Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Recollections Of My Childhood And Youth by George Brandes

Part 2 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

food. The poetry of it was a sealed book to me. At school, where I was
present at the religious instruction classes as an auditor only, I
always heard Judaism alluded to as merely a preliminary stage of
Christianity, and the Jews as the remnant of a people who, as a
punishment for slaying the Saviour of the world, had been scattered all
over the earth. The present-day Israelites were represented as people
who, urged by a stiff-necked wilfulness and obstinacy and almost
incomprehensible callousness, clung to the obsolete religious ideal of
the stern God in opposition to the God of Love.

When I attempted to think the matter out for myself, it annoyed me that
the Jews had not sided with Jesus, who yet so clearly betokened progress
within the religion that He widened and unintentionally overthrew. The
supernatural personality of Jesus did not seem credible to me. The
demand made by faith, namely, that reason should be fettered, awakened a
latent rebellious opposition, and this opposition was fostered by my
mother's steady rationalism, her unconditional rejection of every
miracle. When the time came for me to be confirmed, in accordance with
the law, I had advanced so far that I looked down on what lay before me
as a mere burdensome ceremony. The person of the Rabbi only inspired me
with distaste; his German pronunciation of Danish was repulsive and
ridiculous to me. The abominable Danish in which the lesson-book was
couched offended me, as I had naturally a fine ear for Danish.
Information about ancient Jewish customs and festivals was of no
interest to me, with my modern upbringing. The confirmation, according
to my mocking summary of the impression produced by it, consisted mainly
in the hiring of a tall silk hat from the hat-maker, and the sending of
it back next day, sanctified. The silly custom was at that time
prevalent for boys to wear silk hats for the occasion, idiotic though
they made them look. With these on their heads, they went, after
examination, up the steps to a balustrade where a priest awaited,
whispered a few affecting words in their ear about their parents or
grandparents, and laid his hand in blessing upon the tall hat. When
called upon to make my confession of faith with the others, I certainly
joined my first "yes," this touching a belief in a God, to theirs, but
remained silent at the question as to whether I believed that God had
revealed Himself to Moses and spoken by His prophets. I did not believe

I was, for that matter, in a wavering frame of mind unable to arrive at
any clear understanding. What confused me was the unveracious manner in
which historical instruction, which was wholly theological, was given.
The History masters, for instance, told us that when Julian the Apostate
wanted to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem, flames had shot out of the
earth, but they interpreted this as a miracle, expressing the Divine
will. If this were true--and I was unable to refute it then--God had
expressly taken part against Judaism and the Jews as a nation. The
nation, in that case, seemed to be really cursed by Him. Still,
Christianity fundamentally repelled me by its legends, its dogmatism,
and its church rites. The Virgin birth, the three persons in the
Trinity, and the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in particular, seemed to
me to be remnants of the basest barbarism of antiquity.

Under these circumstances, my young soul, feeling the need of something
it could worship, fled from Asia's to Europe's divinities, from
Palestine to Hellas, and clung with vivid enthusiasm to the Greek world
of beauty and the legends of its Gods. From all the learned education I
had had, I only extracted this one thing: an enthusiasm for ancient
Hellas and her Gods; they were my Gods, as they had been those of
Julian. Apollo and Artemis, Athene and Eros and Aphrodite grew to be
powers that I believed in and rejoiced over in a very different sense
from any God revealed on Sinai or in Emmaus. They were near to me.

And under these circumstances the Antiquities Room at Charlottenburg,
where as a boy I had heard Hoeyen's lectures, grew to be a place that I
entered with reverence, and Thorwaldsen's Museum my Temple, imperfectly
though it reproduced the religious and heroic life and spirit of the
Greeks. But at that time I knew no other, better door to the world of
the Gods than the Museum offered, and Thorwaldsen and the Greeks, from
fourteen to fifteen, were in my mind merged in one. Thorwaldsen's Museum
was to me a brilliant illustration of Homer. There I found my Church, my
Gods, my soul's true native land.


I had for several years been top of my class, when a boy was put in who
was quite three years older than I, and with whom it was impossible for
me to compete, so much greater were the newcomer's knowledge and
maturity. It very soon became a settled thing for the new boy always to
be top, and I invariably No. 2. However, this was not in the least
vexatious to me; I was too much wrapped up in Sebastian for that. The
admiration which as a child I had felt for boys who distinguished
themselves by muscular strength was manifested now for superiority in
knowledge or intelligence. Sebastian was tall, thin, somewhat disjointed
in build, with large blue eyes, expressive of kindness, and
intelligence; he was thoroughly well up in all the school subjects, and
with the ripeness of the older boy, could infer the right thing even
when he did not positively know it. The reason why he was placed at
lessons so late was doubtless to be found in the narrow circumstances of
his parents. They considered that they had not the means to allow him to
follow the path towards which his talents pointed. But the Head, as
could be seen on pay days, was now permitting him to come to school
free. He went about among his jacketed schoolfellows in a long frock
coat, the skirts of which flapped round his legs.

No. 2 could not help admiring No. 1 for the confidence with which he
disported himself among the Greek aorists, in the labyrinths of which I
myself often went astray, and for the knack he had of solving
mathematical problems. He was, moreover, very widely read in belles
lettres, and had almost a grown-up man's taste with regard to books at a
time when I still continued to admire P.P.'s [Footnote: P.P. was a
writer whose real name was Rumohr. He wrote a number of historical
novels of a patriotic type, but which are only read by children up to
14.] novels, and was incapable of detecting the inartistic quality and
unreality of his popular descriptions of the exploits of sailor heroes.
As soon as my eyes were opened to the other's advanced acquirements, I
opened my heart to him, gave him my entire confidence, and found in my
friend a well of knowledge and superior development from which I felt a
daily need to draw.

When at the end of the year the large number of newcomers made it
desirable for the class to be divided, it was a positive blow to me that
in the division, which was effected by separating the scholars according
to their numbers, odd or even, Sebastian and I found ourselves in
different classes. I even took the unusual step of appealing to the Head
to be put in the same class as Sebastian, but was refused.

However, childhood so easily adapts itself to a fresh situation that
during the ensuing year, in which I myself advanced right gaily, not
only did I feel no lack, but I forgot my elder comrade. And at the
commencement of the next school year, when the two parallel classes,
through several boys leaving, were once more united, and I again found
myself No. 2 by the side of my one-time friend, the relations between us
were altogether altered, so thoroughly so, in fact, that our roles were
reversed. If formerly the younger had hung upon the elder's words, now
it was the other way about. If formerly Sebastian had shown the interest
in me that the half-grown man feels for a child, now I was too absorbed
by my own interests to wish for anything but a listener in him when I
unfolded the supposed wealth of my ideas and my soaring plans for the
future, which betrayed a boundless ambition. I needed a friend at this
stage only in the same sense as the hero in French tragedies requires a
confidant, and if I attached myself as before, wholly and completely to
him, it was for this reason. It is true that the other was still a good
deal in front of me in actual knowledge, so that there was much I had to
consult him about; otherwise our friendship would hardly have lasted;
but the importance of this superiority was slight, inasmuch as Sebastian
henceforward voluntarily subordinated himself to me altogether; indeed,
by his ready recognition of my powers, contributed more than anyone else
to make me conscious of these powers and to foster a self-esteem which
gradually assumed extraordinary forms.


This self-esteem, in its immaturity, was of a twofold character. It was
not primarily a belief that I was endowed with unusual abilities, but a
childish belief that I was one set apart, with whom, for mysterious
reasons, everything must succeed. The belief in a personal God had
gradually faded away from me, and there were times when, with the
conviction of boyhood, I termed myself an atheist to my friend; my
attitude towards the Greek gods had never been anything more than a
personification of the ideal forces upon which I heaped my enthusiasm.
But I believed in my star. And I hypnotised my friend into the same
belief, infected him so that he talked as if he were consecrating his
life to my service, and really, as far as was possible for a schoolboy,
lived and breathed exclusively for me, I, for my part, being gratified
at having, as my unreserved admirer and believer, the one whom, of all
people I knew, I placed highest, the one whose horizon seemed to me the
widest, and whose store of knowledge was the greatest; for in many
subjects it surpassed even that of the masters in no mean degree.

Under such conditions, when I was fifteen or sixteen, I was deeply
impressed by a book that one might think was infinitely beyond the
understanding of my years, Lermontof's _A Hero of Our Time_, in
Xavier Marmier's French translation. The subject of it would seem
utterly unsuited to a schoolboy who had never experienced anything in
the remotest degree resembling the experiences of a man of the world, at
any rate those which produced the sentiments pervading this novel.
Nevertheless, this book brought about a revolution in my ideas. For the
first time I encountered in a book a chief character who was not a
universal hero, a military or naval hero whom one had to admire and if
possible imitate, but one in whom, with extreme emotion, I fancied that
I recognised myself!

I had certainly never acted as Petsjorin did, and never been placed in
such situations as Petsjorin. No woman had ever loved me, still less had
I ever let a woman pay with suffering the penalty of her affection for
me. Never had any old friend of mine come up to me, delighted to see me
again, and been painfully reminded, by my coolness and indifference, how
little he counted for in my life. Petsjorin had done with life; I had
not even begun to live. Petsjorin had drained the cup of enjoyment; I
had never tasted so much as a drop of it. Petsjorin was as blase as a
splendid Russian Officer of the Guards could be; I, as full of
expectation as an insignificant Copenhagen schoolboy could be.
Nevertheless, I had the perplexing feeling of having, for the first time
in my life, seen my inmost nature, hitherto unknown even to myself,
understood, interpreted, reproduced, magnified, in this unharmonious
work of the Russian poet who was snatched away so young.


The first element whence the imaginary figure which I fancied I
recognized again in Lermontof had its rise was doubtless to be found in
the relations between my older friend and myself (in the reversal of our
roles, and my consequent new feeling of superiority over him). The
essential point, however, was not the comparatively accidental shape in
which I fancied I recognised myself, but that what was at that time
termed _reflection_ had awaked in me, introspection, self-
consciousness, which after all had to awake some day, as all other
impulses awake when their time comes. This introspection was not,
however, by any means a natural or permanent quality in me, but on the
contrary one which made me feel ill at ease and which I soon came to
detest. During these transitional years, as my pondering over myself
grew, I felt more and more unhappy and less and less sure of myself. The
pondering reached its height, as was inevitable, when there arose the
question of choosing a profession and of planning the future rather than
of following a vocation. But as long as this introspection lasted, I had
a torturing feeling that my own eye was watching me, as though I were a
stranger, a feeling of being the spectator of my own actions, the
auditor of my own words, a double personality who must nevertheless one
day become one, should I live long enough. After having, with a friend,
paid a visit to Kaalund, who was prison instructor at Vridsloeselille at
the time and showed us young fellows the prison and the cells, I used to
picture my condition to myself as that of a prisoner enduring the
torture of seeing a watchful eye behind the peep-hole in the door. I had
noticed before, in the Malmoe prison, how the prisoners tried to besmear
this glass, or scratch on it, with a sort of fury, so that it was often
impossible to see through it. My natural inclination was to act naively,
without premeditation, and to put myself wholly into what I was doing.
The cleavage that introspection implies, therefore, was a horror to me;
all bisection, all dualism, was fundamentally repellent to me; and it
was consequently no mere chance that my first appearance as a writer was
made in an attack on a division and duality in life's philosophy, and
that the very title of my first book was a branding and rejection of a
_Dualism_. So that it was only when my self-contemplation, and with
it the inward cleavage, had at length ceased, that I attained to
quietude of mind.


Thus violently absorbing though the mental condition here suggested was,
it was not permanent. It was childish and child-like by virtue of my
years; the riper expressions which I here make use of to describe it
always seem on the verge of distorting its character. My faith in my
lucky star barely persisted a few years unassailed. My childish idea had
been very much strengthened when, at fifteen years of age, in the first
part of my finishing examination, I received _Distinction_ in all
my subjects, and received a mighty blow when, at seventeen, I only had
_Very Good_ in five subjects, thus barely securing Distinction for
the whole.

