sat speechless with admiration when the
curtain went up. The play was called _Adventures on a Walking
Tour_. I could not understand anything. Men came on the stage and
talked together. One crept forward under a bush and sang. I could not
grasp the meaning of it, and when I asked I was only told to be quiet.
But my emotion was so great that I began to feel ill, and had to be
carried out. Out in the square I was sick and had to be taken home.
Unfortunately for me, that was precisely what happened the second time,
when, in response to my importunity, another try was made. My
excitement, my delight, my attention to the unintelligible were too
overwhelming. I nearly fainted, and at the close of the first act had to
leave the theatre. After that, it was a very long time before I was
regarded as old enough to stand the excitement.
Once, though, I was allowed to go to see a comedy. Mr. Voltelen gave me
a ticket for some students' theatricals at the Court Theatre, in which
he himself was going to appear. The piece was called _A Spendthrift_,
and I saw it without suffering for it. There was a young, flighty man in
it who used to throw gold coins out of the window, and there was an ugly
old hag, and a young, beautiful girl as well. I sat and kept a sharp
lookout for when my master should come on, but I was disappointed; there
was no Mr. Voltelen to be seen.
Next day, when I thanked him for the entertainment, I added: "But you
made game of me. You were not in it at all." "What? I was not in it? Did
you not see the old hag? That was I. Didn't you see the girl? That was
I." It was incomprehensible to me that anyone could disguise himself so.
Mr. Voltelen must most certainly have "acted well." But years
afterwards, I could still not understand how one judged of this. Since
plays affected me exactly like real life, I was, of course, not in a
position to single out the share the actors took.
The war imbued my tin soldiers with quite a new interest. It was
impossible to have boxes enough of them. You could set them out in
companies and battalions; they opened their ranks to attack, stormed,
were wounded, and fell. Sometimes they lay down fatigued and slept on
the field of battle. But a new box that came one day made the old ones
lose all value for me. For the soldiers in the new box were proper
soldiers, with chests and backs, round to the touch, heavy to hold. In
comparison with them, the older ones, profile soldiers, so small that
you could only look at them sideways, sank into utter insignificance. A
step had been taken from the abstract to the concrete. It was no longer
any pleasure to me to play with the smaller soldiers. I said: "They
amused me last year, when I was little." There was a similar change, a
similar picture of historic progress, when the hobby-horse on which I
had spent so many happy hours, and on which I had ridden through rooms
and passages, was put in the corner in favour of the new rocking-horse
which, long coveted and desired, was carried in through the door, and
stood in the room, rocking slightly, as though ready for the boldest
ride, the moment its rider flung himself into the saddle.
I mounted it and oh, happiness! I began to ride, and rode on with
passionate delight till I nearly went over the horse's head. "When I was
a little boy the hobby-horse amused me, but it does not now." Every time
I climbed a fresh rung of the ladder, no matter how low an one, the same
feeling possessed me, and the same train of thought. Mother often joked
about it, up to the time when I was a full grown man. If I quickly
outgrew my fancies, if I had quite done with anything or anybody that
had absorbed me a little while before, she would say, with a smile:
"Last year, when I was a little boy, the hobby-horse amused me."
Still, progress was not always smooth. When I was small I had pretty
blouses, one especially, grey, with brown worsted lace upon it, that I
was fond of wearing; now I had plain, flat blouses with a leather belt
round the waist. Later on, I was ambitious to have a jacket, like big
boys, and when this wish had been gratified there awoke in me, as
happens in life, a more lofty ambition still, that to wear a frock coat.
In the fulness of time an old frock coat of my father's was altered to
fit me. I looked thin and lank in it, but the dress was honourable. Then
it occurred to me that everybody would see I was wearing a frock coat
for the first time. I did not dare to go out into the streets with it
on, but went out of my way round the ramparts for fear of meeting
When I was a little boy I did not, of course, trouble much about my
appearance. I did not remember that my portrait had been drawn several
times. But when I was nine years old, Aunt Sarah--at that time everybody
was either uncle or aunt--determined that we brothers should have our
portraits taken in daguerreotype for Father's birthday. The event made a
profound impression, because I had to stand perfectly still while the
picture was being taken, and because the daguerreotypist, a German,
whose name was Schaetzig, rolled his _r_s and hissed his _s_s.
The whole affair was a great secret, which was not to be betrayed. The
present was to be a surprise, and I was compelled to promise perfect
silence. I kept my promise for one day. But next day, at the dinner-
table, I accidentally burst out: "Now! quite shtill! _as the man
said_." "What man?" "Ah! that was the secret!"
The visit to Schaetzig in itself I had reason to remember a long time.
Some one or another had said that I had a slender neck, and that it was
pretty. Just as we were going in, my aunt said: "You will catch cold
inside," and in spite of my protests tied a little silk handkerchief
round my neck. That handkerchief spoilt all my pleasure in being
immortalised. And it is round my neck on the old picture to this day.
The tin soldiers had called all my warlike instincts into being. After
the rocking-horse, more and more military appurtenances followed. A
shining helmet to buckle firmly under the chin, in which one looked
quite imposing; a cuirass of real metal like the Horseguards', and a
short rapier in a leather scabbard, which went by the foreign name of
Hirschfaenger, and was a very awe-inspiring weapon in the eyes of one's
small brothers, when they were mercilessly massacred with it. Sitting on
the rocking-horse, arrayed in all this splendour, wild dreams of
military greatness filled the soul, dreams which grew wilder and more
ambitious from year to year until between the age of 8 and 9 they
received a fresh and unwholesome stimulus from Ingemann's novels.
[Footnote: B.S. Ingemann (1789-1862), a Danish writer celebrated chiefly
as the author of many historical novels, now only read by very young
On horseback, at the head of a chosen band, fighting like the lost
against unnumbered odds! Rock goes the rocking-horse, violently up and
down. The enemy wavers, he begins to give way. The rocking-horse is
pulled up. A sign with the Hirschfaenger to the herd of common troops.
The enemy is beaten and flies, the next thing is to pursue him. The
rocking-horse is set once more in furious motion. Complete victory.
Procession into the capital; shouts of jubilation and wreaths of
flowers, for the victor and his men.
Just about this time, when in imagination I was so great a warrior, I
had good use in real life for more strength, as I was no longer taken to
school by the nurse, but instead had myself to protect my brother, two
years my junior. The start from home was pleasant enough. Lunch boxes of
tin with the Danish greeting after meals in gold letters upon them,
stood open on the table. Mother, at one end of the table, spread each
child six pieces of bread and butter, which were then placed together,
two and two, white bread on brown bread, a mixture which, was uncommonly
nice. The box would take exactly so many. Then it was put in the school-
bag with the books. And with bag on back you went to school, always the
same way. But those were days when the journey was much impeded. Every
minute you met boys who called you names and tried to hit the little
one, and you had to fight at every street corner you turned. And those
were days when, even in the school itself, despite the humanity of the
age (not since attained to), terms of abuse, buffets and choice insults
were one's daily bread, and I can see myself now, as I sprang up one day
in a fight with a much bigger boy and bit him in the neck, till a master
was obliged to get me away from him, and the other had to have his neck
bathed under the pump.