I ceased to preoccupy myself about my likeness to Petsjorin after having
recovered from a half, or quarter, falling in love, an unharmonious
affair, barren of results, which I had hashed up for myself through
fanciful and affected reverie, and which made me realise the fundamental
simplicity of my own nature,--and I then shook off the unnatural
physiognomy like a mask. Belief in my own unbounded superiority and the
absolutely unmeasured ambition in which this belief had vented itself,
collapsed suddenly when at the age of eighteen, feeling my way
independently for the first time, and mentally testing people, I learnt
to recognise the real mental superiority great writers possess. It was
chiefly my first reading of the principal works of Kierkegaard that
marked this epoch in my life. I felt, face to face with the first great
mind that, as it were, had personally confronted me, all my real
insignificance, understood all at once that I had as yet neither lived
nor suffered, felt nor thought, and that nothing was more uncertain than
whether I might one day evince talent. The one certain thing was that my
present status seemed to amount to nothing at all.


In those boyhood's years, however, I revelled in ideas of greatness to
come which had not so far received a shock. And I was in no doubt as to
the domain in which when grown up I should distinguish myself. All my
instincts drew me towards Literature. The Danish compositions which were
set at school absorbed all my thoughts from week to week; I took the
greatest pains with them, weighed the questions from as many sides as I
could and endeavoured to give good form and style to my compositions.
Unconsciously I tried to find expressions containing striking contrasts;
I sought after descriptive words and euphonious constructions. Although
not acquainted with the word style in any other sense than that it bears
in the expression "style-book," the Danish equivalent for what in
English is termed an "exercise-book," I tried to acquire a certain
style, and was very near falling into mannerism, from sheer
inexperience, when a sarcastic master, to my distress, reminded me one
day of Heiberg's words: "The unguent of expression, smeared thickly over
the thinness of thoughts."


Together with a practical training in the use of the language, the
Danish lessons afforded a presentment of the history of our national
literature, given intelligently and in a very instructive manner by a
master named Driebein, who, though undoubtedly one of the many
Heibergians of the time, did not in any way deviate from what might be
termed the orthodoxy of literary history. Protestantism carried it
against Roman Catholicism, the young Oehlenschlaeger against Baggesen,
Romanticism against Rationalism; Oehlenschlaeger as the Northern poet of
human nature against a certain Bjoernson, who, it was said, claimed to be
more truly Norse than he. In Mr. Driebein's presentment, no recognised
great name was ever attacked. And in his course, as in Thortsen's
History of Literature, literature which might be regarded as historic
stopped with the year 1814.

The order in which in my private reading I became acquainted with Danish
authors was as follows: Ingemann, Oehlenschlaeger, Grundtvig, Poul
Moeller, many books by these authors having been given me at Christmas
and on birthdays. At my grandfather's, I eagerly devoured Heiberg's
vaudevilles as well. As a child, of course, I read uncritically, merely
accepting and enjoying. But when I heard at school of Baggesen's
treatment of Oehlenschlaeger, thus realising that there had been various
tendencies in literature at that time, and various opinions as to which
was preferable, I read with enthusiasm a volume of selected poems by
Baggesen, which I had had one Christmas, and the treatment of language
in it fascinated me exceedingly, with its gracefulness and light,
conversational tone. Then, when Hertz's [Footnote: Henrik Hertz, a
Danish poet (1797-1870), published "Ghost Letters" anonymously, and
called them thus because in language and spirit they were a kind of
continuation of the long-deceased Baggesen's rhymed contribution to a
literary dispute of his day. Hertz, like the much greater Baggesen, laid
great stress upon precise and elegant form.--[Translator's note.]]
_Ghost Letters_ fell into my hands one day, and the diction of them
appealed to me almost more, I felt myself, first secretly, afterwards
more consciously, drawn towards the school of form in Danish literature,
and rather enjoyed being a heretic on this point. For to entertain
kindly sentiments for the man who had dared to profane Oehlenschlaeger
was like siding with Loki against Thor. Poul Moeller's Collected Works I
had received at my confirmation, and read again and again with such
enthusiasm that I almost wore the pages out, and did not skip a line,
even of the philosophical parts, which I did not understand at all. But
Hertz's Lyrical Poems, which I read in a borrowed copy, gave me as much
pleasure as Poul Moeller's Verses had done. And for a few years, grace
and charm, and the perfect control of language and poetic form, were in
my estimation the supreme thing until, on entering upon my eighteenth
year, a violent reaction took place, and resonance, power and grandeur
alone seemed to have value. From Hertz my sympathies went over to
Christian Winther, from Baggesen to Homer, Aeschylus, the Bible,
Shakespeare, Goethe. One of the first things I did as a student was to
read the Bible through in Danish and the Odyssey in Greek.


The years of approaching maturity were still distant, however, and my
inner life was personal, not real, so that an element of fermentation
was cast into my mind when a copy of Heine's _Buch der Lieder_ was
one day lent to me. What took my fancy in it was, firstly, the
combination of enthusiasm and wit, then its terse, pithy form, and after
that the parts describing how the poet and his lady love, unable to
overcome the shyness which binds their tongues, involuntarily play hide
and seek with one another and lose each other; for I felt that I should
be equally unable to find natural and simple expression for my feelings,
should things ever come to such a pass with me. Of Heine's personality,
of the poet's historic position, political tendencies or importance, I
knew nothing; in these love-poems I looked more especially for those
verses in which violent self-esteem and blase superiority to every
situation find expression, because this fell in with the Petsjorin note,
which, since reading Lermontof's novel, was the dominant one in my mind.
As was my habit in those years, when it was still out of the question
for me to buy books that pleased me, I copied out of the _Buch der
Lieder_ all that I liked best, that I might read it again.


Of all this life of artistic desire and seeking, of external
impressions, welcomed with all the freshness and impulsiveness of a
boy's mind, but most of self-study and self-discovery, the elder of the
two comrades was a most attentive spectator, more than a spectator. He
made use of expressions and said things which rose to my head and made
me conceited. Sebastian would make such a remark as: "It is not for your
abilities that I appreciate you, it is for your enthusiasm. All other
people I know are machines without souls, at their best full of
affected, set phrases, such as one who has peeped behind the scenes
laughs at; but in you there is a fulness of ideality too great for you
ever to be happy." "Fulness of ideality" was the expression of the time
for the supremest quality of intellectual equipment. No wonder, then,
that I felt flattered.

And my older comrade united a perception of my mental condition, which
unerringly perceived its immaturity, with a steadfast faith in a future
for me which in spite of my arrogance, I thirsted to find in the one of
all others who knew me best and was most plainly my superior in
knowledge. One day, when I had informed him that I felt "more mature and
clearer about myself," he replied, without a trace of indecision, that
this was undoubtedly a very good thing, if it were true, but that he
suspected I was laboring under a delusion. "I am none the less
convinced," he added, "that you will soon reach a crisis, will overcome
all obstacles and attain the nowadays almost giant's goal that you have
set before you." This goal, for that matter, was very indefinite, and
was to the general effect that I intended to make myself strongly felt,
and bring about great changes in the intellectual world; of what kind,
was uncertain.

Meanwhile, as the time drew near for us to enter the University, and I
approached the years of manhood which the other, in spite of his modest
position as schoolboy, had already long attained, Sebastian grew utterly
miserable. He had, as he expressed it, made up his mind to be my
_Melanchthon_. But through an inward collapse which I could not
understand he now felt that the time in which he could be anything to me
had gone by; it seemed to him that he had neglected to acquire the
knowledge and the education necessary, and he reproached himself
bitterly. "I have not been in the least what I might have been to you,"
he exclaimed one day, and without betraying it he endured torments of
jealousy, and thought with vexation and anxiety of the time when a
larger circle would be opened to me in the University, and he himself
would become superfluous.

His fear was thus far unfounded, that, naive in my selfishness, as in my
reliance on him, I still continued to tell him everything, and in return
constantly sought his help when philological or mathematical
difficulties which I could not solve alone presented themselves to me.

But I had scarcely returned to Copenhagen, after my first journey abroad
(a very enjoyable four weeks' visit to Goeteborg), I had scarcely been a
month a freshman, attending philosophical lectures and taking part in
student life than the dreaded separation between us two so differently
constituted friends came to pass. The provocation was trifling, in fact
paltry. One day I was standing in the lecture-room with a few fellow-
students before a lecture began, when a freshman hurried up to us and
asked: "Is it true, what Sebastian says, that he is the person you think
most of in the world?" My reply was: "Did he say that himself?" "Yes."
And, disgusted that the other should have made such a remark in order to
impress perfect strangers, though it might certainly very easily have
escaped him in confidence, I said hastily: "Oh! he's mad!" which
outburst, bearing in mind young people's use of the word "mad," was
decidedly not to be taken literally, but was, it is quite true, ill-
naturedly meant.

The same evening I received a short note from Sebastian in which, though
in polite terms, he repudiated his allegiance and fidelity; the letter,
in which the polite form _you_ was used instead of the accustomed
_thou_, was signed: "Your 'mad' and 'foolish,' but respectful

The impression this produced upon me was exceedingly painful, but an
early developed mental habit of always accepting a decision, and a
vehement repugnance to renew any connection deliberately severed by
another party, resulted in my never even for a moment thinking of
shaking his resolution, and in my leaving the note unanswered. However,
the matter was not done with, and the next few months brought me many
insufferable moments, indeed hours, for Sebastian, whose existence had
for so long centred round mine that he was evidently incapable of doing
without me altogether, continually crossed my path, planted himself near
me on every possible occasion, and one evening, at a students'
gathering, even got a chair outside the row round the table, sat himself
down just opposite to me, and spent a great part of the evening in
staring fixedly into my face. As may be supposed, I felt exceedingly

Three months passed, when one day I received a letter from Sebastian,
and at intervals of weeks or months several others followed. They were
impressive letters, splendidly written, with a sort of grim humour about
them, expressing his passionate affection and venting his despair. This
was the first time that I had come in contact with passion, but it was a
passion that without having any unnatural or sensual element in it,
nevertheless, from a person of the same sex, excited a feeling of
displeasure, and even disgust, in me.

Sebastian wrote: "I felt that it was cheating you to take so much
without being able to give you anything in return; I thought it mean to
associate with you; consequently, I believe that I did perfectly right
to break with you. Still, it is true that I hardly needed to do it. Time
and circumstances would have effected the breach." And feeling that our
ways were now divided, he continued:

Hie locus est, partes ubi se via findit in ambas.
Dextera, quae Ditis magni sub moenia tendit
Hac iter Elysium nobis; at laeva malorum
Exercet poenas et ad impia Tartara mittit.

"I cannot kill myself at present, but as soon as I feel able I shall do

Or he wrote: "Towards the end of the time when we were friends, I was
not quite myself when talking to you; I was unbalanced; for I was
convinced that you wasted your valuable time talking to me, and at the
same time was oppressed with grief at the thought that we must part.
Then I tried to make you angry by pretending to question your abilities,
by affecting indifference and scorn; but it was the dog baying at the
moon. I had to bring about the severance that I did. That I should be so
childish as to be vexed about a slight from you, you cannot yourself
believe. I cannot really regret it, for I could no longer be of use to
you; you doubtless think the same yourself; but I cannot do without you;
my affection for you is the only vital thing in me; your life throbbed
in mine."

Sometimes the letters ended with an outburst of a sort of despairing
humour, such as: "Vale! (Fanfare! somersaults by Pagliaccio.)" But
whether Sebastian assumed a serious or a desperate tone, the renewal of
our old companionship was equally impossible to me. I could not ignore
what had happened, and I could not have a friend who was jealous if I
talked to others. Since my intellectual entity had awakened, all
jealousy had been an abomination to me, but jealousy in one man of
another man positively revolted me. I recognised Sebastian's great
merits, respected his character, admired his wide range of knowledge,
but I could not associate with him again, could not even so much as walk
down the street by his side. All his affectionate and beautiful letters
glanced off ineffectual from this repugnance. Something in me had
suddenly turned stony, like a plant plunged in petrifying water.

Six years passed before we saw each other again. We met then with simple
and sincere affection. Sebastian's old passion had evaporated without
leaving a trace; he himself could no longer understand it. And, though
far apart, and with nothing to connect us closely, we continued to think
kindly of one another and to exchange reflections, until, after a few
years, Death carried him away, ere he had reached the years of real
manhood, or fulfilled any of the promises of his gifted and industrious


Schoolboy 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
Crisis--Doubt--Personal Immortality--Renunciation.


My second schoolboy fancy dated from my last few months at school. It
was a natural enough outcome of the attraction towards the other sex
which, never yet encouraged, was lurking in my mind; but it was not
otherwise remarkable for its naturalness. It had its origin partly in my
love of adventure, partly in my propensity for trying my powers, but, as
love, was without root, inasmuch as it was rooted neither in my heart
nor in my senses.

The object of it was again a girl from another country. Her name and
person had been well known to me since I was twelve years old. We had
even exchanged compliments, been curious about one another, gone so far
as to wish for a lock of each other's hair. There was consequently a
romantic background to our first meeting. When I heard that she was
coming to Denmark I was, as by chance, on the quay, and saw her arrive.

She was exactly the same age as I, and, without real beauty, was very
good-looking and had unusually lovely eyes. I endeavoured to make her
acquaintance through relatives of hers whom I knew, and had no
difficulty in getting into touch with her. An offer to show her the
museums and picture galleries in Copenhagen was accepted. Although I had
very little time, just before my matriculation examination, my new
acquaintance filled my thoughts to such an extent that I did not care
how much of this valuable time I sacrificed to her. In the Summer, when
the girl went out near Charlottenlund, whereas my parents were staying
much nearer to the town, I went backwards and forwards to the woods
nearly every day, in the uncertain but seldom disappointed hope of
seeing her. Sometimes I rowed her about in the Sound.

Simple and straightforward though the attraction I felt might seem, the
immature romance I built up on it was anything but simple.

It was, as stated, not my senses that drew me on. Split and divided up
as I was just then, a merely intellectual love seemed to me quite
natural; one might feel an attraction of the senses for an altogether
different woman. I did not wish for a kiss, much less an embrace; in
fact, was too much a child to think of anything of the sort.

But neither was it my heart that drew me on; I felt no tenderness,
hardly any real affection, for this young girl whom I was so anxious to
win. She only busied my brain.

In the condition of boyish self-inquisition in which I then found
myself, this acquaintance was a fresh element of fermentation, and the
strongest to which my self-examination had hitherto been subjected. I
instinctively desired to engage her fancy; but my attitude was from
myself through her to myself. I wanted less to please than to dominate
her, and as it was only my head that was filled with her image, I wholly
lacked the voluntary and cheerful self-humiliation which is an element
of real love. I certainly wished with all my heart to fascinate her; but
what I more particularly wanted was to hold my own, to avoid submission,
and retain my independence. My boyish pride demanded it.

The young foreigner, whose knowledge of the world was hardly greater
than my own, had certainly never, during her short life, come in contact
with so extraordinary a phenomenon; it afforded matter for reflection.
She certainly felt attracted, but, woman-like, was on her guard. She was
of a quiet, amiable disposition, innocently coquettish, naturally
adapted for the advances of sound common sense and affectionate good-
will, not for the volts of passion; she was, moreover, femininely

She saw at a glance that this grown-up schoolboy, who almost staggered
her with his eloquence, his knowledge, his wild plans for the future,
was no wooer, and that his advances were not to be taken too seriously.
Next, with a woman's unfailing intuition, she discovered his empty love
of power. And first involuntarily, and then consciously, she placed
herself in an attitude of defence. She did not lack intelligence. She
showed a keen interest in me, but met me with the self-control of a
little woman of the world, now and then with coolness, on one occasion
with well-aimed shafts of mockery.

Our mutual attitude might have developed into a regular war between the
sexes, had we not both been half-children. Just as I, in the midst of a
carefully planned assault on her emotions, occasionally forgot myself
altogether and betrayed the craving to be near her which drove me almost
every day to her door, she also would at times lose the equilibrium she
had struggled for, and feverishly reveal her agitated state of mind. But
immediately afterwards I was again at the assault, she once more on the
alert, and after the lapse of four months our ways separated, without a
kiss, or one simple, affectionate word, ever having passed between us.

In my morbid self-duplication, I had been busy all this time fixing in
my memory and writing down in a book all that I had said to her or she
to me, weighing and probing the scope and effect of the words that had
been uttered, laying plans for future methods of advance, noting actual
victories and defeats, pondering over this inanity, bending over all
this abnormality, like a strategist who, bending over the map, marks
with his nail the movements of troops, the carrying or surrender of a
fortified position.

This early, unsatisfactory and not strictly speaking erotic experience
had the remarkable effect of rendering me for the next seven years
impervious to the tender passion, so that, undisturbed by women or
erotic emotions, I was able to absorb myself in the world of varied
research that was now opening up to me.


A school-friend who was keenly interested in astronomy and had directed
my nightly contemplations of the heavens, drew me, just about this time,
a very good map of the stars, by the help of which I found those stars I
knew and extended my knowledge further.

The same school-friend sometimes took me to the Observatory, to see old
Professor d'Arrest--a refined and sapient man--and there, for the first
time, I saw the stellar heavens through a telescope. I had learnt
astronomy at school, but had lacked talent to attain any real insight
into the subject. Now the constellations and certain of the stars began
to creep into my affections; they became the nightly witnesses of my
joys and sorrows, all through my life; the sight of them sometimes
comforted me when I felt lonely and forsaken in a foreign land. The
Lyre, the Swan, the Eagle, the Crown and Booetes, Auriga, the Hyades and
the Pleiades, and among the Winter constellations, Orion; all these
twinkling groups, that human eyes have sought for thousands of years,
became distant friends of mine, too. And the thoughts which the sight of
the countless globes involuntarily and inevitably evokes, were born in
me, too,--thoughts of the littleness of the earth in our Solar System,
and of our Solar System in the Universe, of immeasurable distances--so
great that the stars whose rays, with the rapidity of light's
travelling, are striking against our eyes now, may have gone out in our
childhood; of immeasurable periods of time, in which a human life, or
even the lifetime of a whole people, disappears like a drop in the
ocean. And whereas at school I had only studied astronomy as a subject,
from its mathematical aspect, I now learnt the results of spectroscopic
analysis, which showed me how the human genius of Bunsen and Kirchhoff
had annihilated the distance between the Earth and the Sun; and at the
same time I perceived the inherent improbability of the culture of our
Earth ever being transmitted to other worlds, even as the Earth had
never yet received communications from the civilisation of any of the

This circumstance, combined with the certainty of the gradual cooling
and eventual death of the Earth, gave me a conclusive impression of the
finality of all earthly existence and of the merely temporary character
of all progress.

Feeling that all religions built up on a belief in a God were
collapsing, Europe had long inclined towards the religion of Progress as
the last tenable. Now I perceived as I raised my eyes to the starry
expanse and rejoiced in my favourite stars, Sirius in the Great Dog, and
Vega in the Lyre or Altair in the Eagle, that it, too, was tottering,
this last religion of all.


At school, I had known a score of boys of my own age, and naturally
found few amongst them who could be anything to me. Among the advantages
that the freedom of student life afforded was that of coming in contact
all at once with hundreds of similarly educated young men of one's own
age. Young men made each other's acquaintance at lectures and banquets,
were drawn to one another, or felt themselves repulsed, and elective
affinity or accident associated them in pairs or groups for a longer or
shorter period.

A young fellow whose main passion was a desire for intellectual
enrichment was necessarily obliged to associate with many of the other
young men of his own age, in order to learn to know them, in order,
externally and internally, to gain as much experience as possible and
thereby develop himself.

In the case of many of them, a few conversations were enough to prove
that any fruitful intimacy was out of the question. I came into fleeting
contact with a number of suave, or cold, or too ordinary young students,
without their natures affecting mine or mine theirs. But there were
others who, for some months, engaged my attention to a considerable

The first of these was a type of the student of the time. Vilsing was
from Jutland, tall, dark, neither handsome nor plain, remarkable for his
unparalleled facility in speaking. He owed his universal popularity to
the fact that at students' Parties he could at any time stand up and
rattle off at a furious rate an apparently unprepared speech, a sort of
stump speech in which humorous perversions, distortions, lyric remarks,
clever back-handed blows to right and left, astonishing incursions and
rapid sorties, were woven into a whole so good that it was an
entertaining challenge to common sense.

The starting point, for instance, might be some travesty of Sibbern's
whimsical definition of life, which at that time we all had to learn by
heart for the examination. It ran:

"Life altogether is an activity and active process, preceding from an
inner source and working itself out according to an inner impulse,
producing and by an eternal change of matter, reproducing, organising
and individualising, and, since it by a certain material or substratum
constitutes itself a certain exterior, within which it reveals itself,
it simultaneously constitutes itself as the subsisting activity and
endeavour in this, its exterior, of which it may further be inquired how
far a soul can be said to live and subsist in it, as a living entity--
appearing in such a life."

It is not difficult to conceive what delightful nonsense this barbaric
elucidation might suggest, if a carouse, or love, woman or drunkenness
were defined in this vein; and he would weave in amusing attacks on
earlier, less intrepid speakers, who, as Vilsing put it, reminded one of
the bashful forget-me-not, inasmuch as you could read in the play of
their features: "Forget me not! I, too, was an orator."

Vilsing, who had been studying for some years already, paid a freshman a
compliment by desiring his acquaintance and seeking his society. He
frequented the Students' Union, was on terms of friendship with those
who led the fashion, and was a favourite speaker. It was a species of
condescension on his part to seek out a young fellow just escaped from
school, a fellow who would have sunk into the earth if he had had to
make a speech, and who had no connection with the circle of older

Vilsing was a young man of moods, who, like many at that time, like
Albrecht, the chief character in Schandorph's [Footnote: Sophus
Schandorph, b. 1820, d. 1901; a prominent Danish novelist, who commenced
his literary activity in the sixties.--[Translator's note.]] _Without
a Centre_, would exhibit all the colours of the rainbow in one
morning. He would give himself, and take himself back, show himself
affectionate, cordial, intimate, confidential, full of affectionate
anxiety for me his young friend, and at the next meeting be as cursory
and cool as if he scarcely remembered having seen me before; for he
would in the meantime have been attacked by vexation at his too great
friendliness, and wish to assert himself, as knowing his own value.

He impressed me, his junior, by revealing himself, not precisely as a
man of the world, but as a much sought after society man. He told me how
much he was asked out, and how he went from one party and one ball to
another, which, to me, with my hankering after experiences, seemed to be
an enviable thing. But I was more struck by what Vilsing told me of the
favour he enjoyed with the other sex. One girl--a charming girl!--he was
engaged to, another loved him and he her; but those were the least of
his erotic triumphs; wherever he showed himself, he conquered. And
proofs were to hand. For one day, when he had dragged me up to his room
with him, he bewildered me by shaking out before my eyes a profusion of
embroidered sofa-cushions, fancy pillows, cigar-cases, match-holders,
crocheted purses, worked waistcoats, etc.; presents from every
description of person of the feminine gender. In every drawer he pulled
out there were presents of the sort; they hung over chairs and on pegs.