I admired in others the strength that I lacked myself. There was in the
class one big, stout, squarely built, inexpressibly good-natured boy,
for whom no one was a match in fighting. He was from Lolland, and his
name was Ludvig; he was not particularly bright, but robust and as
strong as a giant. Then one day there arrived at the school a West
Indian of the name of Muddie, dark of hue, with curly hair, as strong
and slim as a savage, and with all the finesse and feints which he had
at his command, irresistible, whether wrestling or when fighting with
his fists. He beat all the strongest boys in the school. Only Ludvig and
he had not challenged each other. But the boys were very anxious to see
a bout between the two, and a wrestling match between them was arranged
for a free quarter of an hour. For the boys, who were all judges, it was
a fine sight to see two such fighters wrestle, especially when the
Lollander flung himself down on the other and the West Indian struggled
vainly, writhing like a very snake to twist himself out of his grasp.
One day two new boys came to school, two brothers; the elder, Adam, was
small and sallow, extraordinarily withered, looking like a cripple,
without, however, being one; the somewhat younger brother, Sofus, was
splendidly made and amazed us in the very first lesson in which the new
arrivals took part--a gymnastic class--by his unusual agility in
swarming and walking up the sloping bar. He seemed to be as strong as he
was dexterous, and in a little boy with a reverence for those who were
strong, he naturally aroused positive enthusiasm. This was even
augmented next day, when a big, malicious boy, who had scoffed at Adam
for being puny, was, in a trice, so well thrashed by Sofus that he lost
both his breath and his courage.
Sofus, the new arrival, and I, who had achieved fighting exploits from
the rocking-horse only, were henceforth, for some time, inseparable
friends. It was one of the usual friendships between little boys, in
which the one admires and the other allows himself to be worshipped. The
admirer in this case could only feed his feelings by presenting the
other with the most cherished thing he possessed. This most cherished
thing happened to be some figures cut out in gold paper, from France,
representing every possible object and personage, from ships with masts
and sails, to knights and ladies. I had collected them for a long time
and preserved them, piece by piece, by gumming them into a book which
was the pride of my existence. I gave the book, without the slightest
hesitation, to Sofus, who accepted it without caring for it in the
And then by reason of the exaggerated admiration of which he was the
object, Sofus, who hitherto had been so straightforward, began to grow
capricious. It was a settled rule that he and I went home from school
together. But one day a difficulty cropped up; Sofus had promised
Valdemar, a horrid boy, who cheated at lessons, to go home with him. And
next day something else prevented him. But when, suddenly having learnt
to know all the pangs of neglect and despised affection, I met him the
third day, after having waited vainly for him, crossing Our Lady's
Square with Valdemar, in my anger I seized my quondam friend roughly by
the arm, my face distorted with rage, and burst out: "You are a rascal!"
then rushed off, and never addressed him again. It was a very ill-
advised thing to do, in fact, the very most foolish thing I could have
done. But I was too passionate to behave sensibly. Valdemar spread the
account of my conduct all through the class, and next day, in our
quarter of an hour's playtime, I heard on every side from the laughing
boys: "You are a rascal! You are a rascal!"
The world was widening out. The instruction I received grew more varied.
There were a great many lessons out of school. From my drawing mistress,
a pleasant girl, who could draw Fingal in a helmet in charcoal, I learnt
to see how things looked in comparison with one another, how they hid
one another and revealed themselves, in perspective; from my music
mistress, my kind aunt, to recognise the notes and keys, and to play,
first short pieces, then sonatas, alone, then as duets. But alas!
Neither in the arts of sight nor hearing did I ever prove myself more
than mediocre. I never attained, either in drawing or piano-playing, to
more than a soulless accuracy. And I hardly showed much greater aptitude
when, on bright Sunday mornings, which invited not at all to the
delights of dancing, with many another tiny lad and lass I was
marshalled up to dance in the dancing saloon of Mr. Hoppe, the royal
dancer, and learnt to take up the first to the fifth positions and swing
the girls round in the polka mazurka. I became an ardent, but never a
specially good, dancer.
The world was widening out. Father brought from Paris a marvellous game,
called Fortuna, with bells over pockets in the wood, and balls which
were pushed with cues. Father had travelled from Paris with it five days
and six nights. It was inexpressibly fascinating; no one else in
Copenhagen had a game like it. And next year, when Father came home from
Paris again, he brought a large, flat, polished box, in which there were
a dozen different games, French games with balls, and battledores and
shuttlecocks, games which grown-up people liked playing, too; and there
were carriages which went round and round by clockwork, and a tumbler
who turned somersaults backwards down a flight of steps as soon as he
was placed on the top step. Those were things that the people in France
The world was widening out more and more. Relations often came over from
Goeteborg. They spoke Swedish, but if you paid great attention you could
understand quite well what they said. They spoke the language of
_Frithiof's Saga_, but pronounced it differently from Mr. Voltelen.
And there came a young French count whose relations my father's brother
had known; he had come as a sailor on a French man-o'-war, and he came
and stayed to dinner and sang the Marseillaise. It was from him that I
heard the song for the first time. He was only fifteen, and very good-
looking, and dressed like an ordinary sailor, although he was a count.
And then there were my two uncles, Uncle Jacob and Uncle Julius--my
mother's brother Jacob and my father's brother Julius, who had both
become Frenchmen long ago and lived in Paris. Uncle Jacob often came for
a few weeks or more at a time. He was small and broad-shouldered and
good-looking. Everybody was fond of Uncle Jacob; all the ladies wanted
to be asked to the house when Uncle Jacob came. He had a wife and four
children in Paris. But I had pieced together from the conversation of
the grown-up people that Aunt Victorine was his wife and yet not his
wife. Grandmother would have nothing to do with her. And Uncle Jacob had
gone all the way to the Pope in Rome and asked for her to remain his
wife. But the Pope had said No. Why? Because Aunt Victorine had had
another husband before, who had been cruel to her and beaten her, and
the man came sometimes, when Uncle was away, and took her furniture away
from her. It was incomprehensible that he should be allowed to, and that
the Pope would do nothing to prevent it, for after all she was a Catholic.
Uncle Jacob had a peculiar expression about his mouth when he smiled.
There was a certain charm about everything he said and did, but his
smile was sad. He had acted thoughtlessly, they said, and was not happy.