I was young enough to feel a certain respect for a man so sought after
by the fair sex, although I thought his frankness too great. What first
began to undermine this feeling was not doubt of the truth of his tales,
or the genuineness of the gifts, but the fact that one after another of
my comrades, when the first cool stages of acquaintance were passed,
invariably found a favourable opportunity of confidentially informing
me--he could not explain why it was himself, but it was a fact--that
wherever he showed himself women were singularly fascinated by the sight
of him; there must be something about him which vanquished them in spite
of him. When at last one evening the most round-backed of all of them, a
swain whose blond mustache, of irregular growth, resembled an old, worn-
out toothbrush more than anything else, also confided in me that he did
not know how it was, or what could really be the cause of it, but there
must be something about him, etc.,--then my belief in Vilsing's
singularity and my admiration for him broke down. It must not be
supposed that Vilsing regarded himself as a sensual fiend. He did not
pose as cold and impudent, but as heartfelt and instinct with feeling.
He was studying theology, and cherished no dearer wish than eventually
to become a priest. He constantly alternated between contrition and
self-satisfaction, arrogance and repentance, enjoyed the consciousness
of being exceptionally clever, an irresistible charmer, and a true
Christian. It seemed to him that, in the freshman whom he had singled
out from the crowd and given a place at his side, he had found an
intellectual equal, or even superior, and this attracted him; he met
with in me an inexperience and unworldliness so great that the
inferiority in ability which he declared he perceived was more than
counterbalanced by the superiority he himself had the advantage of, both
in social accomplishments and in dealing with women.

It thus seemed as though many of the essential conditions of a tolerably
permanent union between us were present. But during the first
conversation in which he deigned to be interested in my views, there
occurred in our friendship a little rift which widened to a chasm.
Vilsing sprang back horrified when he heard how I, greenhorn though I
was, regarded life and men and what I considered right. "You are in the
clutches of Evil, and your desire is towards the Evil. I have not time
or inclination to unfold an entire Christology now, but what you reject
is the Ideal, and what you appraise is the Devil himself. God! God! How
distressed I am for you! I would give my life to save you. But enough
about it for the present; I have not time just now; I have to go out to

This was our last serious conversation. I was not saved. He did not give
his life. He went for a vacation tour the following Summer holidays,
avoided me on his return, and soon we saw no more of each other.


The theory, the intimation of which roused Vilsing to such a degree,
bore in its form witness to such immaturity that it could only have made
an impression on a youth whose immaturity, in spite of his age, was
greater still. To present it with any degree of clearness is scarcely
possible; it was not sufficiently clear in itself for that. But this was
about what it amounted to:

The introspection and energetic self-absorption to which I had given
myself up during my last few years at school became even more persistent
on my release from the restraint of school and my free admission to the
society of grown-up people.

I took advantage of my spare time in Copenhagen, and on the restricted
travels that I was allowed to take, to slake my passionate thirst for
life; firstly, by pondering ever and anon over past sensations, and
secondly, by plunging into eager and careful reading of the light
literature of all different countries and periods that I had heard
about, but did not yet myself know at first hand.

Through all that I experienced and read, observed and made my own, my
attitude towards myself was, that before all, I sought to become clear
as to what manner of man I really, in my inmost being, was. I asked
myself who I was. I endeavoured to discover the mysterious word that
would break the charm of the mists in which I found myself and would
answer my fundamental question, _What_ was I? And then at last, my
ponderings and my readings resulted in my finding the word that seemed
to fit, although nowadays one can hardly hear it without a smile, the
word _Daemonic_.

I was daemonic in giving myself this reply it seemed to me that I had
solved the riddle of my nature. I meant thereby, as I then explained it
to myself, that the choice between good and evil did not present itself
to me, as to others, since evil did not interest me. For me, it was not
a question of a choice, but of an unfolding of my ego, which had its
justification in itself.

That which I called the _daemonic_ I had encountered for the first
time outside my own mind in Lermontof's hero. Petsjorin was compelled to
act in pursuance of his natural bent, as though possessed by his own
being. I felt myself in a similar manner possessed. I had met with the
word _Daimon_ and _Daimones_ in Plato; Socrates urges that by
_daemons_ the Gods, or the children of the Gods, were meant. I felt
as though I, too, were one of the children of the Gods. In all the great
legendary figures of the middle ages I detected the feature of divine
possession, especially in the two who had completely fascinated the
poets of the nineteenth century, Don Juan and Faust. The first was the
symbol of magic power over women, the second of the thirst for knowledge
giving dominion over humanity and Nature. Among my comrades, in Vilsing,
even in the hunch-backed fellow with the unsuccessful moustache, I had
seen how the Don Juan type which had turned their heads still held sway
over the minds of young people; I myself could quite well understand the
magic which this beautiful ideal of elementary irresistibility must
have; but the Faust type appealed to me, with my thirst for knowledge,
very much more. Still, the main thing for me was that in the first great
and wholly modern poets that I made acquaintance with, Byron and his
intellectual successors, Lermontof and Heine, I recognised again the
very fundamental trait that I termed _daemonic_, the worship of
one's own originality, under the guise of an uncompromising love of

I was always brooding over this idea of the _daemonic_ with which
my mind was filled. I recorded my thoughts on the subject in my first
long essay (lost, for that matter), _On the Daemonic, as it Reveals
Itself in the Human Character_.

When a shrewdly intelligent young fellow of my own age criticised my
work from the assumption that the _daemonic_ did not exist, I
thought him ridiculous. I little dreamt that twenty-five years later
Relling, in _The Wild Duck_, would show himself to be on my
friend's side in the emphatic words: "What the Devil does it mean to be
daemonic! It's sheer nonsense."


The "daemonic" was also responsible for the mingled attraction that was
exerted over me at this point by a young foreign student, and for the
intercourse which ensued between us. Kappers was born somewhere in the
West Indies, was the son of a well-to-do German manufacturer, and had
been brought up in a North German town. His father, for what reason I do
not know, wished him to study at Copenhagen University, and there take
his law examination. There was coloured blood in his veins, though much
diluted, maybe an eighth or so. He was tall and slender, somewhat loose
in his walk and bearing, pale-complexioned, with dark eyes and negro
hair. His face, though not handsome, looked exceedingly clever, and its
expression was not deceptive, for the young man had an astonishing

He was placed in the house of a highly respected family in Copenhagen,
that of a prominent scientist, a good-natured, unpractical savant, very
unsuited to be the mentor of such an unconventional young man. He was
conspicuous among the native Danish freshmen for his elegant dress and
cosmopolitan education, and was so quick at learning that before very
many weeks he spoke Danish almost without a mistake, though with a
marked foreign accent, which, however, lent a certain charm to what he
said. His extraordinary intelligence was not remarkable either for its
comprehensiveness or its depth, but it was a quicker intelligence than
any his Copenhagen fellow-student had ever known, and so keen that he
seemed born to be a lawyer.

Kappers spent almost all his day idling about the streets, talking to
his companions; he was always ready for a walk; you never saw him work
or heard him talk about his work. Nevertheless, he, a foreigner, who had
barely mastered the language, presented himself after six months--before
he had attended all the lectures, that is,--for the examination in
philosophy and passed it with _Distinction_ in all three subjects;
indeed, Rasmus Nielsen, who examined him in Propaedeutics, was so
delighted at the foreigner's shrewd and ready answers that he gave him
_Specially excellent_, a mark which did not exist.

His gifts in the juridical line appeared to be equally remarkable. When
he turned up in a morning with his Danish fellow-students at the coach's
house it might occasionally happen that he was somewhat tired and slack,
but more often he showed a natural grasp of the handling of legal
questions, and a consummate skill in bringing out every possible aspect
of each question, that were astonishing in a beginner.

His gifts were of unusual power, but for the externalities of things
only, and he possessed just the gifts with which the sophists of old
time distinguished themselves. He himself was a young sophist, and at
the same time a true comedian, adapting his behaviour to whomsoever he
might happen to be addressing, winning over the person in question by
striking his particular note and showing that side of his character with
which he could best please him. Endowed with the capacity of mystifying
and dazzling those around him, exceedingly keen-sighted, adaptable but
in reality empty, he knew how to set people thinking and to fascinate
others by his lively, unprejudiced and often paradoxical, but
entertaining conversation. He was now colder, now more confidential; he
knew how to assume cordiality, and to flatter by appearing to admire.

With a young student like myself who had just left school, was quite
inexperienced in all worldly matters, and particularly in the chapter of
women, but in whom he detected good abilities and a very strained
idealism, he affected ascetic habits. With other companions he showed
himself the intensely reckless and dissipated rich man's son he was;
indeed, he amused himself by introducing some of the most inoffensive
and foolish of them into the wretched dens of vice and letting them
indulge themselves at his expense.

Intellectually interested as he was, he proposed, soon after our first
meeting, that we should start a "literary and scientific" society,
consisting of a very few freshmen, who, at the weekly meetings, should
read a paper one of them had composed, whereupon two members who had
previously read the paper should each submit it to a prepared criticism
and after that, general discussion of the question. All that concerned
the proposed society was carried out with a genuine Kappers-like
mystery, as if it were a conspiracy, and with forms and ceremonies
worthy of a diplomat's action.

Laws were drafted for the society, although it eventually consisted only
of five members, and elaborate minutes were kept of the meetings. Among
the members was V. Topsoee, afterwards well known as an editor and
author, at that time a cautious and impudent freshman, whose motto was:
"It is protection that we people must live by." He read the society a
paper _On the Appearance_, dealing with how one ought to dress,
behave, speak, do one's hair, which revealed powers of observation and a
sarcastic tendency. Amongst those who eagerly sought for admission but
never secured it was a young student, handsome, and with no small love
of study, but stupid and pushing, for whom I, who continued to see
myself in Lermontof's Petsjorin, cherished a hearty contempt, for the
curious reason that he in every way reminded me of Petsjorin's fatuous
and conceited adversary, Gruchnitski. Vilsing was asked to take part in
the society's endeavours, but refused. "What I have against all these
societies," he said, "is the self-satisfaction they give rise to; the
only theme I should be inclined to treat is that of how the modern Don
Juan must be conceived; but that I cannot do, since I should be obliged
to touch on so many incidents of my own life."

This was the society before which I read the treatise on _The
Daemonic_, and it was Kappers who, with his well-developed
intelligence, would not admit the existence of anything of the sort.

The regular meetings went on for six months only, the machinery being
too large and heavy in comparison with the results attained. Kappers and
his intimate friends, however, saw none the less of each other. The
brilliant West Indian continued to pursue his legal studies and to carry
on his merry life in Copenhagen for some eighteen months. But his
studies gradually came to a standstill, while his gay life took up more
and more of his time. He was now living alone in a flat which, to begin
with, had been very elegantly furnished, but grew emptier and emptier by
degrees, as his furniture was sold, or went to the pawnbroker's. His
furniture was followed by his books, and when Schou's "_Orders in
Council_" had also been turned into money, his legal studies ceased
of themselves. When the bookshelves were empty it was the turn of the
wardrobe and the linen drawers, till one Autumn day in 1861, an emissary
of his father, who had been sent to Copenhagen to ascertain what the son
was really about, found him in his shirt, without coat or trousers,
wrapped up in his fur overcoat, sitting on the floor in his drawing-
room, where there was not so much as a chair left. Asked how it was that
things had come to such a pass with him, he replied: "It is the curse
that follows the coloured race."

A suit of clothes was redeemed for Kappers junior, and he was hurried
away as quickly as possible to the German town where his father lived,
and where the son explained to everyone who would listen that he had
been obliged to leave Copenhagen suddenly "on account of a duel with a
gentleman in a very exalted position."


My first experiences of academic friendship made me smile in after years
when I looked back on them. But my circle of acquaintances had gradually
grown so large that it was only natural new friendships should grow out
of it.

One of the members of Kappers' "literary and scientific" society, and
the one whom the West Indian had genuinely cared most for, was a young
fellow whose father was very much respected, and to whom attention was
called for that reason; he was short, a little heavy on his feet, and a
trifle indolent, had beautiful eyes, was warm-hearted and well educated,
had good abilities without being specially original, and was somewhat
careless in his dress, as in other things.

His father was C.N. David, well known in his younger days as a
University professor and a liberal politician, who later became the Head
of the Statistical Department and a Member of the Senate. He had been in
his youth a friend of Johan Ludvig Heiberg, [Footnote: J.L. Heiberg, to
whom such frequent allusion is made, was a well-known Danish author of
the last century (1791-1860). Among many other things, he wrote a series
of vaudevilles for the Royal Theatre at Copenhagen, Of which he was
manager. In every piece he wrote there was a special part for his wife,
Johanne Luise Heiberg, who was the greatest Danish actress of the 19th
century.] and had been dramatic contributor to the latter's paper.

He was a very distinguished satirist and critic and his influence upon
the taste and critical opinion of his day can only be compared with that
of Holberg in the 18th century.

Now, in concert with Bluhme and a few other of the elder politicians, he
had formed a Conservative Fronde, opposed to the policy of the National
Liberals. One day as we two young men were sitting in his son's room,
drafting the rules for the freshmen's society of five members, the old
gentleman came through and asked us what we were writing. "Rules for a
society; we want to get them done as quickly as we can." "That is right.
That kind of constitution may very well be written out expeditiously.
There has not been very much more trouble or forethought spent on the
one we have in this country."

It was not, however, so much the internal policy of the National
Liberals that he objected to--it was only the Election Law that he was
dissatisfied with--as their attitude towards Germany. Whenever a step
was taken in the direction of the incorporation of Slesvig, he would
exclaim: "We are doing what we solemnly promised not to do. How can
anyone be so childish as to believe that it will turn out well!"

The son, whose home impressions in politics had been Conservative, was a
happy young man with a somewhat embarrassed manner, who sometimes hid
his uncertainty under the cloak of a carelessness that was not
altogether assumed. Behind him stood his family, to whom he hospitably
introduced those of his companions whom he liked, and though the family
were not gentle of origin, they belonged, nevertheless, to the highest
circles in the country and exercised their attraction through the son.

I, whom Ludvig David was now eagerly cultivating, had known him for many
years, as we had been school-fellows and even classmates, although David
was considerably older. I had never felt drawn to him as a boy, in fact,
had not liked him. Neither had David, in our school-days, ever made any
advances to me, having had other more intimate friends. Now, however, he
was very cordial to me, and expressed in strong terms his appreciation
of my industry and abilities; he himself was often teased at home for
his lack of application.

C.N. David was the first public personality with whom, as a student, I
became acquainted and into whose house I was introduced. For many years
I enjoyed unusual kindness and hospitality at the hands of the old
politician, afterwards Minister of Finance.


I had hitherto been only mildly interested in politics. I had, of
course, as a boy, attentively followed the course of the Crimean war,
which my French uncle, on one of his visits, had called the fight for
civilisation against barbarism, although it was a fight for Turkey! now,
as a student, I followed with keen interest the Italian campaign and the
revolt against the Austrian Dukes and the Neapolitan Bourbons. But the
internal policy of Denmark had little attraction for me. As soon as I
entered the University I felt myself influenced by the spirit of such
men as Poul Moeller, J.L. Heiberg, Soeren Kierkegaard, and distinctly
removed from the belief in the power of the people which was being
preached everywhere at that time. This, however, was hardly more than a
frame of mind, which did not preclude my feeling myself in sympathy with
what at that time was called broad thought (i.e., Liberalism). Although
I was often indignant at the National Liberal and Scandinavian terrorism
which obtained a hearing at both convivial and serious meetings in the
Students' Union, my feelings in the matter of Denmark's foreign policy
with regard to Sweden and Norway, as well as to Germany, were the same
as those held by all the other students. I felt no intellectual debt to
either Sweden or Norway, but I was drawn by affection towards the Swedes
and the Norsemen, and in Christian Richardt's lovely song at the
Northern Celebration in 1860, _For Sweden and Norway_, I found the
expression of the fraternal feelings that I cherished in my breast for
our two Northern neighbours. On the other hand, small as my store of
knowledge still was, I had already acquired some considerable impression
of German culture. Nevertheless, the increasingly inimical attitude of
the German people towards Denmark, and the threatenings of war with
Germany, together with my childish recollections of the War of 1848-50,
had for their effect that in the Germany of that day I only saw an
enemy's country. A violent affection that I felt at sixteen for a
charming little German girl made no difference to this view.


The old men, who advocated the greatest caution in dealing with the
impossible demands of the German Federation, and were profoundly
distrustful as to the help that might be expected from Europe, were
vituperated in the press. As _Whole-State Men_, they were regarded
as unpatriotic, and as so-called _Reactionaries_, accused of being
enemies to freedom. When I was introduced into the house of one of these
politically ill-famed leaders, in spite of my ignorance, I knew enough
of politics, as of other subjects, to draw a sharp distinction between
that which I could in a measure grasp, and that which I did not
understand; I was sufficiently educated to place Danish constitutional
questions in the latter category, and consequently I crossed, devoid of
prejudice, the threshold of a house whence proceeded, according to the
opinion of the politically orthodox, a pernicious, though fortunately
powerless, political heterodoxy.

It must not be supposed that I came into close touch with anything of
the sort. The old Minister never opened his mouth on political matters
in the bosom of his family. But the impression of superior intelligence
and knowledge of men that he conveyed was enough to place him in a
different light from that in which he was depicted in _The
Fatherland_, the paper whose opinions were swallowed blindly by the
student body. And my faith in the infallibility of the paper was shaken
even more one day, when I saw the Leader of the Reactionary Party
himself, Privy Councillor Bluhme, at the house, and sat unnoticed in a
corner, listening to his conversation. He talked a great deal, although,
like the master of the house, he did not allude to his public work. Like
a statesman of the old school, he expressed himself with exquisite
politeness and a certain ceremony. But of the affectation of which
_The Fatherland_ accused him, there was not a trace. What
profoundly impressed me was the Danish the old gentleman spoke, the most
perfect Danish. He told of his travels in India--once upon a time he had
been Governor of Trankebar--and you saw before you the banks of the
Ganges and the white troops of women, streaming down to bathe in the
river, as their religion prescribed.

I never forgot the words with which Bluhme rose to go: "May I borrow the
English blue-books for a few days? There might be something or other
that the newspapers have not thought fit to tell us." I started at the
words. It dawned upon me for the first time, though merely as a remote
possibility, that the Press might purposely and with intent to mislead
keep silence about facts that had a claim upon the attention of the


Young David had once asked me to read Ovid's Elegiacs with him, and this
was the beginning of our closer acquaintance. In town, in the Winter, we
two younger ones were only rarely with the rest of the family, but in
Summer it was different. The Minister had built a house at Rungsted, on
a piece of land belonging to his brother, who was a farmer and the owner
of Rungstedgaard, Rungstedlund and Folehavegaard, a shrewd and practical
man. To this villa, which was in a beautiful situation, overlooking the
sea, I was often invited by my friend to spend a few days in the Summer,
sometimes even a month at a time. At first, of course, I was nothing to
the rest of the family; they received me for the son's sake; but by
degrees I won a footing with them, too. The handsome, clever and
sprightly mistress of the house took a motherly interest in me, and the
young daughters showed me kindness for which I was very grateful.

The master of the house sometimes related an anecdote, as, for instance,
about Heiberg's mad pranks as a young man. When he went off into the
woods and got hungry, he used to take provisions from the stores in the
lockers of the phaetons that put up at Klampenborg, while the people
were walking about in the park, and the coachmen inside the public-
house. One day, with Moehl and David, he got hold of a huge layer-cake.
The young fellows had devoured a good half of it and replaced it under
the seat of the carriage, when the family came back, caught sight of
Heiberg, whom they knew, and invited the young men to have a piece of
cake and a glass of wine. When they made the horrifying discovery of the
havoc that had been wrought, they themselves would not touch it, and the
robbers, who were stuffed already, were obliged to consume the remainder
of the cake between them.

There was often music at the Villa; sometimes I was asked to read aloud,
and then I did my best, choosing good pieces not well known, and reading
carefully. The pleasant outdoor life gave me a few glimpses of that rare
and ardently desired thing, still contentment. It was more particularly
alone with Nature that I felt myself at home.

A loose page from my diary of those days will serve to indicate the
untried forces that I felt stirring within me:

On the way down, the sky was dappled with large and many-coloured
clouds. I wandered about in the woods to-day, among the oaks and
beeches, and saw the sun gilding the leaves and the tree-trunks, lay
down under a tree with my Greek Homer and read the first and second
books of the Odyssey. Went backwards and forwards in the clover field,
revelled in the clover, smelt it, and sucked the juice of the flowers. I
have the same splendid view as of old from my window. The sea, in all
its flat expanse, moved in towards me to greet me, when I arrived. It
was roaring and foaming mildly. Hveen could be seen quite clearly. Now
the wind is busy outside my window, the sea is stormy, the dark heavens
show streaks of moonlight....

East wind and rain. Went as far as Valloroed in a furious wind. The sky
kept clear; a dark red patch of colour showed the position of the Sun on
the horizon. The Moon has got up hurriedly, has turned from red to
yellow, and looks lovely. I am drunk with the beauties of Nature. Go to
Folehave and feel, like the gods in Homer, without a care....

I can never get sleepy out in the open country on a windy night. Rested
a little, got up at four o'clock, went at full speed along soaked roads
to Humlebaek, to Gurre Ruins and lake, through the woods to Fredensborg
park, back to Humlebaek, and came home to Rungsted by steamer. Then went
up on the hill. Quiet beauty of the landscape. Feeling that Nature
raises even the fallen into purer, loftier regions. Took the Odyssey and
went along the field-path to the stone table; cool, fresh air, harmony
and splendour over Nature. "Wildly soars the hawk." Went up into the
sunlit wood at Hoersholm, gazed at the melancholy expression in the faces
of the horses and sheep.

I made ducks and drakes and asked the others riddles. A woman came and
begged for help to bury her husband; he had had such an easy death. (She
is said to have killed him with a blow from a wooden shoe.) Sat under a
giant beech in Rungsted Wood; then had a splendid drive after the heavy
rain up to Folehave and thence to Hoersholm. Everything was as fresh and
lovely as in an enchanted land. What a freshness! The church and the
trees mirrored themselves in the lake. The device on my shield shall be
three lucky peas. [Footnote: There seems to be some such legendary
virtue attached in Denmark to a pea-pod containing _three_ or
_nine_ peas, as with us to a four-leaved clover.--[Translator's
note.]] To Vedbaek and back. We were going for a row. My hostess agreed,
but as we had a large, heavy and clumsy boat, they were all nervous.
Then Ludvig's rowlock snapped and he caught a crab. It was no wonder, as
he was rowing too deep. So I took both sculls myself. It was tiring to
pull the heavy boat with so many, but the sea was inexpressibly lovely,
the evening dead calm. Silver sheen on the water, visible to the
observant and initiated Nature-lover. Ripple from the west wind (GREEK:

Grubbed in the shingle, and went to Folehave. Gathered flowers and
strawberries. My fingers still smell of strawberries.

Went out at night. Pictures of my fancy rose around me. A Summer's
night, but as cold as Winter, the clouds banked up on the horizon.
Suppose in the wind and cold and dark I were to meet one I know! Over
the corn the wind whispered or whistled a name. The waves dashed in a
short little beat against the shore. It is only the sea that is as
Nature made it; the land in a thousand ways is robbed of its virginity
by human hands, but the sea now is as it was thousands of years ago. A
thick fog rose up. The birches bent their heads and went to sleep. But I
can hear the grass grow and the stars sing.

Gradually my association with Ludvig David grew more and more intimate,
and the latter proved himself a constant friend. A few years after our
friendship had begun, when things were looking rather black for me, my
father having suffered great business losses, and no longer being able
to give me the same help as before, Ludvig David invited me to go and
live altogether at his father's house, and be like a son there--an offer
which I of course refused, but which affected me deeply, especially when
I learnt that it had only been made after the whole family had been


In November, 1859, at exactly the same time as Kappers' "literary and
scientific" society was started, a fellow-student named Groenbeck, from
Falster, who knew the family of Caspar Paludan-Mueller, the historian,
proposed my joining another little society of young students, of whom
Groenbeck thought very highly on account of their altogether unusual
knowledge of books and men.