One morning, while he was visiting Father and Mother and was lying
asleep in the big room, there was a great commotion in the house; a
messenger was sent for the doctor and the word _morphia_ was
spoken. He was ill, but was very soon well again. When he asked his
sister next day: "What has become of my case of pistols?" she replied
with a grave face: "I have taken it and I shall keep it."
I had not thought as a boy that I should ever see Uncle Jacob's wife and
children. And yet it so happened that I did. Many years afterwards, when
I was a young man and went to Paris, after my uncle's death, I sought
out Victorine and her children. I wished to bring her personally the
monthly allowance that her relatives used to send her from Denmark. I
found her prematurely old, humbled by poverty, worn out by privation.
How was it possible that she should be so badly off? Did she not receive
the help that was sent from Copenhagen every month to uncle's best
friend, M. Fontane, in the Rue Vivienne? Alas, no! M. Fontane gave her a
little assistance once in a while, and at other times sent her and her
children away with hard words.
It turned out that M. Fontane had swindled her, and had himself kept the
money that had been sent for years to the widow of his best friend. He
was a tall, handsome man, with a large business. No one would have
believed that a scoundrel could have looked as he did. He was eventually
compelled to make the money good. And when the cousin from Denmark rang
after that at his French relatives' door, he was immediately hung round,
like a Christmas tree, with little boys and one small girl, who jumped
up and wound their arms round his neck, and would not let him go.
Our House--Its Inmates--My Paternal Grandfather--My Maternal
Grandfather--School and Home--Farum--My Instructors--A Foretaste of Life
--Contempt for the Masters--My Mother--The Mystery of Life--My First
Glimpse of Beauty--The Head Master--Religion--My Standing in School--
Self-esteem--An Instinct for Literature--Private Reading--Heine's
_Buch der Lieder_--A Broken Friendship.
The house belonged to my father's father, and had been in his possession
some twenty years. My parents lived on the second floor. It was situated
in the busy part of the town, right in the heart of Copenhagen. On the
first floor lived a West Indian gentleman who spoke Danish with a
foreign accent; sometimes there came to see him a Danish man of French
descent, Mr. Lafontaine, who, it was said, was so strong that he could
take two rifles and bayonets and hold them out horizontally without
bending his arm. I never saw Mr. Lafontaine, much less his marvellous
feat of strength, but when I went down the stairs I used to stare hard at
the door behind which these wonderful doings went on.
In the basement lived Niels, manservant to the family, who, besides his
domestic occupations, found time to develop a talent for business. In
all secrecy he carried on a commerce, very considerable under the
circumstances, in common watches and in mead, two kinds of wares that in
sooth had no connection with each other. The watches had no particular
attraction for a little boy, but the mead, which was kept in jars, on a
shelf, appealed to me doubly. It was the beverage the old Northmen had
loved so much that the dead drank it in Valhalla. It was astonishing
that it could still be had. How nice it must be! I was allowed to taste
it and it surpassed all my expectations. Sweeter than sugar! More
delicious than anything else on earth that I had tasted! But if you
drank more than a very small glass of it, you felt sick.
And I profoundly admired the dead warriors for having been able to toss
off mead from large drinking-horns and eat fat pork with it. What a
choice! And they never had stomach-ache!
On the ground floor was the shop, which occupied the entire breadth and
nearly the entire depth of the house, a silk and cloth business, large,
according to the ideas of the time, which was managed by my father and
grandfather together until my eleventh year, when Father began to deal
wholesale on his own account. It was nice in the shop, because when you
went down the assistants would take you round the waist and lift you
over to the other side of the semi-circular counter which divided them
from the customers. The assistants were pleasant, dignified gentlemen,
of fine appearance and behaviour, friendly without wounding
Between my fifth and sixth years some alterations were done at the shop,
which was consequently closed to me for a long time. When it was once
more accessible I stood amazed at the change. A long, glass-covered
gallery had been added, in which the wares lay stored on new shelves.
The extension of the premises was by no means inconsiderable, and
simultaneously an extension had been made in the staff. Among the new
arrivals was an apprentice named Gerhard, who was as tall as a grown
man, but must have been very young, for he talked to me, a six-year-old
child, like a companion. He was very nice-looking, and knew it. "You
don't want harness when you have good hips," he would say, pointing to
his mightily projecting loins. This remark made a great impression upon
me, because it was the first time I had heard anyone praise his own
appearance. I knew that one ought not to praise one's self and that
self-praise was no recommendation. So I was astonished to find that
self-praise in Gerhard's mouth was not objectionable; in fact, it
actually suited him. Gerhard often talked of what a pleasure it was to
go out in the evenings and enjoy one's self--what the devil did it
matter what old people said?--and listen to women singing--amusements
which his hearer could not manage to picture very clearly to himself.
It soon began to be said that Gerhard was not turning out well. The
manner in which he procured the money for his pleasures resulted, as I
learnt long afterwards, in his sudden dismissal. But he had made some
slight impression on my boyish fancy--given me a vague idea of a
heedless life of enjoyment, and of youthful defiance.
On the landing which led from the shop to the stockroom behind, my
grandfather took up his position. He looked very handsome up there, with
his curly white hair. Thence, like a general, he looked down on
everything--on the customers, the assistants, the apprentices, both
before and behind him. If some specially esteemed lady customer came
into the shop, he hurriedly left his exalted position to give advice. If
the shopman's explanations failed to satisfy her, he put things right.
He was at the zenith of his strength, vigour, and apparently of his
The glory vanished, because from the start he had worked his way up
without capital. The Hamburg firm that financed the business lent money
at too high a rate of interest and on too hard conditions for it to
continue to support two families.
But when later on my grandfather had his time at his own disposal, he
took up the intellectual interests which in his working years he had had
to repress. In his old age, for instance, he taught himself Italian, and
his visitors would find him, with Tasso's _Gerusalemme liberata_ in
front of him, looking out in a dictionary every word that presented any
difficulty to him, and of such there were many.
The old man was an ardent Buonapartist, and, strangely enough, an even
more ardent admirer of the Third Napoleon than of the First, because he
regarded him as shrewder, and was convinced that he would bequeath the
Empire to his son. But he and I came into collision on this point from
the time I was fourteen years of age. For I was of course a Republican,
and detested Napoleon III. for his breach of the Constitution, and used
to write secretly in impossible French, and in a still more impossible
metre (which was intended to represent hexameters and pentameters)
verses against the tyrant. An ode to the French language began:
"Ah! quelle langue magnifique, si belle, si riche, si sonore,
Langue qu'un despote cruel met aux liens et aux fers!"