In the old Students' Union in Boldhusgade, the only meeting-place at
that time for students, which was always regarded in a poetic light, I
had not found what I wanted. There was no life in it, and at the
convivial meetings on Saturday night the punch was bad, the speeches
were generally bad, and the songs were good only once in a way.

I had just joined one new society, but I never rejected any prospect of
acquaintances from whom I could learn anything, and nothing was too much
for me. So I willingly agreed, and one evening late in November I was
introduced to the society so extolled by Groenbeck, which called itself
neither "literary" nor "scientific," had no other object than
sociability, and met at Ehlers' College, in the rooms of a young
philological student, Frederik Nutzhorn.

Expecting as I did something out of the ordinary, I was very much
disappointed. The society proved to be quite vague and indefinite. Those
present, the host, a certain Jens Paludan-Mueller, son of the historian,
a certain Julius Lange, son of the Professor of Pedagogy, and a few
others, received me as though they had been waiting for me to put the
society on its legs; they talked as if I were going to do everything to
entertain them, and as if they themselves cared to do nothing; they
seemed to be indolent, almost sluggish. First we read aloud in turns
from Bjoernson's _Arne_, which was then new; a lagging conversation
followed. Nutzhorn talked nonsense, Paludan-Mueller snuffled, Julius
Lange alone occasionally let fall a humorous remark. The contrast
between Nutzhorn's band, who took sociability calmly and quietly, and
Kappers' circle, which met to work and discuss things to its utmost
capacity, was striking. The band seemed exceedingly phlegmatic in

This first impression was modified at subsequent meetings. As I talked
to these young men I discovered, first and foremost, how ignorant I was
of political history and the history of art; in the next place, I
seemed, in comparison with them, to be old in my opinions and my habits.
They called themselves Republicans, for instance, whereas Republicanism
in Denmark had in my eyes hitherto been mere youthful folly. Then again,
they were very unconventional in their habits. After a party near
Christmas time, which was distinguished by a pretty song by Julius
Lange, they proposed--at twelve o'clock at night!--that we should go to
Frederiksborg. And extravagances of this kind were not infrequent.

Still it was only towards midsummer 1860 that I became properly merged
into the new circle and felt myself at home in it. It had been increased
by two or three first-rate fellows, Harald Paulsen, at the present time
Lord Chief Justice, a courageous young fellow, who was not afraid of
tackling any ruffian who interfered with him in a defile; Troels Lund,
then studying theology, later on the esteemed historian, who was always
refined, self-controlled, thoughtful, and on occasion caustic, great at
feints in the fencing class; and Emil Petersen, then studying law (died
in 1890, as Departmental Head of Railways), gentle, dreamy, exceedingly
conscientious, with a marked lyric tendency.

One evening, shortly before Midsummer's eve, when we had gone out to
Vedbaek, fetched Emil Petersen from Tryggeroed and thoroughly enjoyed the
beautiful scenery, we had a wrestling match out in the water off
Skodsborg and a supper party afterwards at which, under the influence of
the company, the gaiety rose to a wild pitch and eventually passed all
bounds. We made speeches, sang, shouted our witticisms at each other all
at once, seized each other round the waist and danced, till we had to
stop for sheer tiredness. Then we all drank pledges of eternal
friendship, and trooped into the town together, and hammered at the
doors of the coffee-houses after midnight to try to get in somewhere
where we could have coffee. We had learnt all at once to know and
appreciate each other to the full; we were united by a feeling of
brotherhood and remained friends for life. The life allotted to several
of the little band was, it is true, but short; Jens Paludan-Mueller fell
at Sankelmark three and a half years later; Nutzhorn had only five years
and a half to live. Of the others, Emil Petersen and Julius Lange are
dead. But, whether our lives were long or short, our meetings frequent
or rare, we continued to be cordially attached to one another, and no
misunderstanding or ill-feeling ever cropped up between us.


Among my Danish excursions was one to Slesvig in July, 1860. The
Copenhagen students had been asked to attend a festival to be held at
Angel at the end of July for the strengthening of the sparse Danish
element in that German-minded region. There were not many who wished to
go, but several of those who did had beautiful voices, and sang
feelingly the national songs with which it was hoped the hearts of the
Angel people, and especially of the ladies, might be touched. Several
gentlemen still living, at that time among the recognised leaders of the
students, went with us.

We sailed from Korsoer to Flensborg one exquisite Summer night; we gave
up the berths we had secured and stayed all night on deck with a bowl of
punch. It was a starlight night, the ship cut rapidly through the calm
waters, beautiful songs were sung and high-flown speeches made. One
speech was held in a whisper, the one in honour of General de Meza, who
was still a universal favourite, and who was sitting in his stateroom,
waked up out of his sleep, with his white gloves and gaufred lace cuffs
on and a red and white night-cap on his head. We young ones only thought
of him as the man who, during the battle of Fredericia, had never moved
a muscle of his face, and when it was over had said quietly: "The result
is very satisfactory."

Unfriendly and sneering looks from the windows at Flensborg very soon
showed the travellers that Danish students' caps were not a welcome
sight there. The Angel peasants, however, were very pleasant. The
festival, which lasted all day and concluded with dancing and fireworks,
was a great success, and a young man who had been carousing all night,
travelling all day, and had danced all the evening with pretty girls
till his senses were in a whirl, could not help regarding the scene of
the festival in a romantic light, as he stood there alone, late at
night, surrounded by flaring torches, the fireworks sputtering and
glittering about him. Some few of the students sat in the fields round
flaming rings of pitch, an old Angel peasant keeping the fires alight
and singing Danish songs. Absolutely enraptured, and with tears in his
eyes, he went about shaking hands with the young men and thanking them
for coming. It was peculiarly solemn and beautiful.

Next day, when I got out at Egebaek station on my way from Flensborg,
intending to go to Idsted, it seemed that three other young men had had
the same idea, so we all four walked together. They were young men of a
type I had not met with before. The way they felt and spoke was new to
me. They all talked in a very affectionate manner, betrayed at once that
they worshipped one another, and seemed to have strong, open natures,
much resembling each other. They were Ernst Trier, Noerregaard, and
Baagoee, later the three well-known High School men.

The little band arrived at a quick pace on Idsted's beautiful heath, all
tufts of ling, the red blossoms of which looked lovely in the light of
the setting sun. We sat ourselves down on the hill where Baudissin and
his staff had stood. Then Baagoee read aloud Hammerich's description of
the battle of Idsted, while each of us in his mind's eye saw the
seething masses of troops advance and fall upon one another, as they had
done just ten years before.

Our time was short, if we wanted to get under a roof that night. At 9
o'clock we were still eight miles from Slesvig. We did the first four at
a pace that was novel to me. Three-parts of the way we covered in forty-
five minutes, the last two miles took us twenty. When we arrived at the
hotel, there stood Madam Esselbach, of war renown, in the doorway, with
her hands on her hips, as in her portrait; she summed up the arrivals
with shrewd, sharp eyes, and exclaimed: "_Das ist ja das junge
Daenemark_." Inside, officers were sitting, playing cards. Major
Sommer promised us young men to show us Gottorp at 6 o'clock next
morning; we should then get a view of the whole of the town from
Hersterberg beforehand.

The Major, who was attacked in the newspapers after the war, and whose
expression "my maiden sword," was made great fun of, showed us younger
ones the magnificent church, and afterwards the castle, which, as a
barracks, was quite spoilt. He acted as the father of the regiment, and,
like Poul Moeller's artist, encouraged the efficient, and said hard words
to the slighty, praising or blaming unceasingly, chatted Danish to the
soldiers, Low German to the cook, High German to the little housekeeper
at the castle, and called the attention of his guests to the perfect
order and cleanliness of the stables. He complained bitterly that a
certain senior lieutenant he pointed out to us, who in 1848 had flung
his cockade in the gutter and gone over to the Germans, had been
reinstated in the regiment, and placed over the heads of brave second-
lieutenants who had won their crosses in the war.

Here I parted with my Grundtvigian friends. When I spoke of them to
Julius Lange on my return, he remarked: "They are a good sort, who wear
their hearts in their buttonholes as decorations."

The society I fell in with for the rest of my journey was very droll.
This consisted of Borup, later Mayor of Finance, and a journalist named
Falkman (really Petersen), even at that time on the staff of _The
Dally Paper_. I little guessed then that my somewhat vulgar
travelling companion would develop into the Cato who wished Ibsen's
_Ghosts_ "might be thrust into the slime-pit, where such things
belong," and would write articles by the hundred against me. Neither had
I any suspicion, during my acquaintance with Topsoee, that the latter
would one day be one of my most determined persecutors. Without exactly
being strikingly youthful, the large, broad-shouldered Borup was still a
young man. Falkman wrote good-humouredly long reports to Bille about
Slesvig, which I corrected for him. Borup and Falkman generally
exclaimed the moment I opened my mouth: "Not seraphic, now!"

We travelled together to Gluecksborg, saw the camp there, and, as we had
had nothing since our morning coffee at 5 o'clock, ate between the three
of us a piece of roast meat six pounds weight. We spent the night at
Flensborg and drove next day to Graasten along a lovely road with wooded
banks on either side. It was pouring with rain, and we sat in dead
silence, trying to roll ourselves up in horse-cloths. When in an hour's
time the rain stopped, and we put up at an inn, our enforced silence
gave place to the wildest merriment. We three young fellows--the future
Finance Minister as well--danced into the parlour, hopped about like
wild men, spilt milk over ourselves, the sofa, and the waitress; then
sprang, waltzing and laughing, out through the door again and up into
the carriage, after having heaped the girl with small copper coins.

From Graasten we proceeded to Soenderborg. The older men lay down and
slept after the meal. I went up to Dybboelmoelle. On the way back, I found
on a hill looking out over Als a bench from which there was a beautiful
view across to Slesvig. I lay down on the seat and gazed up at the sky
and across the perfect country. The light fields, with their tall, dark
hedges, which give the Slesvig scenery its peculiar stamp, from this
high-lying position looked absolutely lovely.


I was not given to looking at life in a rosy light. My nature, one
uninterrupted endeavour, was too tense for that. Although I occasionally
felt the spontaneous enjoyments of breathing the fresh air, seeing the
sun shine, and listening to the whistling of the wind, and always
delighted in the fact that I was in the heyday of my youth, there was
yet a considerable element of melancholy in my temperament, and I was so
loth to abandon myself to any illusion that when I looked into my own
heart and summed up my own life it seemed to me that I had never been
happy for a day. I did not know what it was to be happy for a whole day
at a time, scarcely for an hour. I had only known a moment's rapture in
the companionship of my comrades at a merry-making, in intercourse with
a friend, under the influence of the beauties of Nature, or the charm of
women, or in delight at gaining intellectual riches--during the reading
of a poem, the sight of a play, or when absorbed in a work of art.

Any feeling that I was enriching my mind from those surrounding me was
unfortunately rare with me. Almost always, when talking to strangers, I
felt the exact opposite, which annoyed me exceedingly, namely, that I
was being intellectually sucked, squeezed like a lemon, and whereas I
was never bored when alone, in the society of other people I suffered
overwhelmingly from boredom. In fact, I was so bored by the visits
heaped upon me by my comrades and acquaintances, who inconsiderately
wasted my time, in order to kill a few hours, that I was almost driven
to despair; I was too young obstinately to refuse to see them.

By degrees, the thought of the boredom that I suffered at almost all
social functions dominated my mind to such an extent that I wrote a
little fairy tale about boredom, by no means bad (but unfortunately
lost), round an idea which I saw several years later treated in another
way in Sibbern's well-known book of the year 2135. This fairy tale was
read aloud to Nutzhorn's band and met with its approval.