On the subject of Napoleon III. grandfather and grandson could not
possibly agree. But this was the only subject on which we ever had any
My maternal grandfather was quite different, entirely devoid of
impetuosity, even-tempered, amiable, very handsome. He too had worked
his way up from straightened circumstances; in fact, it was only when he
was getting on for twenty that he had taught himself to read and write,
well-informed though he was at the time I write of. He had once been
apprentice to the widow of Moeller the dyer, when Oehlenschlaeger and the
Oersteds used to dine at the house. After the patriarchal fashion of the
day, he had sat daily at the same table as these great, much-admired
men, and he often told how he had clapped his hands till they almost
bled at Oehlenschlaeger's plays, in the years when, by reason of
Baggesen's attack, opinions about them at the theatre were divided.
My great-grandfather, the father of my mother's stepmother, who wore
high boots with a little tassel in front, belonged to an even older
generation. He used to say: "If I could only live to see a Danish man-
o'-war close with an English ship and sink it, I should be happy; the
English are the most disgraceful pack of robbers in the world." He was
so old that he had still a vivid recollection of the battle in the
roadstead and of the bombardment of Copenhagen.
School and Home were two different worlds, and it often struck me that I
led a double life. Six hours a day I lived under school discipline in
active intercourse with people none of whom were known to those at home,
and the other hours of the twenty-four I spent at home, or with
relatives of the people at home, none of whom were known to anybody at
On Oct. 1st, 1849, I was taken to school, led in through the sober-
looking doorway, and up into a classroom, where I was received by a
kindly man, the arithmetic master, who made me feel at my ease. I
noticed at once that when the master asked a boy anything which another
knew, this other had a right to publish his knowledge by holding up a
finger--a right of which I myself made an excessive use in the first
lessons, until I perceived the sense of not trying, in season and out of
season, to attract attention to my knowledge or superiority, and kept my
hands on the table in front of me.
Suddenly, with surprising vividness, a little incident of my childhood
rises up before me. I was ten years old. I had been ill in the Winter
and my parents had boarded me out in the country for the Summer
holidays; all the love of adventure in me surged up. At the Straw Market
a fat, greasy, grinning peasant promised to take me in his cart as far
as the little town of Farum, where I was to stay with the schoolmaster.
He charged two dalers, and got them. Any sum, of course, was the same to
me. I was allowed to drive the brown horses, that is to say, to hold the
reins, and I was in high glee. Where Farum was, I did not know and did
not care, but it was a new world. Until now I, who was a town child, had
seen nothing of the country except my nurse's house and land at
Glostrup,--but what lay in front of me was a village, a schoolhouse, a
large farm, in short an adventure in grand style.
I had my shirts and blouses and stockings in a portmanteau, and amongst
them a magnificent garment, never yet worn, a blue cloth jacket, and a
white waistcoat belonging to it, with gold buttons, which my mother had
given me permission to wear on Sundays. For days, I always wore blouses,
so the jacket implied a great step forward. I was eager to wear it, and
regretted profoundly that it was still only Monday.
Half-way there, the peasant pulled up. He explained to me that he could
not very well drive me any farther, so must put me down; he was not
going to Farum himself at all. But a peat cart was coming along the road
yonder, the driver of which was going to Farum, and he transferred me,
poor defenceless child as I was, to the other conveyance. He had had my
money; I had nothing to give the second man, and sadly I exchanged the
quick trot of the brown horses for the walking pace of the jades in the
My first experience of man's perfidy.
At last I was there. On a high, wide hill--high and wide as it seemed to
me then--towered the huge schoolhouse, a miniature Christiansborg
Castle, with the schoolmaster's apartments on the right and the
schoolroom on the left. And the schoolmaster came out smiling, holding a
pipe which was a good deal taller than I, held out his hand, and asked
me to come in, gave me coffee at once, and expressed the profoundest
contempt for the peasant who had charged two rigsdaler for such a
trifle, and then left me in the road. I asked at once for pen and
paper, and wrote in cipher to a comrade, with whom I had concocted this
mysterious means of communication, asking him to tell my parents that I
had been most kindly received. I felt a kind of shyness at the
schoolmaster seeing what I wrote home from his house. I gave him the
sheet, and begged him to fold it up, as I could not do it myself. There
were no envelopes in those days. But what was my surprise to hear him,
without further ado, read aloud with a smile, from my manufactured
cipher: "I have been most kindly received," etc. I had never thought
such keen-wittedness possible. And my respect for him and his long pipe
Just then there was a light knock at the door. In walked two girls, one
tall and one short, the former of whom positively bewildered me. She was
fair, her sister as dark as a negro. They were ten and eight years old
respectively, were named Henrietta and Nina K., came from Brazil, where
their home was, and were to spend a few years in Denmark; came as a rule
every day, but had now arrived specially to inspect the strange boy.
After gazing for two minutes at the lovely Henrietta's fair hair and
wonderful grey eyes, I disappeared from the room, and five minutes
afterwards reappeared again, clothed in the dark-blue jacket and the
white waistcoat with gold buttons, which I had been strictly forbidden
to wear except on Sundays. And from that time forth, sinner that I was,
I wore my Sunday clothes every blessed day,--but with what qualms of
I can still see lovely fields, rich in corn, along the sides of which we
played; we chased beautiful, gaudy butterflies, which we caught in our
hats and cruelly stuck on pins, and the little girls threw oats at my
new clothes, and if the oats stuck fast it meant something, sweethearts,
I believe. Sweethearts--and I!
Then we were invited to the manor, a big, stately house, a veritable
castle. There lived an old, and exceedingly handsome, white-haired
Chamberlain, called the General, who frequently dined with Frederik VII,
and invariably brought us children goodies from dessert, lovely large
pieces of barley sugar in papers with gay pictures on the outside of
shepherd lovers, and crackers with long paper fringes. His youngest son,
who owned a collection of insects and many other fine things, became my
sworn friend, which means that I was his, for he did not care in the
least about me; but I did not notice that, and I was happy and proud of
his friendship and sailed with him and lots of other boys and girls on
the pretty Farum lake, and every day was more convinced that I was quite
a man. It was a century since I had worn blouses.
Every morning I took all the newspapers to Dr. Doerr, the German tutor at
the castle, and every morning I accidentally met Henrietta, and after
that we were hardly separated all day. I had no name for the admiration
that attached me to her. I knew she was lovely, that was all. We were
anxious to read something together, and so read the whole of a
translation of _Don Quixote_, sitting cheek against cheek in the
summer-house. Of course, we did not understand one-half of it, and I
remember that we tried in vain to get an explanation of the frequently
recurring word "doxy"; but we laughed till we cried at what we did
understand. And after all, it is this first reading of _Don
Quixote_ which has dominated all my subsequent attempts to understand
But Henrietta had ways that I did not understand in the least; she used
to amuse herself by little machinations, was inventive and intriguing.
One day she demanded that I should play the school children, small,
white-haired boys and girls, all of whom we had long learnt to know, a
downright trick. I was to write a real love-letter to a nine-year-old
little girl named Ingeborg, from an eleven or twelve-year-old boy called
Per, and then Henrietta would sew a fragrant little wreath of flowers
round it. The letter was completed and delivered. But the only result of
it was that next day, as I was walking along the high road with
Henrietta, Per separated himself from his companions, called me a dandy
from Copenhagen, and asked me if I would fight. There was, of course, no
question of drawing back, but I remember very plainly that I was a
little aghast, for he was much taller and broader than I, and I had,
into the bargain, a very bad cause to defend. But we had hardly
exchanged the first tentative blows before I felt overwhelmingly
superior. The poor cub! He had not the slightest notion how to fight.
From my everyday school life in Copenhagen, I knew hundreds of tricks
and feints that he had never learnt, and as soon as I perceived this I
flung him into the ditch like a glove. He sprang up again, but, with
lofty indifference, I threw him a second time, till his head buzzed.
That satisfied me that I had not been shamed before Henrietta, who, for
that matter, took my exploit very coolly and did not fling me so much as
a word for it. However, she asked me if I would meet her the same
evening under the old May-tree. When we met, she had two long straps
with her, and at once asked me, somewhat mockingly and dryly, whether I
had the courage to let myself be bound. Of course I said I had,
whereupon, very carefully and thoroughly, she fastened my hands together
with the one strap. Could I move my arms? No. Then, with eager haste,
she swung the other strap and let it fall on my back. Again and again.
My first smart jacket was a well-thrashed one. She thoroughly enjoyed
exerting her strength. Naturally, my boyish ideas of honour would not
permit me to scream or complain; I merely stared at her with the
profoundest astonishment. She gave me no explanation, released my hands,
we each went our own way, and I avoided her the rest of my stay.
This was my first experience of woman's perfidy.
Still, I did not bear a grudge long, and the evening before I left we
met once again, at her request, and then she gave me the first and only
kiss, neither of us saying anything but the one word, "Good-bye."
I have never seen her since. I heard that she died twenty years ago in
Brazil. But two years after this, when I was feeling my first schoolboy
affection for an eleven-year-old girl, she silenced me at a children's
ball with the scoffing remark: "Ah! it was you who let Henrietta K.
thrash you under the May-tree at Farum." Yes, it was I. So cruel had my
fair lady been that she had not even denied herself the pleasure of
telling her friends of the ignominious treatment to which she had
subjected a comrade who, from pure feeling of honour, had not struck
This was my first real experience of feminine nature.
For nearly ten years I went to one and the same school. I came to know
the way there and back, to and from the three different places, all near
together, where my parents lived during the time, as I knew no other. In
that part of the town, all about the Round Tower, I knew, not only every
house, but every archway, every door, every window, every Paving-stone.
It all gradually imprinted itself so deeply upon me that in after years,
when gazing on foreign sights and foreign towns, even after I had been
living for a long time in the same place, I had a curious feeling that,
however beautiful and fascinating it all might be, or perhaps for that
very reason, it was dreamland, unreality, which would one day elude me
and vanish; reality was the Round Tower in Copenhagen and all that lay
about it. It was ugly, and altogether unattractive, but it was reality.
That you always found again.
Similarly, though in a somewhat different sense, the wooded landscape in
the neighbourhood of Copenhagen, to be exact, the view over the
Hermitage Meadows down to the Sound, as it appears from the bench
opposite the Slesvig Stone, the first and dearest type of landscape
beauty with which I became acquainted, was endowed to me with an imprint
of actuality which no other landscape since, be it never so lovely or
never so imposing, has ever been able to acquire.
The instruction at school was out of date, inasmuch as, in every branch,
it lacked intelligibility. The masters were also necessarily, in some
instances, anything but perfect, even when not lacking in knowledge of
their subject. Nevertheless, the instruction as a whole, especially when
one bears in mind how cheap it was, must be termed good, careful and
comprehensive; as a rule it was given conscientiously. When as a grown
up man I have cast my thoughts back, what has surprised me most is the
variety of subjects that were instilled into a boy in ten years. There
certainly were teachers so lacking in understanding of the proper way to
communicate knowledge that the instruction they gave was altogether
wasted. For instance, I learnt geometry for four or five years without
grasping the simplest elements of the science. The principles of it
remained so foreign to me that I did not even recognise a right-angled
triangle, if the right angle were uppermost. It so happened that the
year before I had to sit for my examinations, a young University student
in his first year, who had been only one class in front of the rest of
us, offered us afternoon instruction in trigonometry and spherical
geometry gratis, and all who appreciated the help that was being offered
to them streamed to his lessons. This young student, later Pastor Joergen
Lund, had a remarkable gift for mathematics, and gave his instruction
with a lucidity, a fire, and a swing that carried his hearers with him.
I, who had never before been able to understand a word of the subject,
became keenly interested in it, and before many lessons were over was
very well up in it. As Joergen Lund taught mathematics, so all the other
subjects ought to have been taught. We were obliged to be content with
Lessons might have been a pleasure. They never were, or rather, only the
Danish ones. But in childhood's years, and during the first years of
boyhood they were fertilising. As a boy they hung over me like a dread
compulsion; yet the compulsion was beneficial. It was only when I was
almost fourteen that I began inwardly to rebel against the time which
was wasted, that the stupidest and laziest of the boys might be enabled
to keep up with the industrious and intelligent. There was too much
consideration shown towards those who would not work or could not
understand. And from the time I was sixteen, school was my despair. I
had done with it all, was beyond it all, was too matured to submit to
the routine of lessons; my intellectual pulses no longer beat within the
limits of school. What absorbed my interest was the endeavour to become
master of the Danish language in prose and verse, and musings over the
mystery of existence. In school I most often threw up the sponge
entirely, and laid my head on my arms that I might neither see nor hear
what was going on around me.
There was another reason, besides my weariness of it all, which at this
latter period made my school-going a torture to me. I was by now
sufficiently schooled for my sensible mother to think it would be good
for me to make, if it were but a small beginning, towards earning my own
living. Or rather, she wanted me to earn enough to pay for my amusements
myself. So I tried, with success, to find pupils, and gave them lessons
chiefly on Sunday mornings; but in order to secure them I had called
myself _Studiosus_. Now it was an ever present terror with me lest
I should meet any of my pupils as I went to school in the morning, or
back at midday, with my books in a strap under my arm. Not to betray
myself, I used to stuff these books in the most extraordinary places,
inside the breast of my coat till it bulged, and in all my pockets till
School is a foretaste of life. A boy in a large Copenhagen school would
become acquainted, as it were in miniature, with Society in its entirety
and with every description of human character. I encountered among my
comrades the most varied human traits, from frankness to reserve, from
goodness, uprightness and kindness, to brutality and baseness.