But although I could thus by no means be called of a happy disposition,
I was, by reason of my overflowing youth, in a constant state of
elation, which, as soon as the company of others brought me out of my
usual balance, acted like exuberant mirth and made me burst out

I was noted, among my comrades, and not always to my advantage, for my
absolutely ungovernable risibility. I had an exceedingly keen eye for
the ridiculous, and easily influenced as I still was, I could not
content myself with a smile. Not infrequently, when walking about the
town, I used to laugh the whole length of a street. There were times
when I was quite incapable of controlling my laughter; I laughed like a
child, and it was incomprehensible to me that people could go so soberly
and solemnly about. If a person stared straight at me, it made me laugh.
If a girl flirted a little with me, I laughed in her face. One day I
went out and saw two drunken labourers, in a cab, each with a wreath on
his knee; I was obliged to laugh; I met an old dandy whom I knew, with
two coats on, one of which hung down below the other; I had to laugh at
that, too. Sometimes, walking or standing, absorbed in thoughts, I was
outwardly abstracted, and answered mechanically, or spoke in a manner
unsuited to my words; if I noticed this myself, I could not refrain from
laughing aloud at my own absent-mindedness. It occasionally happened
that at an evening party, where I had been introduced by the son of the
house to a stiff family to whom I was a stranger, and where the
conversation at table was being carried on in laboured monosyllables, I
would begin to laugh so unrestrainedly that every one stared at me in
anger or amazement. And it occasionally happened that when some sad
event, concerning people present, was being discussed, the recollection
of something comical I had seen or heard the same day would crop up in
my mind to the exclusion of all else, and I would be overtaken by fits
of laughter that were both incomprehensible and wounding to those round
me, but which it was impossible to me to repress. At funeral ceremonies,
I was in such dread of bursting out laughing that my attention would
involuntarily fix itself on everything it ought to avoid. This habit of
mine was particularly trying when my laughter had a ruffling effect on
others in a thing that I myself was anxious to carry through. Thus I
spoilt the first rehearsals of Sophocles' Greek play _Philoctetes_,
which a little group of students were preparing to act at the request of
Julius Lange. Some of them pronounced the Greek in an unusual manner,
others had forgotten their parts or acted badly--and that was quite
enough to set me off in a fit of laughter which I had difficulty in
stopping. Thus I often laughed, when I was tormented at being compelled
to laugh, in reality feeling melancholy, and mentally worried; I used to
think of Oechlenschlaeger's Oervarodd, who does not laugh when he is
happy, but breaks into a guffaw when he is deeply affected.

These fits of laughter were in reality the outcome of sheer
youthfulness; with all my musings and reflection, I was still in many
ways a child; I laughed as boys and girls laugh, without being able to
stop, and especially when they ought not. But this painful trait in
myself directed my thoughts to the nature proper of laughter; I tried to
sum up to myself why I laughed, and why people in general laughed,
pondered, as well as I was capable of doing the question of what the
comical consisted of, and then recorded the fruits of my reflections in
my second long treatise, _On Laughter_, which has been lost.

As I approached my twentieth year, these fits of laughter stopped. "I
have," wrote I at the time, "seen into that Realm of Sighs, on the
threshold of which I--like Parmeniscus after consulting the Oracle of
Trophonius--have suddenly forgotten how to laugh."


Meanwhile I had completed my eighteenth year and had to make my choice
of a profession. But what was I fitted for? My parents, and those other
of my relations whose opinions I valued, wished me to take up the law;
they thought that I might make a good barrister; but I myself held back,
and during my first year of study did not attend a single law lecture.
In July, 1860, after I had passed my philosophical examination (with
_Distinction_ in every subject), the question became urgent.
Whether I was likely to exhibit any considerable talent as a writer, it
was impossible for me to determine. There was only one thing that I felt
clear about, and that was that I should never be contented with a
subordinate position in the literary world; better a hundred times be a
judge in a provincial town. I felt an inward conviction that I should
make my way as a writer. It seemed to me that a deathlike stillness
reigned for the time being over European literature, but that there were
mighty forces working in the silence. I believed that a revival was
imminent. In August, 1860, I wrote in my private papers: "We Danes, with
our national culture and our knowledge of the literatures of other
countries, will stand well equipped when the literary horn of the Gods
resounds again through the world, calling fiery youth to battle. I am
firmly convinced that that time will come and that I shall be, if not
the one who evokes it in the North, at any rate one who will contribute
greatly towards it."

One of the first books I had read as a student was Goethe's _Dichtung
und Wahrheit_, and this career had extraordinarily impressed me. In
my childlike enthusiasm I determined to read all the books that Goethe
says that he read as a boy, and thus commenced and finished
Winckelmann's collected works, Lessing's _Laocoon_ and other books
of artistic and archaeological research; in other words, studied the
history and philosophy of Art in the first instance under aspects which,
from the point of view of subsequent research, were altogether
antiquated, though in themselves, and in their day, valuable enough.

Goethe's life fascinated me for a time to such an extent that I found
duplicates of the characters in the book everywhere. An old language
master, to whom I went early in the morning, in order to acquire from
him the knowledge of English which had not been taught me at school,
reminded me vividly, for instance, of the old dancing master in Goethe,
and my impression was borne out when I discovered that he, too, had two
pretty daughters. A more important point was that the book awoke in me a
restless thirst for knowledge, at the same time that I conceived a
mental picture of Goethe's monumental personality and began to be
influenced by the universality of his genius.

Meanwhile, circumstances at home forced me, without further vacillation,
to take up some special branch of study. The prospects literature
presented were too remote. For Physics I had no talent; the logical bent
of my abilities seemed to point in the direction of the Law; so
Jurisprudentia was selected and my studies commenced.

The University lectures, as given by Professors Aagesen and Gram, were
appalling; they consisted of a slow, sleepy dictation. A death-like
dreariness brooded always over the lecture halls. Aagesen was especially
unendurable; there was no trace of anything human or living about his
dictation. Gram had a kind, well-intentioned personality, but had barely
reached his desk than it seemed as though he, too, were saying: "I am a
human being, everything human is alien to me."

We consequently had to pursue our studies with the help of a coach, and
the one whom I, together with Kappers, Ludvig David and a few others,
had chosen, Otto Algreen-Ussing, was both a capable and a pleasant
guide. Five years were yet to elapse before this man and his even more
gifted brother, Frederik, on the formation of the Loyal and Conservative
Society of August, were persecuted and ridiculed as reactionaries, by
the editors of the ascendant Press, who, only a few years later, proved
themselves to be ten times more reactionary themselves. Otto was
positively enthusiastic over Law; he used to declare that a barrister
"was the finest thing a man could be."

However, he did not succeed in infecting me with his enthusiasm. I took
pains, but there was little in the subject that aroused my interest.
Christian the Fifth's _Danish Law_ attracted me exclusively on
account of its language and the perspicuity and pithiness of the
expressions occasionally made use of.

With this exception what impressed me most of all that I heard in the
lessons was Anders Sandoee Oersted's _Interpretation of the Law_.
When I had read and re-read a passage of law which seemed to me to be
easily intelligible, and only capable of being understood in one way,
how could I do other than marvel and be seized with admiration, when the
coach read out Oersted's Interpretation, proving that the Law was
miserably couched, and could be expounded in three or four different
ways, all contradicting one another! But this Oersted very often did
prove in an irrefutable manner.

In my lack of receptivity for legal details, and my want of interest in
Positive Law, I flung myself with all the greater fervour into the study
of what in olden times was called Natural Law, and plunged again and
again into the study of Legal Philosophy.


About the same time as my legal studies were thus beginning, I planned
out a study of Philosophy and Aesthetics on a large scale as well. My
day was systematically filled up from early morning till late at night,
and there was time for everything, for ancient and modern languages, for
law lessons with the coach, for the lectures in philosophy which
Professors H. Broechner and R. Nielsen were holding for more advanced
students, and for independent reading of a literary, scientific and
historic description.

One of the masters who had taught me at school, a very erudite
philologian, now Dr. Oscar Siesbye, offered me gratuitous instruction,
and with his help several of the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides,
various things of Plato's, and comedies by Plautus and Terence were
carefully studied.

Frederik Nutzhorn read the _Edda_ and the _Niebelungenlied_
with me in the originals; with Jens Paludan-Mueller I went through the
New Testament in Greek, and with Julius Lange, Aeschylus, Sophocles,
Pindar, Horace and Ovid, and a little of Aristotle and Theocritus.
Catullus, Martial and Caesar I read for myself.

But I did not find any positive inspiration in my studies until I
approached my nineteenth year. In philosophy I had hitherto mastered
only a few books by Soeren Kierkegaard. But now I began a conscientious
study of Heiberg's philosophical writings and honestly endeavoured to
make myself familiar with his speculative logic. As Heiberg's _Prose
Writings_ came out, in the 1861 edition, they were studied with
extreme care. Heiberg's death in 1860 was a great grief to me; as a
thinker I had loved and revered him. The clearness of form and the
internal obscurity of his adaptation of Hegel's Teachings, gave one a
certain artistic satisfaction, at the same time that it provoked an
effort really to understand.

But in the nature of things, Heiberg's philosophical life-work could not
to a student be other than an admission into Hegel's train of thought,
and an introduction to the master's own works. I was not aware that by
1860 Europe had long passed his works by in favour of more modern
thinking. With a passionate desire to reach a comprehension of the
truth, I grappled with the System, began with the Encyclopaedia, read
the three volumes of Aesthetics, The Philosophy of Law, the Philosophy
of History, the Phenomenology of the Mind, then the Philosophy of Law
again, and finally the Logic, the Natural Philosophy and the Philosophy
of the Mind in a veritable intoxication of comprehension and delight.
One day, when a young girl towards whom I felt attracted had asked me to
go and say good-bye to her before her departure, I forgot the time, her
journey, and my promise to her, over my Hegel. As I walked up and down
my room I chanced to pull my watch out of my pocket, and realised that I
had missed my appointment and that the girl must have started long ago.

Hegel's Philosophy of Law had a charm for me as a legal student, partly
on account of the superiority with which the substantial quality of
Hegel's mind is there presented, and partly on account of the challenge
in the attitude of the book to accepted opinions and expressions,
"morality" here being almost the only thing Hegel objects to.

But it was the book on Aesthetics that charmed me most of all. It was
easy to understand, and yet weighty, superabundantly rich.

Again and again while reading Hegel's works I felt carried away with
delight at the new world of thought opening out before me. And when
anything that for a long time had been incomprehensible to me, at last
after tenacious reflection became clear, I felt what I myself called "an
unspeakable bliss." Hegel's system of thought, anticipatory of
experience, his German style, overburdened with arbitrarily constructed
technical words from the year 1810, which one might think would daunt a
young student of another country and another age, only meant to me
difficulties which it was a pleasure to overcome. Sometimes it was not
Hegelianism itself that seemed the main thing. The main thing was that I
was learning to know a world-embracing mind; I was being initiated into
an attempt to comprehend the universe which was half wisdom and half
poetry; I was obtaining an insight into a method which, if
scientifically unsatisfying, and on that ground already abandoned by
investigators, was fruitful and based upon a clever, ingenuous, highly
intellectual conception of the essence of truth; I felt myself put to
school to a great intellectual leader, and in this school I learnt to

I might, it is true, have received my initiation in a school built up on
more modern foundations; it is true that I should have saved much time,
been spared many detours, and have reached my goal more directly had I
been introduced to an empirical philosophy, or if Fate had placed me in
a school in which historical sources were examined more critically, but
not less intelligently, and in which respect for individuality was
greater. But such as the school was, I derived from it all the benefit
it could afford to my _ego_, and I perceived with delight that my
intellectual progress was being much accelerated. Consequently it did
not specially take from my feeling of having attained a measure of
scientific insight, when I learnt--what I had not known at first--that
my teachers, Hans Broechner, as well as Rasmus Nielsen, were agreed not
to remain satisfied with the conclusions of the German philosopher, had
"got beyond Hegel." At the altitude to which the study of philosophy had
now lifted me, I saw that the questions with which I had approached
Science were incorrectly formulated, and they fell away of themselves,
even without being answered. Words that had filled men's minds for
thousands of years, God, Infinity, Thought, Nature and Mind, Freedom and
Purpose, all these words acquired another and a deeper meaning, were
stamped with a new character, acquired a new value, and the depurated
ideas which they now expressed opposed each other, and combined with
each other, until the universe was seen pierced by a plexus of thoughts,
and resting calmly within it.