In our quarter of an hour's playtime it was easy to see how cowardice
and meanness met with their reward in the boy commonwealth. There was a
Jewish boy of repulsive appearance, very easy to cow, with a positively
slavish disposition. Every single playtime his schoolfellows would make
him stand up against a wall and jump about with his feet close together
till playtime was over, while the others stood in front of him and
laughed at him. He became later a highly respected Conservative
In lesson time it was easy to see that the equality under one
discipline, under the hierarchy of merit, which was expressed in the
boys' places on the forms, from highest to lowest, was not maintained
when opposed to the very different hierarchy of Society. On the lowest
form sat a boy whose gifts were exceedingly mediocre, and who was
ignorant, moreover, from sheer laziness; to him were permitted things
forbidden to all the others: he was the heir of a large feudal barony.
He always came late to school, and even at that rode in followed by a
groom on a second horse. He wore a silk hat and, when he came into the
schoolroom, did not hang it up on the peg that belonged to him, where he
was afraid it might be interfered with, but in the school cupboard, in
which only the master was supposed to keep his things; and the tall hat
crowning so noble a head impressed the masters to such an extent that
not one of them asked for it to be removed. And they acquiesced like
lambs in the young lord's departure half-way through the last lesson, if
the groom happened to be there with his horse to fetch him.
It seemed impossible to drive knowledge of any sort into the head of
this young peer, and he was taken from school early. To what an extent
he must have worked later to make up for lost time was proved by
results. For he became nothing less than a Minister.
The reverence with which the boys, as youngsters, had looked up to the
masters, disappeared with striking rapidity. The few teachers in whose
lessons you could do what you liked were despised. The masters who knew
how to make themselves respected, only in exceptional cases inspired
affection. The love of mockery soon broke out. Children had not been at
school long before the only opinion they allowed scope to was that the
masters were the natural enemies of the boys. There was war between
them, and every stratagem was permissible. They were fooled, misled, and
plagued in every conceivable manner. Or they were feared and we
A little boy with a natural inclination to reverence and respect and who
brought both industry and good-will to his work, felt confused by all
the derogatory things he was constantly hearing about the masters, and,
long before he was half grown up, formed as one result of it the fixed
determination that, whatever he might be when he grew up, there was one
thing he would never, under any circumstances be, and that was--master
in a school.
From twelve years of age upwards, contempt for the masters was the
keynote of all conversation about them. The Latin master, a little,
insignificant-looking man, but a very good teacher, was said to be so
disgracefully enfeebled by debauchery that an active boy could throw him
without the least difficulty. The Natural History master, a clever,
outspoken young man, who would call out gaily: "Silence there, or you'll
get a dusting on the teapot that will make the spout fly off!" sank
deeply in our estimation when one of the boys told us that he spent his
evenings at music-halls. One morning there spread like wildfire through
the class the report that the reason the Natural History master had not
come that day was because he had got mixed up the night before in a
fight outside a music-pavilion. The contempt and the ridicule that were
heaped upon him in the conversation of the boys were immeasurable. When
he came next morning with a black, extravasated eye, which he bathed at
intervals with a rag, he was regarded by most of us as absolute scum.
The German master, a tall, good-looking man, was treated as utterly
incompetent because, when he asked a question in grammar or syntax, he
walked up and down with the book in front of him, and quite plainly
compared the answer with the book. We boys thought that anyone could be
a master, with a book in his hand. History and Geography were taught by
an old man, overflowing with good-humour, loquacious, but self-
confident, liked for his amiability, but despised for what was deemed
unmanliness in him. The boys pulled faces at him, and imitated his
expressions and mannerisms.
The Danish master, Professor H.P. Holst, was not liked. He evidently
took no interest in his scholastic labours, and did not like the boys.
His coolness was returned. And yet, that which was the sole aim and
object of his instruction he understood to perfection, and drilled into
us well. The unfortunate part of it was that there was hardly more than
one boy in the class who enjoyed learning anything about just that
particular thing. Instruction in Danish was, for Holst, instruction in
the metrical art. He explained every metre and taught the boys to pick
out the feet of which the verses were composed. When we made fun of him
in our playtime, it was for remarks which we had invented and placed in
his mouth ourselves; for instance: "Scan my immortal poem, _The Dying
Gladiator_." The reason of this was simply that, in elucidation of
the composition of the antique distich, he made use of his own poem of
the above name, which he had included in a Danish reading-book edited by
himself. As soon as he took up his position in the desk, he began:
"Hark ye the--storm of ap--plause from the--theatre's--echoing circle!
Go on, Moeller!"
How could he find it in his heart, his own poem!
The French master knew how to command respect; there was never a sound
during his lessons. He was altogether absorbed in his subject, was
absolutely and wholly a Frenchman; he did not even talk Danish with the
same accentuation as others, and he had the impetuous French disposition
of which the boys had heard. If a boy made a mess of his pronunciation,
he would bawl, from the depths of his full brown beard, which he was
fond of stroking: "You speak French _comme un paysan d'Amac_." When
he swore, he swore like a true Frenchman: _"Sacrebleu-Mops-Carot-ten-
Rapee!"_ [Footnote: Needless to say, this is impossible French,
composed chiefly of distorted Danish words. (Trans.)] If he got angry,
and he very often did, he would unhesitatingly pick up the full glass of
water that always stood in front of him on the desk, and in Gallic
exasperation fling it on the floor, when the glass would be smashed to
atoms and the water run about, whereupon he would quietly, with his
_Grand seigneur_ air, take his purse out of his pocket and lay the
money for the glass on the desk.
For a time I based my ideas of the French mind and manner upon this
master, although my uncle Jacob, who had lived almost all his life in
Paris, was a very different sort of Frenchman. It was only later that I
became acquainted with a word and an idea which it was well I did not
know, as far as the master's capacity for making an impression was
concerned--the word _affected_.
At last, one fine day, a little event occurred which was not without its
effect on the master's prestige, and yet aroused my compassion almost as
much as my surprise. The parents of one of my best friends were
expecting a French business friend for the evening. As they knew
themselves to be very weak in the language, they gave their son a polite
note to the French master, asking him to do them the honour of spending
the next evening at their house, on the occasion of this visit, which
rendered conversational support desirable. The master took the note,
which we two boys had handed to him, grew--superior though he usually
was--rather red and embarrassed, and promised a written reply. To our
astonishment we learnt that this reply was to the effect that he must
unfortunately decline the honour, as he had never been in France, had
never heard anyone speak French, and was not proficient in the language.
Thus this tiger of a savage Frenchman suddenly cast his tiger's skin and
revealed himself in his native wool.
Unfortunately, the instruction of this master left long and deep traces
upon me. When I was fifteen and my French uncle began to carry on his
conversations with me in French, the Parisian was appalled at my
abominable errors of pronunciation. The worst of them were weeded out in
those lessons. But there were enough left to bring a smile many a time
and oft to the lips of the refined young lady whom my friends procured
me as a teacher on my first visit to Paris.
Among the delights of Summer were picnics to the woods. There would be
several during the course of the season. When the weather seemed to
inspire confidence, a few phaetons would be engaged for the family and
their relations and friends, and some Sunday morning the seat of each
carriage would be packed full of good things. We took tablecloth and
serviettes with us, bread, butter, eggs and salmon, sausages, cold meat
and coffee, as well as a few bottles of wine. Then we drove to some
keeper's house, where for money and fair words they scalded the tea for
us, and the day's meal was seasoned with the good appetite which the
outdoor air gave us.
As a child I preserved an uncomfortable and instructive recollection of
one of these expeditions. The next day my mother said to me: "You
behaved very ridiculously yesterday, and made a laughing stock of
yourself." "How?" "You went on in front of the grown-up people all the
time, and sang at the top of your voice. In the first place, you ought
not to go in front, and in the next place, you should not disturb other
people by singing." These words made an indelible impression upon me,
for I was conscious that I had not in the least intended to push myself
forward or put on airs. I could only dimly recollect that I had been
singing, and I had done it for my own pleasure, not to draw attention to
I learnt from this experience that it was possible, without being
naughty or conceited, to behave in an unpleasing manner, understood that
the others, whom I had not been thinking about, had looked on me with
disfavour, had thought me a nuisance and ridiculous, my mother in
particular; and I was deeply humiliated at the thought.
It gradually dawned upon me that there was no one more difficult to
please than my mother. No one was more chary of praise than she, and she
had a horror of all sentimentality. She met me with superior
intelligence, corrected me, and brought me up by means of satire. It was
possible to impress my aunts, but not her. The profound dread she had of
betraying her feelings or talking about them, the shrewdness that dwelt
behind that forehead of hers, her consistently critical and clear-
sighted nature, the mocking spirit that was so conspicuous in her,
especially in her younger days, gave me, with regard to her, a
conviction that had a stimulating effect on my character--namely, that
not only had she a mother's affection for me, but that the two shrewd
and scrutinising eyes of a very clever head were looking down upon me.
Rational as she was through and through, she met my visionary
inclinations, both religious and philosophical, with unshaken common
sense, and if I were sometimes tempted, by lesser people's over-
estimating of my abilities, to over-estimate them myself, it was she
who, with inflexible firmness, urged her conviction of the limitations
of my nature. None of my weaknesses throve in my mother's neighbourhood.
This was the reason why, during the transitional years between boyhood
and adolescence, the years in which a boy feels a greater need of
sympathy than of criticism and of indulgence than of superiority, I
looked for and found comprehension as much from a somewhat younger
sister of my mother's as from the latter herself. This aunt was all
heart. She had an ardent, enthusiastic brain, was full of tenderness and
goodness and the keenest feeling for everything deserving of sympathy,
not least for me, while she had not my mother's critical understanding.
Her judgment might be obscured by passion; she sometimes allowed herself
to be carried to imprudent extremes; she had neither Mother's
equilibrium nor her satirical qualities. She was thus admirably adapted
to be the confidant of a big boy whom she gave to understand that she
regarded as extraordinarily gifted. When these transitional years were
over, Mother resumed undisputed sway, and the relations between us
remained in all essentials the same, even after I had become much her
superior in knowledge and she in some things my pupil. So that it
affected me very much when, many years after, my younger brother said to
me somewhat sadly: "Has it struck you, too, that Mother is getting old?"
"No, not at all," I replied. "What do you think a sign of it?" "I think,
God help me, that she is beginning to admire us."
My mind, like that of all other children, had been exercised by the
great problem of the mystery of our coming into the world. I was no
longer satisfied with the explanation that children were brought by the
stork, or with that other, advanced with greater seriousness, that they
drifted up in boxes, which were taken up out of Peblinge Lake. As a
child I tormented my mother with questions as to how you could tell whom
every box was for. That the boxes were numbered, did not make things
much clearer. That they were provided with addresses, sounded very
strange. Who had written the addresses? I then had to be content with
the assurance that it was a thing that I was too small to understand; it
should be explained to me when I was older.
My thoughts were not directed towards the other sex. I had no little
girl playfellows, and as I had no sister, knew very few. When I was
eight or nine years old, it is true, there was one rough and altogether
depraved boy whose talk touched upon the sexual question in expressions
that were coarse and in a spirit coarser still. I was scoffed at for not
knowing how animals propagated themselves, and that human beings
propagated themselves like animals.
I replied: "My parents, at any rate, never behaved in any such manner."
Then, with the effrontery of childhood, my schoolfellows went on to the
most shameless revelations, not only about a morbid development of
natural instincts, but actual crimes against nature and against the
elementary laws of society. In other words, I was shown the most
repulsive, most agitating picture of everything touching the relations
of the sexes and the propagation of the species.
It is probable that most boys in a big school have the great mystery of
Nature sullied for them in their tender years by coarseness and
depravity. Whereas, in ancient Greek times, the mystery was holy, and
with a pious mind men worshipped the Force of Nature without exaggerated
prudery and without shamelessness, such conditions are impossible in a
society where for a thousand years Nature herself has been depreciated
by Religion, associated with sin and the Devil, stamped as unmentionable
and in preference denied, in which, for that very reason, brutality
takes so much more terrible a satisfaction and revenge. As grown-up
people never spoke of the forces of Nature in a pure and simple manner,
it became to the children a concealed thing. Individual children, in
whom the sexual impulse had awakened early, were taught its nature by
bestial dispositions, and the knowledge was interpreted by them with
childish shamelessness. These children then filled the ears of their
comrades with filth.
In my case, the nastiness hit, and rebounded, without making any
impression. I was only infected by the tone of the other scholars in so
far as I learnt from them that it was manly to use certain ugly words.
When I was twelve years old, my mother surprised me one day, when I was
standing alone on the stairs, shouting these words out. I was reproved
for it, and did not do it again.
I hardly ever met little girls except at children's balls, and in my
early childhood I did not think further of any of them. But when I was
twelve years old I caught my first strong glimpse of one of the
fundamental forces of existence, whose votary I was destined to be for
It was revealed to me for the first time in the person of a slender,
light-footed little girl, whose name and personality secretly haunted my
brain for many a year.
One of my uncles was living that Summer in America Road, which at that
time was quite in the country, and there was a beautiful walk thence
across the fields to a spot called _The Signal_, where you could
watch the trains go by from Copenhagen's oldest railway station, which
was not situated on the western side of the town, where the present
stations are. Near here lived a family whose youngest daughter used to
run over almost every day to my uncle's country home, to play with the
She was ten years old, as brown as a gipsy, as agile as a roe, and from
her childish face, from all the brown of her hair, eyes, and skin, from
her smile and her speech, glowed, rang, and as it were, struck me, that
overwhelming and hitherto unknown force, Beauty. I was twelve, she was
ten. Our acquaintance consisted of playing touch, not even alone
together, but with other children; I can see her now rushing away from
me, her long plaits striking against her waist. But although this was
all that passed between us, we both had a feeling as of a mysterious
link connecting us. It was delightful to meet. She gave me a pink. She
cut a Queen of Hearts out of a pack of cards, and gave it to me; I
treasured it for the next five years like a sacred thing.
That was all that passed between us and more there never was, even when
at twelve years of age, at a children's ball, she confessed to me that
she had kept everything I had given her--gifts of the same order as her
own. But the impression of her beauty filled my being.
Some one had made me a present of some stuffed humming-birds, perched on
varnished twigs under a glass case. I always looked at them while I was
reading in the nursery; they stood on the bookshelves which were my
special property. These birds with their lovely, shining, gay-coloured
plumage, conveyed to me my first impression of foreign or tropical
vividness of colouring. All that I was destined to love for a long time
had something of that about it, something foreign and afar off.
The girl was Danish as far as her speech was concerned, but not really
Danish by descent, either on her father or her mother's side; her name,
too, was un-Danish. She spoke English at home and was called Mary at my
uncle's, though her parents called her by another name. All this
combined to render her more distinctive.
Once a year I met her at a children's ball; then she had a white dress
on, and was, in my eyes, essentially different from all the other little
girls. One morning, after one of these balls, when I was fourteen, I
felt in a most singular frame of mind, and with wonder and reverence at
what I was about to do, regarding myself as dominated by a higher,
incomprehensible force, I wrote the first poetry I ever composed.
There were several strophes of this heavenly poetry. Just because I so
seldom met her, it was like a gentle earthquake in my life, when I did.
I had accustomed myself to such a worship of her name that, for me, she
hardly belonged to the world of reality at all. But when I was sixteen
and I met her again, once more at a young people's ball, the glamour
suddenly departed. Her appearance had altered and corresponded no longer
to my imaginary picture of her. When we met in the dance she pressed my
hand, which made me indignant, as though it were an immodest thing. She
was no longer a fairy. She had broad shoulders, a budding bust, warm
hands; there was youthful coquetry about her--something that, to me,
seemed like erotic experience. I soon lost sight of her. But I retained
a sentiment of gratitude towards her for what, as a ten-year-old child,
she had afforded me, this naturally supernatural impression, my first
revelation of Beauty.
The person upon whom the schoolboys' attention centred was, of course,
the Headmaster. To the very young ones, the Headmaster was merely
powerful and paternal, up above everything. As soon as the critical
instinct awoke, its utterances were specially directed, by the evil-
disposed, at him, petty and malicious as they were, and were echoed
slavishly by the rest.
As the Head was a powerful, stout, handsome, distinguished-looking man
with a certain stamp of joviality and innocent good-living about him,
these malicious tongues, who led the rest, declared that he only lived
for his stomach. In the next place, the old-fashioned punishment of
caning, administered by the Head himself in his private room, gave some
cause of offence. It was certainly only very lazy and obdurate boys who
were thus punished; for others such methods were never even dreamt of.
But when they were ordered to appear in his room after school-time, and
the Head took them between his knees, thrashed them well and then
afterwards caressed them, as though to console them, he created ill-
feeling, and his dignity suffered. If there were some little sense in
the disgust occasioned by this, there was certainly none at all in
certain other grievances urged against him.
It was the ungraceful custom for the boys, on the first of the month, to
bring their own school fees. In the middle of one of the lessons the
Head would come into the schoolroom, take his seat at the desk, and
jauntily and quickly sweep five-daler bills [Footnote: Five daler, a
little over 11/--English money.] into his large, soft hat and thence
into his pockets. One objection to this arrangement was that the few
poor boys who went to school free were thus singled out to their
schoolfellows, bringing no money, which they felt as a humiliation. In
the next place, the sight of the supposed wealth that the Head thus
became possessed of roused ill-feeling and derision. It became the
fashion to call him boy-dealer, because the school, which in its palmy
days had 550 scholars, was so well attended. This extraordinary influx,
which in all common sense ought to have been regarded as a proof of the
high reputation of the school, was considered a proof of the Head's
It must be added that there was in his bearing, which was evidently and
with good reason, calculated to impress, something that might justly
appear unnatural to keen-sighted boys. He always arrived with blustering
suddenness; he always shouted in a stentorian voice, and, when he gave
the elder boys a Latin lesson, he always appeared, probably from
indolence, a good deal behind time, but to make up, and as though there
were not a second to waste, began to hurl his questions at them the
moment he arrived on the threshold. He liked the pathetic, and was
certainly a man with a naturally warm heart. On a closer acquaintance,
he would have won much affection, for he was a clever man and a gay,
optimistic figure. As the number of his scholars was so great, he
produced more effect at a distance.
Neither he nor any of the other masters reproduced the atmosphere of the
classical antiquity round which all the instruction of the Latin side
centred. The master who taught Greek the last few years did so, not only
with sternness, but with a distaste, in fact, a positive hatred for his
class, which was simply disgusting.
The Head, who had the gift of oratory, communicated to us some idea of
the beauty of Latin poetry, but the rest of the instruction in the dead
languages was purely grammatical, competent and conscientious though the
men who gave it might have been. Madvig's [Translator's note: Johan
Nicolai Madvig (1804-1886), a very celebrated Danish philologist, for
fifty years professor at the University of Copenhagen. He is especially
noted for his editions of the ancient classics, with critical notes on
the text, and for his Latin Grammar.] spirit brooded over the school.
Still, there was no doubt in the Head's mind as to the greatness of
Virgil or Horace, so that a boy with perception of stylistic emphasis
and metre could not fail to be keenly interested in the poetry of these
two men. Being the boy in the class of whom the Head entertained the
greatest hopes, I began at once secretly to translate them. I made a
Danish version of the second and fourth books of the Aeneid Danicised a
good part of the Songs and Epistles of Horace in imperfect verse.
Nothing was ever said at home about any religious creed. Neither of my
parents was in any way associated with the Jewish religion, and neither
of them ever went to the Synagogue. As in my maternal grandmother's
house all the Jewish laws about eating and drinking were observed, and
they had different plates and dishes for meat and butter and a special
service for Easter, orthodox Judaism, to me, seemed to be a collection
of old, whimsical, superstitious prejudices, which specially applied to