Viewed from these heights, the petty and the every-day matters which
occupied the human herd seemed so contemptible. Of what account, for
instance, was the wrangling in the Senate and the Parliament of a little
country like Denmark compared with Hegel's vision of the mighty march,
inevitable and determined by spiritual laws, of the idea of Freedom,
through the world's History! And of what account was the daily gossip of
the newspapers, compared with the possibility now thrown open of a life
of eternal ideals, lived in and for them!


I had an even deeper perception of my initiation when I went back from
Hegel to Spinoza and, filled with awe and enthusiasm, read the
_Ethica_ for the first time. Here I stood at the source of modern
pantheistic Philosophy. Here Philosophy was even more distinctly
Religion, since it took Religion's place. Though the method applied was
very artificial, purely mathematical, at least Philosophy had here the
attraction of a more original type of mind, the effect being much the
same as that produced by primitive painting, compared with a more
developed stage. His very expression, _God or Nature_, had a
fascinating mysticism about it. The chapter in the book which is devoted
to the Natural History of passions, surprised and enriched one by its
simple, but profound, explanation of the conditions of the human soul.
And although his fight against Superstition's views of life is conducted
with a keenness that scouts discussion, whereas in modern Philosophy the
contention is merely implied, it seemed as though his thoughts travelled
along less stormy paths.

In Hegel, it had been exclusively the comprehensiveness of the thoughts
and the mode of the thought's procedure that held my attention. With
Spinoza it was different. It was his personality that attracted, the
great man in him, one of the greatest that History has known. With him a
new type had made its entrance into the world's History; he was the calm
thinker, looking down from above on this earthly life, reminding one, by
the purity and strength of his character, of Jesus, but a contrast to
Jesus, inasmuch as he was a worshipper of Nature and Necessity, and a
Pantheist. His teaching was the basis of the faith of the new age. He
was a Saint and a Heathen, seditious and pious, at the same time.


Still, while I was in this way making a purely mental endeavour to
penetrate into as many intellectual domains as I could, and to become
master of one subject after another, I was very far from being at peace
with regard to my intellectual acquisitions, or from feeling myself in
incontestable possession of them. While I was satisfying my desire for
insight or knowledge and, by glimpses, felt my supremest happiness in
the delight of comprehension, an ever more violent struggle was going on
in my emotions.

As my being grew and developed within me and I slowly emerged from the
double state of which I had been conscious, in other words, the more I
became one and individual and strove to be honest and true, the less I
felt myself to be a mere individual, the more I realised that I was
bound up with humanity, one link in the chain, one organ belonging to
the Universe. The philosophical Pantheism I was absorbed by, itself
worked counter to the idea of individualism inherent in me, taught me
and presented to me the union of all beings in Nature the All-Divine.
But it was not from Pantheism that the crisis of my spiritual life
proceeded; it was from the fountains of emotion which now shot up and
filled my soul with their steady flow. A love for humanity came over me,
and watered and fertilised the fields of my inner world which had been
lying fallow, and this love of humanity vented itself in a vast

This gradually absorbed me till I could hardly bear the thought of the
suffering, the poor, the oppressed, the victims of Injustice. I always
saw them in my mind's eye, and it seemed to be my duty to work for them,
and to be disgraceful of me to enjoy the good things of life while so
many were being starved and tortured. Often as I walked along the
streets at night I brooded over these ideas till I knew nothing of what
was passing around me, but only felt how all the forces of my brain drew
me towards those who suffered.

There were warm-hearted and benevolent men among my near relatives. The
man whom my mother's younger sister had married had his heart in the
right place, so much indeed that he no sooner saw or heard of distress
than his hand was in his pocket, although he had little from which to
give. My father's brother was a genuinely philanthropic man, who founded
one beneficent institution or society after the other, had an unusual
power of inducing his well-to-do fellow-townsmen to carry his schemes
through, and in the elaboration of them showed a perception and
practical sense that almost amounted to genius; this was the more
surprising since his intelligence was not otherwise remarkable for its
keenness and his reasoning methods were confused. But what I felt was
quite different. My feelings were not so easily roused as those of the
first-mentioned; I was not so good-natured or so quick to act as he.
Neither did they resemble those of my other uncle, who merely
represented compassion for those unfortunately situated, but was without
the least vestige of rebellious feeling against the conditions or the
people responsible for the misery; my uncle was always content with life
as it was, saw the hand of a loving Providence everywhere and was fully
and firmly convinced that he himself was led and helped by this same
Providence, which specially watched over the launching of his projects
for the welfare of mankind. No, my feeling was of quite another kind.
Nothing was farther removed from me than this sometimes quite childish
optimism. It was not enough for me to advertise the sufferings of a few
individuals and, when possible, alleviate them; I sought the causes of
them in brutality and injustice. Neither could I recognise the finger of
a Universal Ruler in a confusion of coincidences, conversations,
newspaper articles, and advice by prudent men, the outcome of all which
was the founding of a society for seamstresses or the erection of a
hospital to counteract the misery that the Controlling Power had Itself
occasioned. I was a child no longer, and in that sense never had been
childish. But my heart bled none the less with sympathy for society's
unfortunates. I did not as yet perceive the necessity of that
selfishness which is self-assertion, and I felt oppressed and tormented
by all that I, in my comparatively advantageous position as a non-
proletarian, enjoyed, while many others did not.

Then another mood, with other promptings, asserted itself. I felt an
impulse to step forward as a preacher to the world around me, to the
thoughtless and the hardhearted. Under the influence of strong emotion I
wrote an edifying discourse, _The Profitable Fear_. I began to
regard it as my duty, so soon as I was fitted for it, to go out into the
town and preach at every street-corner, regardless of whether a lay
preacher, like myself, should encounter indifference or harvest scorn.

This course attracted me because it presented itself to me under the
guise of the most difficult thing, and, with the perversity of youth, I
thought difficulty the only criterion of duty. I only needed to hit upon
something that seemed to me to be the right thing and then say to
myself: "You dare not do it!" for all the youthful strength and daring
that was in me, all my deeper feelings of honour and of pride, all my
love of grappling with the apparently insurmountable to unite, and in
face of this _You dare not_, satisfy myself that I did dare.

As provisionally, self-abnegation, humility, and asceticism seemed to me
to be the most difficult things, for a time my whole spiritual life was
concentrated into an endeavour to attain them. Just at this time--I was
nineteen--my family was in a rather difficult pecuniary position, and I,
quite a poor student, was cast upon my own resources. I had consequently
not much of this world's goods to renounce. From a comfortable residence
in Crown Prince's Street, my parents had moved to a more modest flat in
the exceedingly unaristocratic Salmon Street, where I had an attic of
limited dimensions with outlook over roofs by day and a view of the
stars by night. Quiet the nights were not, inasmuch as the neighbouring
houses re-echoed with screams and shrieks from poor women, whom their
late-returning husbands or lovers thrashed in their cups. But never had
I felt myself so raised, so exhilarated, so blissfully happy, as in that
room. My days slipped by in ecstasy; I felt myself consecrated a
combatant in the service of the Highest. I used to test my body, in
order to get it wholly under my control, ate as little as possible,
slept as little as possible, lay many a night outside my bed on the bare
floor, gradually to make myself as hardy as I required to be. I tried to
crush the youthful sensuality that was awakening in me, and by degrees
acquired complete mastery over myself, so that I could be what I wished
to be, a strong and willing instrument in the fight for the victory of
Truth. And I plunged afresh into study with a passion and a delight that
prevented my perceiving any lack, but month after month carried me
along, increasing in knowledge and in mental power, growing from day to


This frame of mind, however, was crossed by another. The religious
transformation in my mind could not remain clear and unmuddied, placed
as I was in a society furrowed through and through by different
religious currents, issued as I was from the European races that for
thousands of years had been ploughed by religious ideas. All the
atavism, all the spectral repetition of the thoughts and ideas of the
past that can lie dormant in the mind of the individual, leaped to the
reinforcement of the harrowing religious impressions which came to me
from without.

It was not the attitude of my friends that impressed me. All my more
intimate friends were orthodox Christians, but the attempts which
various ones, amongst them Julius Lange, and Jens Paludan-Mueller, had
made to convert me had glanced off from my much more advanced thought
without making any impression. I was made of much harder metal than
they, and their attempts to alter my way of thinking did not penetrate
beyond my hide. To set my mind in vibration, there was needed a brain
that I felt superior to my own; and I did not find it in them. I found
it in the philosophical and religious writings of Soeren Kierkegaard, in
such works, for instance, as _Sickness unto Death_.

The struggle within me began, faintly, as I approached my nineteenth
year. My point of departure was this: one thing seemed to me requisite,
to live in and for _The Idea_, as the expression for the highest at
that time was. All that rose up inimical to _The Idea_ or Ideal
merited to be lashed with scorn or felled with indignation. And one day
I penned this outburst: "Heine wept over _Don Quixote_. Yes, he was
right. I could weep tears of blood when I think of the book." But the
first thing needed was to acquire a clear conception of what must be
understood by the Ideal. Heiberg had regarded the uneducated as those
devoid of ideals. But I was quite sure myself that education afforded no
criterion. And I could find no other criterion of devotion to the Ideal
than a willingness to make sacrifices. If, I said, I prove myself less
self-sacrificing than any one of the wretches I am fighting, I shall
myself incur well-merited scorn. But if self-sacrifice were the
criterion, then Jesus, according to the teachings of tradition, was the
Ideal, for who as self-sacrificing as He?

This was an inclined plane leading to the Christian spiritual life, and
a year later, when I was nearly twenty, I had proceeded so far on this
plane that I felt myself in all essentials in agreement with the
Christian mode of feeling, inasmuch as my life was ascetic, and my
searching, striving, incessantly working mind, not only found repose,
but rapture, in prayer, and was elated and fired at the idea of being
protected and helped by "God."

But just as I was about to complete my twentieth year, the storm broke
out over again, and during the whole of the ensuing six months raged
with unintermittent violence. Was I, at this stage of my development, a
Christian or not? And if not, was it my duty to become a Christian?

The first thought that arose was this: It is a great effort, a constant
effort, sometimes a minutely recurring effort, to attain moral mastery
over one's self, and though this certainly need not bring with it a
feeling of self-satisfaction, much less _ought_ to do so, it does
bring with it a recognition of the value of this self-mastery. How
strange, then, that Christianity, which commands its attainment, at the
same time declares it to be a matter of indifference to the revealed God
whether a man has lived morally or not, since Faith or lack of Faith is
the one condition upon which so-called Salvation depends!

The next thought was this: It is only in the writings of Kierkegaard, in
his teachings concerning paradox, that Christianity appears so definite
that it cannot be confused with any other spiritual trend whatever. But
when one has to make one's choice between Pantheism and Christianity,
then the question arises, Are Kierkegaard's teachings really historic
Christianity, and not rather a rational adaptation? And this question
must be answered in the negative, since it is possible to assimilate it
without touching upon the question of the revelation of the Holy Ghost
in the shape of a dove, to the Voice from the clouds, and the whole
string of miracles and dogmas.

The next thought again was this: Pantheism does not place any one
unconditional goal in front of man. The unbeliever passes his life
interested in the many aims that man, as man, has. The Pantheist will
therefore have difficulty in living a perfect ethical life. There are
many cases in which, by deviating from the strictly ethic code, you do
not harm anyone, you only injure your own soul. The Non-Believer will in
this case only hardly, for the sake of impersonal Truth, make up his
mind to the step which the God-fearing man will take actuated by his
passionate fear of offending God.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest