Part 4 out of 8
and they informed me that etiquette demanded I should each time empty my
glass to the bottom; the contrary would be a breach of good form. As I
very quickly saw through their intention, I escaped from the difficulty
by asking the waiter to bring me a very small glass. By emptying this I
could, without my manners being affected, hold my own against them all.
But,--almost for the first time in my life,--when the company rose from
table I felt that I had been in exceedingly bad company, and a disgust
for the nominally highest circles, who were so little capable of acting
in accordance with the reputation they enjoyed, and the polish imputed
to them, remained with me for many years to come.
FIRST LONG SOJOURN ABROAD
My Wish to See Paris--_Dualism in our Modern Philosophy_--A
Journey--Impressions of Paris--Lessons in French--Mademoiselle Mathilde
I had wished for years to see Paris, the city that roused my most devout
feelings. As a youth I had felt a kind of reverent awe for the French
Revolution, which represented to me the beginning of human conditions
for all those who were not of the favoured among men,--and Paris was the
city of the Revolution. Moreover, it was the city of Napoleon, the only
ruler since Caesar who had seriously fascinated me, though my feelings
for him changed so much that now admiration, now aversion, got the upper
hand. And Paris was the city, too, of the old culture, the city of
Julian the Apostate, the city of the middle ages, that Victor Hugo had
portrayed in _Notre Dame de Paris_--the first book I had read in
French, difficult though it was with its many peculiar expressions for
Gothic arches and buttresses--and it was the city where Alfred de Musset
had written his poems and where Delacroix had painted. The Louvre and
the Luxembourg, the Theatre Francais and the Gymnase were immense
treasuries that tempted me. In the Autumn of 1866, when Gabriel Sibbern
started to Paris, somewhat before I myself could get away, my last words
to him: "Till we meet again in the Holy City!" were by no means a jest.
Before I could start, I had to finish the pamphlet which, with Sibbern's
help, I had written against Nielsen's adjustment of the split between
Protestant orthodoxy and the scientific view of the universe, and which
I had called _Dualism in our Modern Philosophy_. I was not troubled
with any misgivings as to how I should get the book published. As long
ago as 1864 a polite, smiling, kindly man, who introduced himself to me
as Frederik Hegel, the bookseller, had knocked at the door of my little
room and asked me to let him print the essay which I had written for my
Master of Arts examination, and if possible he would also like the paper
which had won the University gold medal; and in fact, anything else I
might wish published. To my amazed reply that those essays were not
worth publishing, and that in general I did not consider what I wrote
sufficiently mature for publication, Hegel had first suggested that I
should leave that question to the publisher, and then, when he saw that
my refusal was honestly meant, had simply asked me to take my work to
him when I myself considered that the moment had arrived. On this
occasion, as on many others, the acute and daring publisher gave proof
of the _flair_ which made him the greatest in the North. He
accepted the little book without raising any difficulties, merely
remarking that it would have to be spread out a little in the printing,
that it might not look too thin. Even before the pamphlet was mentioned
in the Press, its author was on his way to foreign parts.
On one of the first days of November, I journeyed, in a tremendous
storm, to Luebeck, the characteristic buildings of which (the Church of
Mary, the Exchange, the Town-hall), together with the remains of the old
fortifications, aroused my keen interest. In this Hanse town, with its
strongly individual stamp, I found myself carried back three hundred
I was amazed at the slave-like dress of the workmen, the pointed hats of
the girls, and the wood pavements, which were new to me.
I travelled through Germany with a Portuguese, a little doctor from the
University of Coimbra, in whose queer French fifteen was _kouss_
and Goethe _Shett_. A practical American, wrapped up in a
waterproof, took up three places to lie down in one evening, pretended
to sleep, and never stirred all night, forcing his inexperienced fellow-
travellers to crowd up into the corners of the carriage, and when the
day broke, chatted with them as pleasantly as if they and he were the
best friends in the world.
At Cologne, where I had stood, reverential, in the noble forest of
pillars in the Cathedral, then afterwards, in my simplicity, allowed
someone to foist a whole case of Eau de Cologne upon me, I shortened my
stay, in my haste to see Paris. But, having by mistake taken a train
which would necessitate my waiting several hours at Liege, I decided
rather to continue my journey to Brussels and see that city too. The run
through Belgium seemed to me heavenly, as for a time I happened to be
quite alone in my compartment and I walked up and down, intoxicated with
the joy of travelling.
Brussels was the first large French town I saw; it was a foretaste of
Paris, and delighted me.
Never having been out in the world on my own account before, I was still
as inexperienced and awkward as a child. It was not enough that I had
got into the wrong train; I discovered, to my shame, that I had mislaid
the key of my box, which made me think anxiously of the customs
officials in Paris, and I was also so stupid as to ask the boots in the
Brussels hotel for "a little room," so that they gave me a miserable
little sleeping-place under the roof.
But at night, after I had rambled about the streets of Brussels, as I
sat on a bench somewhere on a broad boulevard, an overwhelming,
terrifying, transporting sense of my solitariness came over me. It
seemed to me as though now, alone in a foreign land, at night time, in
this human swarm, where no one knew me and I knew no one, where no one
would look for me if anything were to happen to me, I was for the first
time thrown entirely on my own resources, and I recognised in the
heavens, with a feeling of reassurance, old friends among the stars.
With a guide, whom in my ignorance I thought necessary, I saw the sights
of the town, and afterwards, for the first time, saw a French play. So
little experience of the world had I, that, during the interval, I left
my overcoat, which I had not given up to the attendant, lying on the
seat in the pit, and my neighbour had to explain to me that such great
confidence in my fellow-men was out of place.
Everything was new to me, everything fascinated me. I, who only knew
"indulgence" from my history lessons at school, saw with keen interest
the priest in a Brussels church dispense "_indulgence pleniere_,"
or, in Flemish, _vollen aflaet_. I was interested in the curious
names of the ecclesiastical orders posted up in the churches, marvelled,
for instance, at a brotherhood that was called "St. Andrew Avellin,
patron saint against apoplexy, epilepsy and sudden death."
In the carriage from Brussels I had for travelling companion a pretty
young Belgian girl named Marie Choteau, who was travelling with her
father, but talked all the time to her foreign fellow-traveller, and in
the course of conversation showed me a Belgian history and a Belgian
geography, from which it appeared that Belgium was the centre of the
globe, the world's most densely built over, most religious, and at the
same time most enlightened country, the one which, in proportion to its
size, had the most and largest industries. I gave her some of my
bountiful supply of Eau de Cologne.
The tiring night-journey, with its full four hours' wait at Liege, was
all pure enjoyment to me, and in a mood of mild ecstasy, at last, at
half-past ten on the morning of November 11th 1866, I made my entry into
Paris, and was received cordially by the proprietors of a modest but
clean little hotel which is still standing, No. 20 Rue Notre Dame des
Victoires, by the proprietors, two simple Lorrainers, Francois and
Mueller, to whom Gabriel Sibbern, who was staying there, had announced my
arrival. The same morning Sibbern guided my first steps to one of
Pasdeloup's great classical popular concerts.
In the evening, in spite of my fatigue after travelling all night, I
went to the Theatre Francais for the first time, and there, lost in
admiration of the masterly ensemble and the natural yet passionate
acting, with which I had hitherto seen nothing to compare, I saw
Girardin's _Le supplice d'une femme_, and Beaumarchais' _Le
mariage de Figaro_, in one evening making the acquaintance of such
stars as Regnier, Madame Favart, Coquelin and the Sisters Brohan.
Regnier especially, in his simple dignity, was an unforgettable figure,
being surrounded, moreover, in my eyes by the glory which the well-known
little poem of Alfred de Musset, written to comfort the father's heart,
had shed upon him. Of the two celebrated sisters, Augustine was all wit,
Madeleine pure beauty and arch, melting grace.
These first days were rich days to me, and as they did not leave me any
time for thinking over what I had seen, my impressions overwhelmed me at
night, till sometimes I could not sleep for sheer happiness. This, to
me, was happiness, an uninterrupted garnering of intellectual wealth in
association with objects that all appealed to my sympathies, and I wrote
home: "To be here, young, healthy, with alert senses, keen eyes and good
ears, with all the curiosity, eagerness to know, love of learning, and
susceptibility to every impression, that is youth's own prerogative, and
to have no worries about home, all that is so great a happiness that I
am sometimes tempted, like Polycrates, to fling the handsome ring I had
from Christian Richardt in the gutter."
For the rest, I was too fond of characteristic architecture to feel
attracted by the building art displayed in the long, regular streets of
Napoleon III, and too permeated with national prejudices to be able at
once to appreciate French sculpture. I was justified in feeling repelled
by many empty allegorical pieces on public monuments, but during the
first weeks I lacked perception for such good sculpture as is to be
found in the _foyer_ of the Theatre Francais. "You reel at every
step," I wrote immediately after my arrival, "that France has never had a
Thorwaldsen, and that Denmark possesses an indescribable treasure in
him. We are and remain, in three or four directions, the first nation in
Europe. This is pure and simple truth."
To my youthful ignorance it was the truth, but it hardly remained such
after the first month.
Being anxious to see as much as possible and not let anything of
interest escape me, I went late to bed, and yet got up early, and tried
to regulate my time, as one does a blanket that is too short.
I was immensely interested in the art treasures from all over the world
collected in the Louvre. Every single morning, after eating my modest
breakfast at a _cremerie_ near the chateau, I paid my vows in the
_Salon carre_ and then absorbed myself in the other halls. The
gallery of the Louvre was the one to which I owe my initiation. Before,
I had seen hardly any Italian art in the original, and no French at all.
In Copenhagen I had been able to worship all the Dutch masters. Leonardo
and the Venetians spoke to me here for the first time. French painting
and sculpture, Puget and Houdon, Clouet and Delacroix, and the French
art that was modern then, I learnt for the first time to love and
appreciate at the Luxembourg.
I relished these works of art, and the old-time art of the Greeks and
Egyptians which the Museum of the Louvre contained, in a mild
intoxication of delight.
And I inbreathed Paris into my soul. When on the broad, handsome Place
de la Concorde, I saw at the same time, with my bodily eyes, the
beautifully impressive obelisk, and in my mind's eye the scaffold on
which the royal pair met with their death in the Revolution; when in the
Latin quarter I went upstairs to the house in which Charlotte Corday
murdered Marat, or when, in the highest storey of the Louvre, I gazed at
the little gray coat from Marengo and the three-cornered hat, or from
the Arc de Triomphe let my glance roam over the city, the life that
pulsated through my veins seemed stimulated tenfold by sight and
Yet it was not only the city of Paris, its appearance, its art gems,
that I eagerly made my own, and with them much that intellectually
belonged to Italy or the Netherlands; it was French culture, the best
that the French nature contains, the fragrance of her choicest flowers,
that I inhaled.
And while thus for the first time learning to know French people, and
French intellectual life, I was unexpectedly admitted to constant
association with men and women of the other leading Romance races,
Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Brazilians.
Broechner had given me a letter of introduction to Costanza Testa, a
friend of his youth, now married to Count Oreste Blanchetti and living
in Paris, with her somewhat older sister Virginia, a kind-hearted and
amiable woman of the world. The latter had married in Brazil, as her
second husband, the Italian banker Pagella, and to their house came, not
only Italians and other European Southerners, but members of the South
So warm a reception as I met with from the two sisters and their
husbands I had never had anywhere before. After I had known the two
families one hour, these people treated me as though I were their
intimate friend; Costanza's younger brother, they called me. I had a
seat in their carriage every day, when the ladies drove out in the Bois
de Boulogne; they never had a box at the Italian opera, where Adelina
Patti's first notes were delighting her countrymen, without sending me a
seat. They expected me every evening, however late it often might be
when I came from the theatre, in their drawing-room, where, according to
the custom of their country, they always received the same circle of
I was sincerely attached to the two sisters, and felt myself at ease in
their house, although the conversation there was chiefly carried on in a
language of which I understood but little, since French was spoken only
on my account. The only shadow over my pleasure at spending my evenings
in the Rue Valois du Roule was the fact that this necessitated my
missing some acts at the Theatre Francais, for which the Danish
Minister, through the Embassy, had procured me a free pass. Certainly no
Dane was ever made so happy by the favour. They were enraptured hours
that I spent evening after evening in the French national theatre, where
I became thoroughly acquainted with the modern, as well as the
classical, dramatic repertoire,--an acquaintance which was further
fortified during my long stay in Paris in 1870.
I enjoyed the moderation of the best actors, their restraint, and
subordination of self to the role and the general effect. It is true
that the word genius could only be applied to a very few of the actors,
and at that time I saw none who, in my opinion, could be compared with
the great representatives of the Danish stage, such as Michael Wiehe,
Johanne Luise Heiberg, or Phister. But I perceived at once that the
mannerisms of these latter would not be tolerated here for a moment;
here, under the influence of this artistic whole-harmony, they would
never have been able to give free vent to individuality and peculiarity
as they did at home.
I saw many hundred performances in these first years of my youth at the
Theatre Francais, which was then at its zenith. There, if anywhere, I
felt the silent march of the French muses through Time and Space.
A capable journalist named Gregoire, a sickly, prematurely aged, limping
fellow, with alert wits, an Alsatian, who knew Danish and regularly read
Bille's _Daily Paper_, had in many ways taken me up almost from the
first day of my sojourn on French soil. This man recommended me, on my
expressing a wish to meet with a competent teacher, to take instruction
in the language from a young girl, a friend of his sister, who was an
orphan and lived with her aunt. She was of good family, the daughter of
a colonel and the granddaughter of an admiral, but her own and her
aunt's circumstances were narrow, and she was anxious to give lessons.
When I objected that such lessons could hardly be really instructive, I
was told that she was not only in every way a nice but a very gifted and
painstaking young girl.
The first time I entered the house, as a future pupil, I found the young
lady, dressed in a plain black silk dress, surrounded by a circle of
toddlers of both sexes, for whom she had a sort of school, and whom on
my arrival she sent away. She had a pretty figure, a face that was
attractive without being beautiful, a large mouth with good teeth, and
dark brown hair. Her features were a little indefinite, her face rather
broad than oval, her eyes brown and affectionate. She had at any rate
the beauty that twenty years lends. We arranged for four lessons a week,
to begin with.
The first dragged considerably. My teacher was to correct any mistakes
in pronunciation and grammar that I made in conversation. But we could
not get up any proper conversation. She was evidently bored by the
lessons, which she had only undertaken for the sake of the fees. If I
began to tell her anything, she only half listened, and yawned with all
her might very often and very loudly, although she politely put her hand
in front of her large mouth. There only came a little animation into her
expression when I either pronounced as badly as I had been taught by my
French master at school, or made some particularly ludicrous mistake,
such as _c'est tout egal_ for _bien egal_. At other times she
was distracted, sleepy, her thoughts elsewhere.
After having tried vainly for a few times to interest the young lady by
my communications, I grew tired of the lessons. Moreover, they were of
very little advantage to me, for the simple reason that my youthful
teacher had not the very slightest scientific or even grammatical
knowledge of her own tongue, and consequently could never answer my
questions as to _why_ you had to pronounce in such and such a way,
or by virtue of what _rule_ you expressed yourself in such and such
a manner. I began to neglect my lessons, sometimes made an excuse, but
oftener remained away without offering any explanation.
On my arrival one afternoon, after having repeatedly stayed away, the
young lady met me with some temper, and asked the reason of my failures
to come, plainly enough irritated and alarmed at my indifference, which
after all was only the reflection of her own. I promised politely to be
more regular in future. To insure this, she involuntarily became more
She yawned no more. I did not stay away again.
She began to take an interest herself in this eldest pupil of hers, who
at 24 years of age looked 20 and who was acquainted with all sorts of
things about conditions, countries, and people of which she knew
She had been so strictly brought up that nearly all secular reading was
forbidden to her, and she had never been to any theatre, not even the
Theatre Francais. She had not read Victor Hugo, Lamartine, or Musset,
had not even dared to read _Paul et Virginie_, only knew expurgated
editions of Corneille, Racine and Moliere. She was sincerely clerical,
had early been somewhat influenced by her cousin, later the well-known
Roman Catholic author, Ernest Hello, and in our conversations was always
ready to take the part of the Jesuits against Pascal; what the latter
had attacked were some antiquated and long-abandoned doctrinal books;
even if there were defects in the teaching of certain Catholic
ecclesiastics, their lives at any rate were exemplary, whereas the
contrary was the case with the free-thinking men of science; their
teaching was sometimes unassailable, but the lives they led could not be
When we two young people got into a dispute, we gradually drew nearer to
one another. Our remarks contradicted each other, but an understanding
came about between our eyes. One day, as I was about to leave, she
called me back from the staircase, and, very timidly, offered me an
orange. The next time she blushed slightly when I came in. She
frequently sent me cards of admission to the Athenee, a recently started
institution, in which lectures were given by good speakers. She began to
look pleased at my coming and to express regret at the thought of my
On New Year's day, as a duty gift, I had sent her a bouquet of white
flowers, and the next day she had tears in her eyes as she thanked me:
"I ask you to believe that I highly appreciate your attention." From
that time forth she spoke more and more often of how empty it would be
for her when I was gone. I was not in love with her, but was too young
for her feelings, so unreservedly expressed, to leave me unaffected, and
likewise young enough to imagine that she expected me before long to ask
for her hand. So I soon informed her that I did not feel so warmly
towards her as she did towards me, and that I was not thinking of
binding myself for the present.
"Do you think me so poor an observer?" she replied, amazed. "I have
never made any claims upon you, even in my thoughts. But I owe you the
happiest month of my life."
This was about the state of affairs between Mademoiselle Louise and me,
when one evening, at Pagella's, where there were Southerners of various
races present, I was introduced to a young lady, Mademoiselle Mathilde
M., who at first sight made a powerful impression upon me.
She was a young Spanish Brazilian, tall of stature, a proud and dazzling
racial beauty. The contours of her head were so impeccably perfect that
one scarcely understood how Nature could have made such a being
inadvertently, without design. The rosy hue of her complexion made the
carnation even of a beautiful woman's face look chalky or crimson by the
side of hers. At the same time there was a something in the colour of
her skin that made me understand better the womanish appearance of
Zurbaran and Ribera, a warm glow which I had never seen in Nature
before. Her heavy, bluish-black hair hung down, after the fashion of the
day, in little curls over her forehead and fell in thick ringlets upon
her shoulders. Her eyebrows were exquisitely pencilled, arched and
almost met over her delicate nose, her eyes were burning and a deep
brown; they conquered, and smiled; her mouth was a little too small,
with white teeth that were a little too large, her bust slender and
full. Her manner was distinguished, her voice rich; but most marvellous
of all was her hand, such a hand as Parmeggianino might have painted,
all soul, branching off into five delightful fingers.
Mentally I unhesitatingly dubbed her the most marvelous feminine
creature I had ever seen, and that less on account of her loveliness
than the blending of the magnificence of her bearing with the ardour,
and often the frolicsomeness, of her mode of expression.
She was always vigorous and sometimes daring in her statements, cared
only for the unusual, loved only "the impossible," but nevertheless
carefully observed every established custom of society. To my very first
remark to her, to the effect that the weakness of women was mostly only
an habitual phrase; they were not weak except when they wished to be,
she replied: "Young as you are, you know women very well!" In that she
was quite wrong.
Besides Spanish and Portuguese, she spoke French perfectly and English
not badly, sang in a melodious contralto voice, drew well for an
amateur, carved alabaster vases, and had all kinds of talents. She did
not care to sing ballads, only cared for grand pathos.
She was just twenty years of age, and had come into the world at Rio,
where her father represented the Spanish government. The family were
descended from Cervantes. As she had early been left motherless, her
father had sent her over in her fifteenth year to her aunt in Paris.
This latter was married to an old monstrosity of a Spaniard, religious
to the verge of insanity, who would seem to have committed some crime in
his youth and now spent his whole day in the church, which was next door
to his house, imploring forgiveness for his sins. He was only at home at
mealtimes, when he ate an alarming amount, and he associated only with
priests. The aunt herself, however, in spite of her age, was a pleasure-
seeking woman, rarely allowed her niece to stay at home and occupy
herself as she liked, but dragged her everywhere about with her to
parties and balls. In her aunt's company she sometimes felt depressed,
but alone she was cheerful and without a care. At the Pagellas' she was
like a child of the house. She had the Spanish love of ceremony and
magnificence, the ready repartee of the Parisian, and, like a well-
brought-up girl, knew how to preserve the balance between friendliness
and mirth. She was not in the least prudish, and she understood
everything; but there was a certain sublimity in her manner.
While Mademoiselle Louise, the little Parisian, had been brought up in a
convent, kept from all free, intelligent, mundane conversation, and all
free artistic impressions, the young Spaniard, at the same age, had the
education and the style of a woman of the world in her manner.
We two young frequenters of the Pagella salon, felt powerfully drawn to
one another. We understood one another at once. Of course, it was only I
who was fascinated. When, in an evening, I drove across Paris in the
expectation of seeing her, I sometimes murmured to myself Henrik Hertz's
"My beloved is like the dazzling day,
My feelings, however, were much more admiration than love or desire. I
did not really want to possess her. I never felt myself quite on a level
with her even when she made decided advances to me. I rejoiced over her
as over something perfect, and there was the rich, foreign colouring
about her that there had been about the birds of paradise in my nursery.
She seldom disturbed my peace of mind, but I said to myself that if I
were to go away then, I should in all probability never see her again,
as her father would be taking her the next year to Brazil or Madrid, and
I sometimes felt as though I should be going away from my happiness
forever. She often asked me to stay with such expressions and with such
an expression that I was quite bewildered. And then she monopolised my
thoughts altogether, like the queenly being she was.
A Danish poet had once called the beautiful women of the South "Large,
showy flowers without fragrance." Was she a large, showy flower? Forget-
me-nots were certainly by no means showy, but they were none the more
odorous for that.
Now that I was seeing the radiant Mathilde almost every day, my position
with regard to Louise seemed to me a false one. I did not yet know how
exceedingly rare an undivided feeling is, did not understand that my
feelings towards Mathilde were just as incomplete as those I cherished
for Louise. I looked on Mademoiselle Mathilde as on a work of art, but I
came more humanly close to Mademoiselle Louise. She did not evoke my
enthusiastic admiration; that was quite true, but Mademoiselle Mathilde
evoked my enthusiastic admiration only. If there were a great deal of
compassion mingled with my feelings for the Parisian, there was likewise
a slight erotic element.
The young Frenchwoman, in her passion, found expressions for affection
and tenderness, in which she forgot all pride. She lived in a
commingling, very painful for me, of happiness at my still being in
Paris, and of horror at my approaching departure, which I was now about
to accelerate, merely to escape from the extraordinary situation in
which I found myself, and which I was too young to carry. Although
Mathilde, whom I had never seen alone, was always the same, quite the
great lady, perfectly self-controlled, it was the thought of saying
good-bye to her that was the more painful to me. Every other day, on the
other hand, Louise was trembling and ill, and I dreaded the moment of
I had not left off my daily work in Paris, but had read industriously at
the Imperial Library. I had also attended many lectures, some
occasionally, others regularly, such as those of Janet, Caro, Leveque
Of all contemporary French writers, I was fondest of Taine. I had begun
studying this historian and thinker in Copenhagen. The first book of his
that I read was _The French Philosophers of the Nineteenth
Century_, in a copy that had been lent to me by Gabriel Sibbern. The
book entranced me, and I determined to read every word that I could get
hold of by the same author. In the Imperial Library in Paris I read
first of all _The History of English Literature_, of which I had
hitherto only been acquainted with a few fragments, which had appeared
in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_. Taine was to me an antidote to
German abstraction and German pedantry. Through him I found the way to
my own inmost nature, which my Dano-German University education had
Shortly after my arrival in Paris, therefore, I had written to Taine and
begged for an interview. By a singular piece of ill-luck his reply to me
was lost, and it was only at the very end of my stay that I received a
second invitation to go to him. Although this one conversation could not
be of any vast importance to me, it was nevertheless the first personal
link between me and the man who was and remained my greatly loved master
and deliverer, even though I mistrusted his essential teachings. I was
afraid that I had created a bad impression, as I had wasted the time
raising objections; but Taine knew human nature well enough to perceive
the personality behind the clumsy form and the admiration behind the
criticism. In reality, I was filled with passionate gratitude towards
Taine, and this feeling remained unaltered until his latest hour.
During this my first stay in Paris I added the impression of Taine's
personality to the wealth of impressions that I took back with me from
Paris to Copenhagen.
Feud in Danish Literature--Riding--Youthful Longings--On the Rack--My
First Living Erotic Reality--An Impression of the Miseries of Modern
Coercive Marriage--Researches on the Comic--Dramatic Criticism--A Trip
to Germany--Johanne Louise Heiberg--Magdalene Thoresen--Rudolph Bergh--
The Sisters Spang--A Foreign Element--The Woman Subject--Orla Lehmann--
M. Goldschmidt--Public Opposition--A Letter from Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson--
After my return from France to Denmark, in 1867, my thoughts were taken
up once more by the feud that had broken out in Danish literature
between Science and so-called Revelation (in the language of the time,
Faith and Knowledge). More and more had by degrees entered the lists,
and I, who centred my greatest intellectual interest in the battle, took
part in it with a dual front, against the orthodox theologians, and more
especially against R. Nielsen, the assailant of the theologians, whom I
regarded as no less theologically inclined than his opponents.
I thereby myself became the object of a series of violent attacks from
various quarters. These did not have any appreciable effect on my
spirits, but they forced me for years into a somewhat irritating
attitude of self-defence. Still I was now arrived at that period of my
youth when philosophy and art were unable to keep temperament in check.
This manifested itself first in a fresh need for physical exercise.
During the first two years after the decision of 1864, while things were
leading up to war between Prussia and Austria, and while the young blood
of Denmark imagined that their country would be drawn into this war, I
had taken part, as a member of the Academic Shooting Society, in drill
and shooting practice. After the battle of Koeniggratz these occupations
lost much of their attraction.
I was now going in for an exercise that was new to me and which I had
long wished to become proficient in. This was riding.
Up to that time I had never been able to afford to ride. But just then a
captain of the dragoons offered to teach me for a very low fee, and in
the Queen's Riding-School I was initiated during the Spring months into
the elementary stages of the art, in order that in Summer I might be
able to ride out. These riding-lessons were the keenest possible delight
to me. I, who so seldom felt happy, and still more seldom jubilant, was
positively exultant as I rode out in the morning along the Strand Road.
Even if I had had an almost sleepless night I felt fresh on horseback.
It was no pleasure to me to ride the same horse often, if I knew its
disposition. I liked to change as often as possible, and preferred
rather difficult horses to mares too well broken in. I felt the arrogant
pride of youth seethe in my veins as I galloped briskly along.
I was still far from an accomplished horseman when an examination of my
finances warned me that I must give up my riding lessons.
When I informed my instructor that I could no longer allow myself the
pleasure of his lessons, and in reply to his "Why?" had mentioned the
reason, the captain answered that it would be very easy to settle that
matter: he had a sister, an elderly maiden lady, who was passionately
fond of literature and literary history. Lessons in that subject could
to our mutual satisfaction balance the riding lessons, which could thus
go on indefinitely. It is unnecessary to say how welcome the proposition
was to me. It was such a relief!
The captain was a pleasant, good-natured man, quite uneducated in
literary matters, who confidingly communicated his bachelor experiences
to his pupil. These were summed up in the reflection that when womenkind
fall in love, they dread neither fire nor water; the captain himself,
who yet, in his own opinion, only looked well on horseback, had once had
an affair with a married lady who bombarded him with letters, and who,
in her ardour, began writing one day without noticing that her husband,
who was standing behind her chair, was looking over her shoulder. Since
then the captain had not felt the need of women, so to speak, preferred
to be without them, and found his greatest pleasure in his horses and
his skill as an equestrian.
The sister was a maiden lady of forty, by no means devoid of
intellectual ability, with talent for observation and an appreciation of
good books, but whose development had been altogether neglected. She now
cherished an ambition to write. She wrote in secret little tales that
were not really stupid but had not the slightest pretensions to style or
literary talent. She was very plain and exceedingly stout, which
produced a comical effect, especially as she was inclined to
exaggeration both of speech and gesture.
There was a disproportion between the ages of the master and the pupil;
in my eyes she was quite an old person, in her eyes, being her
intellectual equal, I was likewise her equal in age. In the natural
order of things she felt more personal sympathy for me than I for her.
Consequently, I involuntarily put a dash of teasing into my instruction,
and occasionally made fun of her sentimentality, and when the large
lady, half angry, half distressed, rose to seize hold of me and give me
a shaking, I would run round the table, pursued by her, or shoot out a
chair between her and myself,--which indubitably did not add to the
dignity of our lessons.
There was no question of thorough or connected instruction. What the
lady wanted more particularly was that I should go through her literary
attempts and correct them, but corrections could not transform them into
art. And so it came about that after no very long time I gave up these
arduous lessons, although obliged to give up my precious riding lessons
at the same time.
Consequently I never became a really expert rider, although during the
next few years I had a ride now and then. But after a severe attack of
phlebitis following upon typhoid fever, in 1870-71, I was compelled to
give up all the physical exercises that I loved best.
My temperament expressed itself in a profusion of youthful longings, as
well as in my love of athletics.
During my University studies, in my real budding manhood, I had
voluntarily cut myself away from the usual erotic diversions of youth.
Precocious though I was in purely intellectual development, I was very
backward in erotic experience. In that respect I was many years younger
than my age.
On my return, my Paris experiences at first exercised me greatly.
Between the young French lady and myself an active correspondence had
sprung up, while the young Spaniard's radiant figure continued to retain
the same place in my thoughts.
Then my surroundings claimed their rights, and it was not without
emotion that I realised how charming the girls at home were. For I was
only then entering upon the Cherubino stage of my existence, when the
sight of feminine grace or beauty immediately transports a youth into a
mild state of love intoxication.
It was incredible how rich the world was in bewitching creatures, and
the world of Copenhagen especially. If you walked down Crown Princess
Street, at a window on the ground floor you saw a dark girl with a
Grecian-shaped head and two brown eyes, exquisitely set, beneath a high
and noble forehead. She united the chaste purity of Pallas Athene with a
stern, attractive grace.
If you went out towards the north side of the town, there was a house
there on the first floor of which you were very welcome, where a
handsome and well-bred couple once a week received young men for the
sake of the lady's young niece. The master of the house was a lean and
silent man, who always looked handsome, and was always dignified; he had
honourably filled an exalted official post. His wife had been very
attractive in her youth, had grown white while still quite young, and
was now a handsome woman with snow-white curls clustering round her
fresh-coloured face. To me she bore, as it were, an invisible mark upon
her forehead, for when quite a young girl she had been loved by a great
man. She was sincerely kind and genuinely pleasant, but the advantage of
knowing her was not great; for that she was too restless a hostess. When
it was her At Home she never remained long enough with one group of
talkers properly to understand what was being discussed. After about a
minute she hurried off to the opposite corner of the drawing-room, said
a few words there, and then passed on to look after the tea.
It was neither to see her nor her husband that many of the young people
congregated at the house. It was for the sake of the eighteen-year-old
fairy maiden, her niece, whose face was one to haunt a man's dreams. It
was not from her features that the witchery emanated, although in shape
her face was a faultless oval, her narrow forehead high and well-shaped,
her chin powerful. Neither was it from the personality one obtained a
glimpse of through her features. The girl's character and mental quality
seemed much the same as that of other girls; she was generally silent,
or communicative about trifles, and displayed no other coquetry than the
very innocent delight in pleasing which Nature itself would demand.
But all the same there was a fascination about her, as about a fairy
maiden. There was a yellow shimmer about her light hair; azure flames
flashed from her blue eyes. These flames drew a magic circle about her,
and the dozen young men who had strayed inside the circle flocked round
her aunt the evening in the week that the family were "at home" and sat
there, vying with each other for a glance from those wondrous eyes,
hating each other with all their hearts, and suffering from the
ridiculousness of yet meeting like brothers, week after week, as guests
in the same house. The young girl's male relatives, who had outgrown
their enthusiasm for her, declared that her character was not good and
reliable--poor child! had she to be all that, too? Others who did not
ask so much were content to enjoy the sound of her voice.
She was not a Copenhagen girl, only spent a few Winters in the town,
then disappeared again.
Some years after, it was rumoured, to everybody's astonishment, that she
had married a widower in a provincial town--she who belonged to the
realms of Poesy!
Then there was another young girl, nineteen. Whereas the fairy maiden
did not put herself out to pretend she troubled her head about the young
men whom she fascinated with the rhythm of her movements or the
radiation of her loveliness, was rather inclined to be short in her
manner, a little staccato in her observations, too accustomed to
admiration to attract worshippers to herself by courting them, too
undeveloped and impersonal to consciously assert herself--this other
girl was of quite another sort. She had no innate irresistibility, but
was a shrewd and adaptable human girl. Her face did not attract by its
beauty, though she was very much more beautiful than ugly, with a
delicately hooked nose, a mouth full of promise, an expression of
thoughtfulness and determination. When she appeared at a ball, men's
eyes lingered on her neck, and even more on her white back, with its
firm, smooth skin, and fine play of the muscles; for if she did not
allow very much of her young bust to be seen, her dress at the back was
cut down nearly to her belt. Her voice was a deep contralto, and she
knew how to assume an expression of profound gravity and reflection. But
she captivated most by her attentiveness. When a young man whom she
wished to attract commenced a conversation with her, she never took her
eyes from his, or rather she gazed into his, and showed such a rapt
attention to his words, such an interest in his thoughts and his
occupations, that after meeting her once he never forgot her again. Her
coquetry did not consist of languishing glances, but of a pretended
sympathy, that flattered and delighted its object.
These Danish girls were likely to appeal to a young man just returned
from travels abroad, during which his emotions had been doubly stirred,
for the first time, by feminine affection and by enthusiasm for a woman.
They influenced me the more strongly because they were Danish, and
because I, who loved everything Danish, from the language to the
monuments, had, since the war, felt something lacking in everyone, man
or woman, who was foreign to Denmark.
But in the midst of all these visitations of calf-love, and their
vibrations among undefined sensations, I was pulled back with a jerk, as
it were, to my earlier and deepest impression, that of the loveliness
and exalted person of the young Spaniard. Letters from Paris furrowed my
mind like steamers the waters of a lake, made it foam, and the waves run
high, left long streaks across its wake. Not that Mlle. Mathilde sent
letters to me herself, but her Italian lady and gentlemen friends wrote
for her, apparently in her name, loudly lamenting my unreasonable
departure, wishing and demanding my return, telling me how she missed
me, sometimes how angry she was.
I was too poor to be able to return at once. I did what I could to
procure money, wrote to those of my friends whom I thought could best
afford it and on whom I relied most, but met with refusals, which made
me think of the messages Timon of Athens received in response to similar
requests. Then I staked in the lottery and did not win.
Urged from France to return, and under the high pressure of my own
romantic imagination, it seemed clear to me all at once that I ought to
unite my lot for good to that of this rare and beautiful woman, whom, it
is true, I had never spoken to one minute alone, who, moreover, had
scarcely anything in common with me, but who, just by the dissimilarity
of her having been born of Spanish parents in Rio, and I of a Danish
father and mother in Copenhagen, seemed destined by Fate for me, as I
for her. The Palm and the Fir-tree had dreamed of one another, and could
never meet; but men and women could, however far apart they might have
been born. In the middle of the Summer of 1867 I was as though possessed
by the thought that she and I ought to be united.
The simplest objection of all, namely, that I, who was scarcely able to
support myself, could not possibly support a wife, seemed to me
altogether subordinate. My motives were purely chivalric; I could not
leave her in the lurch, as the miserable hero of Andersen's _Only a
Player_ did Noomi. And a vision of her compelling loveliness hovered
before my eyes.
The whole of the month of July and part of the month of August I was on
the rack, now passionately desiring a successful issue of my plans, now
hoping just as ardently that they would be stranded through the
opposition of the foreign family; for I was compelled to admit to myself
that the beautiful Spaniard would be very unsuited to Copenhagen, would
freeze there, mentally as well as literally. And I said to myself every
day that supposing the war expected in Denmark were to break out again,
and the young men were summoned to arms, the most insignificant little
Danish girl would make me a better Valkyrie; all my feelings would be
foreign to her, and possibly she would not even be able to learn Danish.
Any other woman would understand more of my mind than she. And yet! Yet
she was the only one for me.
Thus I was swayed by opposing wishes the whole of the long time during
which the matter was pending and uncertain. I was so exhausted by
suspense that I only kept up by taking cold baths twice a day and by
brisk rides. The mere sight of a postman made my heart beat fast. The
scorn heaped upon me in the Danish newspapers had a curious effect upon
me under these circumstances; it seemed to me to be strangely far away,
like blows at a person who is somewhere else.
I pondered all day on the painful dilemma in which I was placed; I
dreamt of my Dulcinea every night, and began to look as exhausted as I
felt. One day that I went to Fredensborg, in response to an invitation
from Frederik Paludan-Mueller, the poet said to me: "Have you been ill
lately? You look so pale and shaken." I pretended not to care; whatever
I said or did in company was incessant acting.
I experienced revulsions of feeling similar to those that troubled Don
Quixote. Now I saw in my distant Spanish maiden the epitome of
perfection, now the picture melted away altogether; even my affection
for her then seemed small, artificial, whimsical, half-forgotten. And
then again she represented supreme happiness.
When the decision came, when,--as everyone with the least experience of
the world could have foretold,--all the beautiful dreams and audacious
plans collapsed suddenly, I felt as though this long crisis had thrown
me back indescribably; my intellectual development had been at a
standstill for months. It was such a feeling as when the death of some
loved person puts an end to the long, tormenting anxiety of the
foregoing illness. I, who had centred everything round one thought, must
now start joylessly along new paths. My outburst,--which astonished
"How I wanted a heart!"
I could not at once feel it a relief that my fancies had all been
dissipated into thin air. Physically I was much broken down, but, with
my natural elasticity, quickly recovered. Yet in my relations towards
the other sex I was torn as I had never been before. My soul, or more
exactly, that part of my psychical life bordering on the other sex, was
like a deep, unploughed field, waiting for seed.
It was not much more than a month before the field was sown. Amongst my
Danish acquaintances there was only one, a young and very beautiful
widow, upon whom, placed as I was with regard to Mile. Mathilde, I had
definitely counted. I should have taken the young Spaniard to her; she
alone would have understood her--they would have been friends.
There had for a long time been warm feelings of sympathy between her and
me. It so chanced that she drew much closer to me immediately after the
decisive word had been spoken. She became, consequently, the only one to
whom I touched upon the wild fancies to which I had given myself up, and
confided the dreams with which I had wasted my time. She listened to me
sympathetically, no little amazed at my being so devoid of practical
common sense. She stood with both feet on the earth; but she had one
capacity that I had not met with before in any young woman--the capacity
for enthusiasm. She had dark eyes, with something melancholy in their
depths; but when she spoke of anything that roused her enthusiasm, her
eyes shone like stars.
She pointed out how preposterous it was in me to wish to seek so far
away a happiness that perhaps was very close to me, and how even more
preposterous to neglect, as I had done, my studies and intellectual aims
for a fantastic love. And for the first time in my life, a young woman
spoke to me of my abilities and of the impression she had received of
them, partly through the reading of the trifles that I had had printed,
partly, and more particularly, through her long talks with me. Neither
the little French girl nor the young Spanish lady had ever spoken to me
of myself, my talents, or my future; this Danish woman declared that she
knew me through and through. And the new thing about it all, the thing
hitherto unparalleled in my experience, was that she believed in me.
More than that: she had the highest possible conception of my abilities,
asserted in contradiction to my own opinion, that I was already a man of
unusual mark, and was ardently ambitious for me.
Just at this moment, when so profoundly disheartened, and when in idle
hopes and plans I had lost sight of my higher goal, by her firm belief
in me she imparted to me augmented self-respect. Her confidence in me
gave me increasing confidence in myself, and a vehement gratitude awoke
in me for the good she thus did me.
Then it happened that one day, without preamble, she admitted that the
interest she felt in me was not merely an intellectual one; things had
now gone so far that she could think of nothing but me.
My whole nature was shaken to its foundations. Up to this time I had
only regarded her as my friend and comforter, had neither felt nor
fought against any personal attraction. But she had scarcely spoken,
before she was transformed in my eyes. The affection I had thirsted for
was offered to me here. The heart I had felt the need of was this heart.
And it was not only a heart that was offered me, but a passion that
In my austere youth hitherto, I had not really had erotic experiences
whatever. I had led the chaste life of the intellectual worker. My
thoughts had been the thoughts of a man; they had ascended high and had
delved deep, but my love affairs had been the enthusiasms and fancies of
a half-grown boy, chimeras and dreams. This young woman was my first
living erotic reality.
And suddenly, floodgates seemed to open within me. Streams of lava,
streams of molten fire, rushed out over my soul. I loved for the first
time like a man.
The next few days I went about as if lifted above the earth; in the
theatre, in the evening, I could not follow the performance, but sat in
the pit with my face in my hands, full of my new destiny, as though my
heart would burst.
And yet it was more a physical state, an almost mechanical outcome of
what to me was overwhelmingly new, association with a woman. It was not
because it was just this particular woman. For my emotional nature was
so composite that even in the first moment of my bliss I did not regard
this bliss as unmixed. From the very first hour, I felt a gnawing regret
that it was not I who had desired her, but she who had chosen me, so
that my love in my heart of hearts was only a reflection of hers.
About this time it so happened that another woman began to engage my
thoughts, but in an altogether different manner. Circumstances resulted
in my being taken into the secret of unhappy and disturbing domestic
relations in a well-to-do house to which I was frequently invited, and
where to all outward seeming all the necessary conditions of domestic
happiness were present.
The master of the house had in his younger days been a very handsome
man, lazy, not clever, and of an exceedingly passionate temper. He was
the son of a man rich, worthy and able, but of a very weak character,
and of a kept woman who had been the mistress of a royal personage.
Through no fault of his own, he had inherited his mother's professional
vices, persistent untruthfulness, a comedian's manner, prodigality, a
love of finery and display. He was quite without intellectual interests,
but had a distinguished bearing, a winning manner, and no gross vices.
His wife, who, for family reasons, had been married to him much too
young, had never loved him, and never been suited to him. As an
innocent, ignorant girl, she had been placed in the arms of a man who
was much the worse for a reckless life, and suffering from an illness
that necessitated nursing, and made him repulsive to her. Every day that
passed she suffered more from being bound to a man whose slightest
movement was objectionable to her and whose every remark a torture. In
the second decade of her marriage the keenest marital repulsion had
developed in her; this was so strong that she sometimes had to pull
herself together in order, despite her maternal feelings, not to
transfer her dislike to the children, who were likewise his, and in whom
she dreaded to encounter his characteristics.
Towards her, the man was despotic and cunning, but not unkind, and in so
far excusable that, let him have done what he might, she could not have
got rid of the hatred that plagued him and consumed her. So dissimilar
were their two natures.
Her whole aim and aspiration was to get the bond that united them
dissolved. But this he would not hear of, for many reasons, and more
especially from dislike of scandal. He regarded himself, and according
to the usual conception of the words, justly so, as a good husband and
father. He asked for no impossible sacrifice from his wife, and he was
affectionate to his children. He could not help her detesting him, and
indeed, did not fully realise that she did. And yet, it was difficult
for him to misunderstand. For his wife scarcely restrained her aversion
even when there were guests in the house. If he told an untruth, she
kept silence with her lips, but scarcely with her expression. And she
would sometimes talk of the faults and vices that she most abhorred, and
then name his.
The incessant agitation in which she lived had made her nervous and
restless to excess. As the feminine craving to be able, in marriage, to
look up to the man, had never been satisfied, she only enacted the more
vehemently veracity, firmness and intellect in men. But undeveloped as
she was, and in despair over the dissatisfaction, the drowsiness, and
the darkness in which her days glided away, whatever invaded the
stagnation and lighted up the darkness: sparkle, liveliness, brilliance
and wit, were estimated by her more highly than they deserved to be.
At first when, in the desolation of her life, she made advances to me,
this repelled me somewhat. The equestrian performer in Heiberg's Madame
Voltisubito cannot sing unless she hears the crack of a whip. Thus it
seemed to me that her nature could not sing, save to the accompaniment
of all the cart, carriage and riding whips of the mind. But I saw how
unhappy she was, and that the intense strain of her manner was only an
expression of it.
She could not know the beauty of inward peace, and in spite of her
Protestant upbringing she had retained all the unaffectedness and
sincerity of the natural human being, all the obstinate love of freedom,
unmoved in the least by what men call discipline, ethics, Christianity,
convention. She did not believe in it all, she had seen what it resulted
in, and what it covered up, and she passed her life in unmitigated
despair, which was ordinarily calm to all appearance, but in reality
rebellious: what she was enduring was the attempted murder of her soul.
To all that she suffered purely mentally from her life with her husband
in the home that was no home at all, there had of late been added
circumstances which likewise from a practical point of view made
interference and alteration necessary. Her lord and master had always
been a bad manager, in fact worse than that; in important matters,
thoroughly incapable and fatuous. That had not mattered much hitherto,
since others had looked after his affairs; but now the control of them
had fallen entirely into his own hands, and he managed them in such a
way that expenses increased at a terrific rate, while his income
diminished with equal rapidity, and the question of total ruin only
seemed a matter of time.
His wife had no outside support. She was an orphan and friendless. Her
husband's relations did not like her and did not understand her. And yet
just at this time she required as a friend a man who understood her and
could help her to save her own and the children's fortunes from the
shipwreck, before it was too late. She felt great confidence in me, whom
she had met, at intervals, from my boyhood, and she now opened her heart
to me in conversation more and more. She confided in me fully, gave me a
complete insight into the torture of her life, and implored me to help
her to acquire her freedom.
Thus it was that while still quite a young man a powerful, never-to-be-
effaced impression of the miseries of modern coercive marriage was
produced upon me. The impression was not merely powerful, but it waked,
like a cry of distress, both my thinking powers and my energy. As
through a chink in the smooth surface of society, I looked down into the
depths of horror. Behind the unhappiness of one, I suspected that of a
hundred thousand, knew that of a hundred thousand. And I felt myself
vehemently called upon, not only to name the horror by its name, but to
step in, as far as I was able, and prevent the thing spreading unheeded.
Scales had fallen from my eyes. Under the semblance of affection and
peace, couples were lacerating one another by the thousand, swallowed up
by hatred and mutual aversion. The glitter of happiness among those
higher placed dazzled the thoughtless and the credulous. He who had eyes
to see, observed how the wretchedness due to the arrangement of society,
wound itself right up to its pinnacles.
The vices and paltrinesses of the individual could not be directly
remedied; inherited maladies and those brought upon one's self,
stupidity and folly, brutality and malice, undeniably existed. But the
institutions of society ought to be so planned as to render these
destructive forces inoperative, or at least diminish their harmfulness,
not so as to give them free scope and augment their terrors by securing
In marriage, the position of the one bound against his or her will was
undignified, often desperate, but worst in the case of a woman. As a
mother she could be wounded in her most vulnerable spot, and what was
most outrageous of all, she could be made a mother against her will. One
single unhappy marriage had shown me, like a sudden revelation, what
marriage in countless cases is, and how far from free the position of
woman still was.
But that woman should be oppressed in modern society, that the one-half
of the human race could be legally deprived of their rights, revealed
that justice in society, as it at present stood, was in a sorry state.
In the relations between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor,
the same legalised disproportion would necessarily prevail as between
man and woman.
My thought pierced down into the state of society that obtained and was
praised so highly, and with ever less surprise and ever greater
disquiet, found hollowness everywhere. And this called my will to
battle, armed it for the fight.
From this time forth I began to ponder quite as much over Life as over
Art, and to submit to criticism the conditions of existence in the same
way as I had formerly done with Faith and Law.
In matters concerning Life, as in things concerning Art, I was not a
predetermined Radical. There was a great deal of piety in my nature and
I was of a collecting, retentive disposition. Only gradually, and step
by step, was I led by my impressions, the incidents I encountered, and
my development, to break with many a tradition to which I had clung to
the last extremity.
It was in the spirit of the Aesthetics of the time, that, after having
been engaged upon the Tragic Idea, I plunged into researches on the
Comic, and by degrees, as the material ordered itself for me, I tried to
write a doctor's thesis upon it, Abstract researches were regarded as
much more valuable than historic investigation. In comic literature
Aristophanes in particular delighted me, and I was thinking of letting
my general definitions merge into a description of the greatness of the
Greek comedian; but as the thread broke for me, I did not get farther
than the theory of the Comic in general. It was not, like my previous
treatise on the Tragic, treated under three headings, according to the
Hegelian model, but written straight ahead, without any subdivision into
Whilst working at this paper I was, of course, obliged constantly to
consult the national comedies and lighter plays, till I knew them from
cover to cover. Consequently, when Gotfred Rode, the poet, who was
connected with a well-known educational establishment for girls, asked
me whether I would care to give a course of public lectures for ladies,
I chose as my subject _The Danish Comedy_. The lectures were
attended in force. The subject was supremely innocent, and it was
treated in quite a conservative manner. At that time I cherished a
sincere admiration, with only slight reservations, for Heiberg, Hertz,
Hostrup and many others as comic playwriters, and was not far short of
attributing to their works an importance equal to those of Holberg. And
yet I was unable to avoid giving offence. I had, it appears, about
Heiberg's _Klister and Malle_, an inseparable betrothed couple,
used what was, for that matter, an undoubtedly Kierkegaardian
expression, viz., _to beslobber a relation_. This expression was
repeated indignantly to the Headmistress, and the thoughtless lecturer
was requested to call upon the Principal of the college. When, after a
long wait, and little suspecting what was going to be said to me, I was
received in audience, it appeared that I had been summoned to receive a
polite but decided admonition against wounding the susceptibilities of
my listeners by expressions which were not "good form," and when I,
unconscious of wrongdoing, asked which expression she alluded to, the
unfortunate word "beslobber" was alleged; my young hearers were not
"'Arriets" for whom such expressions might be fitting.
I was not asked again to give lectures for young ladies.
Hitherto, when I had appeared before the reading public, it had only
been as the author of shorter or longer contributions to the
philosophical discussion of the relations between Science and Faith;
when these had been accepted by a daily paper it had been as its
heaviest ballast. I had never yet written anything that the ordinary
reader could follow with pleasure, and I had likewise been obliged to
make use of a large number of abstruse philosophical words.
The proprietors of the _Illustrated Times_ offered me the reviewing
of the performances at the Royal Theatre in their paper, which had not
hitherto printed dramatic criticisms. I accepted the offer, because it
afforded me a wished-for opportunity of further shaking off the dust of
the schools. I could thus have practice with my pen, and get into touch
with a section of the reading public who, without caring for philosophy,
nevertheless had intellectual interests; and these articles were in
reality a vent for what I had at heart about this time touching matters
human and artistic. They were written in a more colloquial style than
anything I had written before, or than it was usual to write in Denmark
at that time, and they alternated sometimes with longer essays, such as
those on Andersen and Goldschmidt.
Regarded merely as dramatic criticisms, they were of little value. The
Royal Theatre, the period of whose zenith was nearly at an end, I cared
little for, and I was personally acquainted with next to none of the
actors, only meeting, at most, Phister and Adolf Rosenkilde and of
ladies, Soedring in society.
I found it altogether impossible to brandish my cane over the individual
actor in his individual part. But the form of it was merely a pretext. I
wanted to show myself as I was, speak out about dramatic and other
literature, reveal how I felt, show what I thought about all the
conditions of life represented or touched upon on the stage.
My articles were read with so much interest that the editors of the
_Illustrated Times_ raised the writer's scale of remuneration to 10
Kr. a column (about 11_s_. 3_d_.), which at that time was very
respectable pay. Unfortunately, however, I soon saw that even at that,
if I wrote in the paper all the year round, I could not bring up my
yearly income from this source to more than 320 kroner of our money,
about I7_l_. 12_s_. 6_d_. in English money; so that, without a
University bursary, I should have come badly off, and even with it
was not rolling in riches.
The first collection of my articles, which I published in 1868 under the
title of _Studies in Aesthetics_, augmented my income a little, it
is true, but for that, as for the next collection, _Criticisms and
Portraits_, I only received 20 kroner (22_s_. 6_d_.) per
sheet of sixteen pages. Very careful management was necessary.
With the first money I received for my books, I went in the middle of
the Summer of 1868 for a trip to Germany. I acquired some idea of
Berlin, which was then still only the capital of Prussia, and in
population corresponded to the Copenhagen of our day; I spent a few
weeks in Dresden, where I felt very much at home, delighted in the
exquisite art collection and derived no small pleasure from the theatre,
at that time an excellent one. I saw Prague for the first time,
worshipped Rubens in Munich, and, with him specially in my mind, tried
to realise how the greatest painters had regarded Life. Switzerland
added to my store of impressions with grand natural spectacles. I saw
the Alps, and a thunderstorm in the Alps, passed starlit nights on the
Swiss lakes, traced the courses of foaming mountain streams such as the
Tamina at Pfaeffers, ascended the Rigi at a silly forced march, and from
the Kulm saw a procession of clouds that gripped my fancy like the
procession of the Vanir in Northern mythology. Many years afterwards I
described it in the Fourth volume of _Main Currents_. From
Interlaken I gazed on the whiteness of the Jungfrau, but scarcely with
greater emotion than once upon a time when I had gazed at the white
cliffs of Moeen. On my homeward journey I saw Heidelberg's lovely ruins,
to which Charles V.'s castle, near the Al-hambra, makes a marvellous
pendant, Strassburg's grave Cathedral, and Goethe's house at Frankfurt.
My travels were not long, but were extraordinarily instructive. I made
acquaintance with people from the most widely different countries, with
youthful frankness engaged in conversation with Germans and Frenchmen,
Englishmen and Americans, Poles and Russians, Dutchmen, Belgians and
Swiss, met them as travelling companions, and listened attentively to
what they narrated. They were, moreover, marvellously frank towards the
young man who, with the curiosity of his age, plied them with questions.
Young Dutchmen, studying music in Dresden, gave me some idea of the ill-
will felt in their country towards the Prussians, an ill-will not
unmingled with contempt. On the other hand, I was astonished, during a
half day's excursion on foot with a few Leipzig students, to learn how
strong was the feeling of the unity of Germany and of the necessity of
the supremacy of Prussia, even in the states which in the 1866 war had
been on the side of Austria. The students felt no grief over having been
defeated, the victors were Germans too; everything was all right so long
as the German Empire became one. These and similar conversations, which
finally brought me to the conclusion that the whole of the bourgeoisie
was satisfied with the dominance of Prussia, had for result that in 1870
I did not for a moment share the opinion of the Danes and the French,
that the defeated German states would enter into an alliance with France
English undergraduates told me what philosophical and historical works
were being most read in the universities of Great Britain; Bohemian
students explained to me that in the German philosophical world Kant had
quite outshone Hegel and put him in the background.
The lady members of an American family from Boston treated me quite
maternally; the wife suggested almost at once, in the railway-carriage,
that I should give her when we reached the hotel whatever linen or
clothes I had that wanted repairs; she would be very pleased to mend
them for me. The husband, who was very pious and good-natured, had all
his pockets full of little hymn-books and in his memorandum book a
quantity of newspaper cuttings of devotional verse, which he now and
then read aloud enthusiastically.
But I also met with Americans of quite a different cast. A young student
from Harvard University, who, for that matter, was not in love with the
Germans and declared that the United States could with difficulty absorb
and digest those who were settled there, surprised me with his view that
in the future Bismarck would come to be regarded as no less a figure
than Cavour. The admiration of contemporary educated thought was then
centred around Cavour, whereas Bismarck had hitherto only encountered
passionate aversion outside Germany, and even in Germany was the object
of much hatred. This student roused me into thinking about Bismarck for
Having lain down, all bathed in perspiration, during the ascent without
a guide of a mountain in Switzerland, I was accosted by a woman, who
feared I had come to some harm. I walked on up with her. She turned out
to be a young peasant woman from Normandy, who lived half-way up the
mountain. She had accompanied her husband to Switzerland, but cursed her
lot, and was always longing to be back in France. When I remarked that
it must be some consolation to live in so lovely a place, she
interrupted me with the most violent protests. A beautiful place! This!
The steep mountain, the bristly fir-trees and pine-trees, the snow on
the top and the lake deep down below--anything uglier it would be hard
to conceive. No fields, no pasture-land, no apple-trees! No indeed! If
she had to mention a country that really was beautiful, it was Normandy.
There was plenty of food for all there, you did not need to go either up
or down hill; there, thank God, it was flat. Did I think stones
beautiful, perhaps? She had not been down in the valley for five months,
and higher than her house she had never been and would never go; no,
thank you, not she! She let her husband fetch what they required for the
house; she herself sat and fretted all through the Winter; life then was
almost more than she could bear.
On one of the steamers on the Lake of Lucerne, I caught, for the first
time, a glimpse of Berthold Auerbach, who was very much admired by my
comrades in Copenhagen and by myself.
At the hotel table at Lucerne I made the acquaintance of a Dutch captain
from Batavia, an acquaintance productive of much pleasure to me. Before
the soup was brought round I had pulled out a letter I had just
received, opened it and begun to read it. A voice by my side said in
"Happy man! You are reading a letter in a woman's writing!" With that
our acquaintance was made.
The captain was a man of forty, who in the course of an active life had
had many and varied experiences and met with prosperity, but was
suffering from a feeling of great void. His society was exceedingly
attractive to me, and he related to me the main events of his life; but
after one day's association only, we were obliged to part. All through
my trip I had a curious feeling of every farewell on the journey being
in all human probability a farewell for life, but had not realised it
painfully before. But when next day the brave captain, whose home was
far away in another quarter of the globe, held his hand out to say good-
bye, I was much affected. "Till we meet again" said the captain.
"Till we meet again all and everywhere, for we live an eternal life;
till we meet again in time and space, or outside time and space!"
I reflected sadly that I should never again see this man, who, the last
twenty-four hours had shown me, was in extraordinary sympathy and
agreement with me.
Separated from those dearest to me, the whole of the journey, for that
matter, was a sort of self-torment to me, even though a profitable one.
Like every other traveller, I had many a lonely hour, and plenty of time
to ponder over my position and vocation in life. I summed up my
impressions in the sentence: "The Powers have designated me the champion
of great ideas against great talents, unfortunately greater than I."
There was only one distinguished person outside my circle of
acquaintance to whom I wished to bring my first descriptive book, as a
mark of homage, Johanne Louise Heiberg, the actress. I had admired her
on the stage, even if not to the same extent as Michael Wiehe; but to me
she was the representative of the great time that would soon sink into
the grave. In addition, I ventured to hope that she, being a friend of
Frederik Paludan-Mueller, Magdalene Thoresen and others who wished me
well, would be at any rate somewhat friendly inclined towards me. A few
years before, it had been rumoured in Copenhagen after the publication
of my little polemical pamphlet against Nielsen, that at a dinner at the
Heiberg's there had been a good deal of talk about me; even Bishop
Martensen had expressed himself favourably, and it also attracted
attention that a short time afterwards, in a note to his book _On
Knowledge and Faith_, he mentioned me not unapprovingly, and
contented himself with a reminder to me not to feel myself too soon
beyond being surprised. When the Bishop of Zealand, one of the actress's
most faithful adherents, had publicly spoken thus mildly of the youthful
heretic, there was some hope that the lady herself would be free from
prejudice. My friends also eagerly encouraged me to venture upon a visit
to her home.
I was admitted and asked to wait in a room through the glass doors of
which I was attentively observed for some time by the lady's adopted
children. Then she came in, in indoor dress, with a stocking in her
hand, at which she uninterruptedly continued to knit during the
following conversation: She said: "Well! So you have collected your
articles." I was simple enough to reply--as if that made any difference
to the lady--that the greater part of the book had not been printed
before. She turned the conversation upon Bjoernson's _Fisher Girl_,
which had just been published, and which had been reviewed by _The
Fatherland_ the evening before, declaring that she disagreed
altogether with the reviewer, who had admired in the _Fisher Girl_
a psychological study of a scenic genius. "It is altogether a mistake,"
said Mrs. Heiberg, absorbed in counting her stitches, "altogether a
mistake that genius is marked by restlessness, refractoriness, an
irregular life, or the like. That is all antiquated superstition. True
genius has no connection whatever with excesses and caprices, in fact,
is impossible without the strict fulfilment of one's duty. (Knitting
furiously.) Genius is simple, straightforward, domesticated,
When we began to speak of mutual acquaintances, amongst others,
Magdalene Thoresen, feeling very uncomfortable in the presence of the
lady, I blurted out most tactlessly that I was sure that lady was much
interested in me. It was a mere nothing, but at the moment sounded like
conceit and boasting. I realised it the moment the words were out of my
mouth, and instinctively felt that I had definitely displeased her. But
the conversational material was used up and I withdrew. I never saw
Johanne Louise Heiberg again; henceforth she thought anything but well
Magdalene Thoresen was spending that year in Copenhagen, and our
connection, which had been kept up by correspondence, brought with it a
lively mutual interchange of thoughts and impressions. Our natures, it
is true, were as much unlike as it was possible for them to be; but
Magdalene Thoresen's wealth of moods and the overflowing warmth of her
heart, the vivacity of her disposition, the tenderness that filled her
soul, and the incessant artistic exertion, which her exhausted body
could not stand, all this roused in me a sympathy that the mistiness of
her reasoning, and the over-excitement of her intellectual life, could
not diminish. Besides which, especially when she was away from
Copenhagen, but when she was there, too, she needed a literary assistant
who could look through her MSS. and negotiate over them with the
publishers of anthologies, year-books, and weekly papers, and for this
purpose she not infrequently seized upon me, innocently convinced, like
everybody else for that matter, that she was the only person who made a
similar demand upon me.
Still, it was rather trying that, when my verdict on her work did not
happen to be what she wished, she saw in what I said an unkindness, for
which she alleged reasons that had nothing whatever to do with Art.
Magdalene Thoresen could not be otherwise than fond of Rasmus Nielsen;
they were both lively, easily enraptured souls, who breathed most freely
in the fog. That, however, did not come between her and me, whom she
often thought in the right. With regard to my newspaper activity, she
merely urged the stereotyped but pertinent opinion, that I ought not to
write so many small things; my nature could not stand this wasting, drop
I had myself felt for a long time that I ought to concentrate my forces
on larger undertakings.
There were not many of the upper middle class houses in Copenhagen at
that time, the hospitality of which a young man with intellectual
interests derived any advantage from accepting. One of these houses,
which was opened to me, and with which I was henceforward associated,
was that of Chief Physician Rudolph Bergh. His was the home of
The master of the house was not only a prominent scientist and savant,
but, at a time when all kinds of prejudices ruled unassailed, a man who
had retained the uncompromising radicalism of the first half of the
century. The spirit of Knowledge was the Holy Spirit to him; the
profession of doctor had placed him in the service of humanity, and to
firmness of character he united pure philanthropy. The most despised
outcasts of society met with the same consideration and the same
kindness from him as its favoured ones.
His wife was well calculated, by her charm of manner, to be the centre
of the numerous circle of talented men who, both from Denmark and
abroad, frequented the house. There one met all the foreign natural
scientists who came to Copenhagen, all the esteemed personalities
Denmark had at the time, who might be considered as belonging to the
freer trend of thought, and many neutrals. Actors such as Hoeedt and
Phister went there, favourite narrators such as Bergsoee, painters like
Kroeyer, distinguished scientists like J.C. Schioedte, the entomologist.
This last was an independent and intellectual man, somewhat touchy, and
domineering in his manner, a master of his subject, a man of learning,
besides, ceremonious, often cordial, ready to listen to anything worth
hearing that was said. He had weaknesses, never would admit that he had
made a mistake, and was even very unwilling to own he had not read a
book that was being spoken of. Besides which, he had spent too great a
part of his life in virulent polemics to be devoid of the narrowing of
the horizon which is the concomitant of always watching and being ready
to attack the same opponent. But he was in the grand style, which is
rare in Denmark, as elsewhere.
The house of the sisters Spang was a pleasant one to go to; they were
two unmarried ladies who kept an excellent girls' school, at which
Julius Lange taught drawing. Benny Spang, not a beautiful, but a
brilliant girl, with exceptional brains, daughter of the well-known
Pastor Spang, a friend of Soeren Kierkegaard, adopted a tone of good-
fellowship towards me that completely won my affection. She was
cheerful, witty, sincere and considerate. Not long after we became
acquainted she married a somewhat older man than herself, the gentle and
refined landscape painter, Gotfred Rump. The latter made a very good
sketch of me.
The poet Paludan-Mueller and the Lange family visited at the house; so
did the two young and marvellously beautiful girls, Alma Trepka and
Clara Rothe, the former of whom was married later to Carl Bloch the
painter, the other to her uncle, Mr. Falbe, the Danish Minister in
It was hard to say which of the two was the more beautiful. Both were
unusually lovely. Alma Trepka was queenly, her movements sedate, her
disposition calm and unclouded--Carl Bloch could paint a Madonna, or
even a Christ, from her face without making any essential alteration in
the oval of its contours. Clara Rothe's beauty was that of the white
hart in the legend; her eyes like a deer's, large and shy, timid, and
unself-conscious, her movements rapid, but so graceful that one was
fascinated by the harmony of them.
Just about this time a foreign element entered the circle of Copenhagen
students to which I belonged. One day there came into my room a youth
with a nut-brown face, short and compactly built, who after only a few
weeks' stay in Copenhagen could speak Danish quite tolerably. He was a
young Armenian, who had seen a great deal of the world and was of very
mixed race. His father had married, at Ispahan, a lady of Dutch-German
origin. Up to his seventh year he had lived in Batavia. When the family
afterwards moved to Europe, he was placed at school in Geneva. He had
there been brought up, in French, to trade, but as he revealed an
extraordinary talent for languages, was sent, for a year or eighteen
months at a time, to the four German universities of Halle, Erlangen,
Goettingen and Leipzig. Now, at the age of 22, he had come to Copenhagen
to copy Palahvi and Sanscrit manuscripts that Rask and Westergaard had
brought to Europe. He knew a great many languages, and was moreover very
many-sided in his acquirements, sang German student songs charmingly,
was introduced and invited everywhere, and with his foreign appearance
and quick intelligence was a great success. He introduced new points of
view, was full of information, and brought with him a breath from the
great world outside. Industrious though he had been before, Copenhagen
social life tempted him to idleness. His means came to an end; he said
that the annual income he was in the habit of receiving by ship from
India had this year, for some inexplicable reason, failed to arrive,
dragged out a miserable existence for some time under great
difficulties, starved, borrowed small sums, and disappeared as suddenly
as he had come.
Knowing this Armenian made me realise how restricted my own learning
was, and what a very general field of knowledge I had chosen.
I wrote my newspaper articles and my essays, and I worked at my doctor's
thesis on French Aesthetics, which cost me no little pains; it was my
first attempt to construct a consecutive book, and it was only by a
vigorous effort that I completed it at the end of 1869. But I had then
been casting over in my mind for some years thoughts to which I never
was able to give a final form, thoughts about the position of women in
society, which would not let me rest.
A woman whose thought fired mine even further just about this time, a
large-minded woman, who studied society with an uncompromising
directness that was scarcely to be met with in any man of the time in
Denmark, was the wife of the poet Carsten Hauch. When she spoke of
Danish women, the stage of their development and their position in law,
their apathy and the contemptibleness of the men, whether these latter
were despots, pedants, or self-sufficient Christians, she made me a
sharer of her point of view; our hearts glowed with the same flame.
Rinna Hauch was not, like certain old ladies of her circle, a "woman's
movement" woman before the name was invented. She taught no doctrine,
but she glowed with ardour for the cause of freedom and justice. She saw
through the weak, petty men and women of her acquaintance and despised
them. She too passionately desired a thorough revolution in modern
society to be able to feel satisfied merely by an amelioration of the
circumstances of women of the middle classes; and yet it was the
condition of women, especially in the classes she knew well, that she
thought most about.
She began to place some credence in me and cherished a hope that I
should do my utmost to stir up the stagnation at home, and during the
long conversations we had together, when, in the course of these
Summers, I now and again spent a week at a time with the Hauchs at
Hellebaek, she enflamed me with her ardour.
In September, 1868, after wandering with my old friend up and down the
shore, under the pure, starlit heaven, and at last finding myself late
at night in my room, I was unable to go to rest. All that had been
talked of and discussed in the course of the day made my head hot and
urged me to reflection and action. Often I seized a piece of paper and
scribbled off, disconnectedly, in pencil, remarks corresponding to the
internal agitation of my mind, jottings like the following, for example:
S.R., that restive fanatic, has a wife who cannot believe, and wishes
for nothing but to be left in peace on religious matters. He _forces
her_ to go to Communion, though he knows the words of Scripture, that
he who partakes unworthily eats and drinks to his own damnation.
There is not one sound, healthy sentiment in the whole of our religious
state of being. You frequently hear it said: "Everyone can't be a
hypocrite." True enough. But begin, in the middle classes, to deduct
hypocrisy, and gross affectation and cowardly dread of Hell, and see
what is left!
If we have young people worthy the name, I will tell them the truth; but
this band of backboneless creatures blocks up the view.
Women whom Life has enlightened and whom it has disappointed! You I can
I see two lovers hand in hand, kissing the tears away from each other's
I can only rouse the wakeful. Nothing can be done with those who are
incapable of feeling noble indignation.
I have known two women prefer death to the infamy of conjugal life.
Open the newspapers!--hardly a line that is not a lie.
And poets and speakers flatter a people like that.
Christianity and Humanity have long wished for divorce. Now this is an
And the priests are honoured. They plume themselves on not having
certain vices, for which they are too weak.
I know that I shall be stoned, that every boy has his balderdash ready
against that to which the reflection of years and sleepless nights has
given birth. But do you think I am afraid of anyone?
Stupidity was always the bodyguard of Lies.
A people who have put up with the Oldenborgs for four hundred years and
made loyalty to them into a virtue!
They do not even understand that here there is no Antichrist but Common
Abandoned by all, except Unhappiness and me.
When did God become Man? When Nature reached the point in its
development at which the first man made his appearance; when Nature
became man, then God did.
Women say of the beloved one: "A bouquet he brings smells better than
one another brings."
You are weak, dear one, God help you! And you help! and I help!
These thoughts have wrought a man of me, have finally wrought me to a
I procured all that was accessible to me in modern French and English
literature on the woman subject.
In the year 1869 my thoughts on the subordinate position of women in
society began to assume shape, and I attempted a connected record of
them. I adopted as my starting point Soeren Kierkegaard's altogether
antiquated conception of woman and contested it at every point. But all
that I had planned and drawn up was cast aside when in 1869 John Stuart
Mill's book on the subject fell into my hands. I felt Mill's superiority
to be so immense and regarded his book as so epoch-making that I
necessarily had to reject my own draft and restrict myself to the
translation and introduction of what he had said. In November, 1869, I
published Mill's book in Danish and in this manner introduced the modern
woman's movement into Denmark.
The translation was of this advantage to me that it brought me first
into epistolary communication, and later into personal contact with one
of the greatest men of the time.
There was one of the political figures of the time whom I often met
during these years. This was the man most beloved of the previous
generation, whose star had certainly declined since the war, but whose
name was still one to conjure with, Orla Lehmann.
I had made his acquaintance when I was little more than a boy, in a very
In the year 1865 I had given a few lectures in C.N. David's house, on
Runeberg, whom I had glorified exceedingly, and as the David and Lehmann
houses, despite the political differences between them, were closely
related one to the other, and intimately connected, Orla Lehmann had
heard these lectures very warmly spoken of. At that time he had just
founded a People's Society as a counterpoise to the supremely
conservative Society of August, and, looking out for lecturers for it,
hit upon the twenty-three-year-old speaker as upon a possibility.
I was then living in a little cupboard of a room on the third floor in
Crystal Street, and over my room was one, in the attic, inhabited by my
seventeen-year-old brother, who had not yet matriculated.
Orla Lehmann, who had been told that the person he was seeking lived
high up, rapidly mounted the four storeys, and knocked, a little out of
breath, at the schoolboy's door. When the door opened, he walked in, and
said, still standing:
"You are Brandes? I am Lehmann." Without heeding the surprise he read in
the young fellow's face, he went on:
"I have come to ask you to give a lecture to the People's Society in the
Casino's big room."
As the addressee looked about to speak, he continued, drowning every
objection, "I know what you are going to say. That you are too young.
Youth is written in your face. But there is no question of seniority
here. I am accustomed to accomplish what I determine upon, and I shall
take no notice of objections. I know that you are able to give lectures,
you have recently given proof of it."
At last there was a minute's pause, permitting the younger one to
"But you are making a mistake, it is not I you mean. It must be my elder
"Oh! very likely. Where does your brother live?"
A minute later there was a knock at the third-storey door beneath; it
was opened, and without even stopping to sit down, the visitor began:
"You are Brandes? I am Lehmann. You recently gave some lectures on
Runeberg. Will you kindly repeat one of them before the People's Society
in the Casino's big room?"
"Won't you sit down? I thank you for your offer. But my lecture was not
good enough to be repeated before so large a gathering. I do not know
enough about Runeberg's life, and my voice, moreover, will not carry. I
should not dare, at my age, to speak in so large a room."
"I expected you to reply that you are too young. Your youth is written
in your face. But there is no question of seniority about it. I am
accustomed to carry through anything that I have determined upon, and I
take no notice of objections. What you do not know about Runeberg's
life, you can read up in a literary history. And if you can give a
successful lecture to a private audience, you can give one in a theatre
hall. I am interested in you, I am depending on you, I take your promise
with me. Good-bye!"
This so-called promise became a regular nightmare to me, young and
absolutely untried as I was. It did not even occur to me to work up and
improve my lecture on Runeberg, for the very thought of appearing before
a large audience alarmed me and was utterly intolerable to me. During
the whole of my first stay in Paris I was so tormented by the consent
that Orla Lehmann had extorted from me, that it was a shadow over my
pleasure. I would go happy to bed and wake up in the middle of the night
with the terror of a debtor over something far off, but surely
threatening, upon me, seek in my memory for what it was that was
troubling me, and find that this far-off, threatening thing was my
promise to Lehmann. It was only after my return home that I summoned up
courage to write to him, pleading my youth and unfitness, and begging to
be released from the honourable but distasteful duty. Orla Lehmann, in
the meantime, had in all probability not bestowed a thought on the whole
matter and long since forgotten all about it.
In any case he never referred to the subject again in after years, when
we frequently met.
Among Broechner's private pupils was a young student. Kristian Moeller, by
name, who devoted himself exclusively to philosophy, and of whom
Broechner was particularly fond. He had an unusually keen intelligence,
inclined to critical and disintegrating research. His abilities were
very promising, inasmuch as it seemed that he might be able to establish
destructive verdicts upon much that was confused, or self-
contradicting, but nevertheless respected; in other respects he had a
strangely infertile brain. He had no sudden inspirations, no
imagination. It could not be expected that he would ever bring forward
any specially new thoughts, only that he would penetrate confusion,
think out errors to the bottom, and, with the years, carry out a process
of thorough cleansing.
But before he had accomplished any independent work his lungs became
affected. It was not at once perceived how serious the affection was,
and Orla Lehmann, who, with the large-mindedness and open-handedness of
a patriot, had taken him up, as well as sundry other young men who
promised well or were merely poor, not only invited him to his weekly
dinner-parties at Frederiksberg, but sent him to Upsala, that he might
study Swedish philosophy there. Moeller himself was much inclined to
study Bostroemianism and write a criticism of this philosophy, which was
at that time predominant in Sweden.
He ought to have been sent South, or rather to a sanatorium; Orla
Lehmann's Scandinavian sympathies, however, determined his stay in the
North, which proved fatal to his health.
In 1868 he returned to Copenhagen, pale, with hollow cheeks, and a
stern, grave face, that of a marked man, his health thoroughly
undermined. His friends soon learnt, and doubtless he understood
himself, that his condition was hopeless. The quite extraordinary
strength of character with which he submitted, good-temperedly and
without a murmur, to his fate, had for effect that all who knew him vied
with each other in trying to lessen the bitterness of his lot and at any
rate show him how much they cared for him. As he could not go out, and
as he soon grew incapable of connected work, his room became an
afternoon and evening meeting-place for many of his comrades, who went
there to distract him with whatever they could think of to narrate, or
discuss. If you found him alone, it was rarely long before a second and
a third visitor came, and the room filled up.
Orla Lehmann, his patron, was also one of Kristian Moeller's frequent
visitors. But whenever he arrived, generally late and the last, the
result was always the same. The students and graduates, who had been
sitting in the room in lively converse, were struck dumb, awed by the
presence of the great man; after the lapse of a few minutes, one would
get up and say good-bye; immediately afterwards the next would remember
that he was engaged elsewhere just at that particular time; a moment
later the third would slip noiselessly out of the room, and it would be
There was one, however, who, under such circumstances, found it simply
impossible to go. I stayed, even if I had just been thinking of taking
Under the autocracy, Orla Lehmann had been the lyrical figure of
Politics; he had voiced the popular hopes and the beauty of the people's
will, much more than the political poets did. They wrote poetry; his
nature was living poetry. The swing of his eloquence, which so soon grew
out of date, was the very swing of youth in men's souls then. At the
time I first knew him, he had long left the period of his greatness
behind him, but he was still a handsome, well set-up man, and, at 58
years of age, had lost nothing of his intellectual vivacity. He had lost
his teeth and spoke indistinctly, but he was fond of telling tales and
told them well, and his enemies declared that as soon as a witty thought
struck him, he took a cab and drove round from house to house to relate
Passionately patriotic though Orla Lehmann was, he was very far from
falling into the then usual error of overestimating Denmark's historical
exploits and present importance. He related one day that when he was in
Paris, as a young man, speaking under an impression very frequent among
his travelled compatriots, he had, in a conversation with Sainte-Beuve,
reproached the French with knowing so shamefully little of the Danes.
The great critic, as was his habit, laid his head a little on one side,
and with roguish impertinence replied: "_Eh! bien, faites quelque
chose! on parlera de vous_." He approved of the reply. We younger
ones looked upon him as belonging to another period and living in
another plane of ideas, although, being a liberal-minded man, he was not
far removed from us. He was supposed to be a freethinker, and it was
told of him that when his old housekeeper repeatedly, and with
increasing impatience, requested him to come to table, he would reply,
in the presence of students--a rallying allusion to the lady's Christian
"Get help from Religion, little Bech, get help from Religion!"--a remark
that in those days would be regarded as wantonly irreligious!
People felt sorry for Lehmann because his politics had so wholly
miscarried, and somewhat sore against him because he wanted to lay all
the blame on the old despotism and the unfavourable circumstances of the
time. Take him altogether, to those who were not intimately associated
with him, and did not share the strong dislike felt against him in
certain circles, he was chiefly a handsome and attractive antiquity.
Kristian Moeller died in 1869, and his death was deeply lamented. He was
one of the few comrades admired by the younger ones alike for his gifts
and his stoicism. With his death my opportunities of frequently meeting
Orla Lehmann ceased. But that the latter had not quite lost sight of me,
he proved by appearing, at the end of February, 1870, at my examination
upon my doctor's thesis at the University. As on this occasion Lehmann
arrived a little late, he was placed on a chair in front of all the
other auditors, and very imposing he looked, in a mighty fur coat which
showed off his stately figure. He listened very attentively to
everything, and several times during the discussion showed by a short
laugh that some parrying reply had amused him.
Six months afterwards he was no more.
During those years I came into very curious relations with another
celebrity of the time. This was M. Goldschmidt, the author, whose great
talent I had considerable difficulty in properly appreciating, so
repelled was I by his uncertain and calculating personality.
I saw Goldschmidt for the first time, when I was a young man, at a large
ball at a club in Copenhagen.
A man who had emigrated to England as a poor boy returned to Copenhagen
in the sixties at the age of fifty, after having acquired a considerable
fortune. He was uneducated, kind, impeccably honourable, and was anxious
to secure acquaintances and associates for his adopted daughter, a
delicate young girl, who was strange to Copenhagen. With this object in
view, he invited a large number of young people to a ball in the rooms
of the King's Club, provided good music and luxurious refreshments. This
man was a cousin of Goldschmidt's, and as he himself was unable to make
more of a speech than a short welcome to table, he begged "his cousin,
the poet," to be his spokesman on this occasion.
One would have thought that so polished a writer, such a master of
language, as Goldschmidt, would be able, with the greatest ease, to make
an after-dinner speech, especially when he had had plenty of time to
prepare himself; but the gift of speaking is, as everyone knows, a gift
in itself. And a more unfortunate speaker than Goldschmidt could not be.
He had not even the art of compelling silence while he spoke.
That evening he began rather tactlessly by telling the company that
their host, who was a rich man, had earned his money in a strictly
honourable manner; it was always a good thing to know "that one had
clear ground to dance upon"; then he dwelt on the Jewish origin of the
giver of the feast, and, starting from the assumption that the greater
number of the invited guests were young Jews and Jewesses, he formulated
his toast in praise of "the Jewish woman, who lights the Sabbath
candles." The young Jewesses called out all at once: "The Danish woman I
The Danish woman! We are Danish!" They were irritated at the dead
Romanticism into which Goldschmidt was trying to push them back. They
lighted no Sabbath candles! they did not feel themselves Jewish either
by religion or nationality. The day of Antisemitism had not arrived.
Consequently there was still no Zionist Movement. They had also often
felt vexed at the descriptions that Goldschmidt in his novels frequently
gave of modern Jews, whose manners and mode of expression he screwed
back fifty years.
These cries, which really had nothing offensive about them, made
Goldschmidt lose his temper to such an extent that he shouted, in great
exasperation: "Will you keep silence while I speak! What manners are
these! I will teach you to keep silence!" and so forth,--which evoked a
storm of laughter. He continued for some time to rebuke their exuberant
mirth in severe terms, but was so unsuccessful that he broke off his
speech and, very much out of humour, sat down.
Not long afterwards, perhaps in the year 1865, I came into contact with
Goldschmidt once only, when walking one evening with Magdalene Thoresen.
On meeting this lady, whom he knew, he turned round, walking with her as
far as her house on the shores of the Lakes, after which his way led
towards the town, as did mine. As long as Mrs. Thoresen was present, he
naturally addressed his conversation to her and expressed himself, as
his habit was, without much ceremony. For instance, he said: "I don't as
a rule care for women writers, not even for those we have; but I will
concede that, of all the ladies who write, you are the freshest." When
Mrs. Thoresen brought the conversation round to her favourite subject,
love, he said, banteringly: "My heart is like the flags of the Zouave
Regiments, so pierced with holes that it is almost impossible to tell
what the material originally looked like."
On the whole, he was animated and polite, but his glance was somewhat
Goldschmidt had greater difficulty in hitting on the right manner to
adopt towards a much younger man. He used expressions which showed that
he was standing on his dignity, and was all the time conscious of his
own superiority. "People have spoken about you to me," he said, "and I
know you by name." The word here rendered _people_ had a strangely
foreign sound, as though translated, or affected.
"Have you read Taine's History of English Literature?" he asked.
"No, I don't know it."
"Ah, perhaps you are one of those who regard it as superfluous to learn
about anything foreign. We have enough of our own, is it not so? It is a
very widespread opinion, but it is a mistake."
"You judge too hastily; that is not my opinion."
"Oh,--ah. Yes. Good-bye."
And our ways parted.
I did not like Goldschmidt. He had dared to profane the great Soeren
Kierkegaard, had pilloried him for the benefit of a second-rate public.
I disliked him on Kierkegaard's account. But I disliked him much more
actively on my master, Professor Broechner's account.
Broechner had an intense contempt for Goldschmidt; intellectually he
thought him of no weight, as a man he thought him conceited, and
consequently ridiculous. He had not the slightest perception of the
literary artist in him. The valuable and unusual qualities of his
descriptive talent he overlooked. But the ignorance Goldschmidt had
sometimes shown about philosophy, and the incapacity he had displayed
with regard to art, his change of political opinion, his sentimentality
as a wit, all the weaknesses that one Danish critic had mercilessly
dragged into the light, had inspired Broechner with the strongest
aversion to Goldschmidt. Add to this the personal collisions between the
two men. At some public meeting Broechner had gazed at Goldschmidt with
such an ironic smile that the latter had passionately called him to
"Don't make a scene now!" replied Broechner.
"I am ready to make a scene anywhere," the answer is reported to have
"That I can believe; but keep calm now!"
Shortly afterwards, in _North and South_, Goldschmidt, on the
occasion of Broechner's candidature for parliament, had written that the
well-known atheist, H. Broechner, naturally, as contributor to _The
Fatherland_, was supported by the "Party." Now, there was nothing
that annoyed Broechner so much as when anyone called him an atheist, and
tried to make him hated for that reason,--the word, it is true, had a
hundred times a worse sound then than now,--he always maintaining that
he and other so-called atheists were far more religious than their
assailants. And although Goldschmidt's sins against Broechner were in
truth but small, although the latter, moreover--possibly unjustifiably--
had challenged him to the attack, Broechner nevertheless imbued me with
such a dislike of Goldschmidt that I could not regard him with quite
Goldschmidt tried to make personal advances to me during my first stay
in Paris in 1866.
Besides the maternal uncle settled in France, of whom I have already
spoken, I had still another uncle, my father's brother, who had gone to
France as a boy, had become naturalised, and had settled in Paris. He
was a little older than my father, a somewhat restless and fantastic
character, whom Goldschmidt frequently met at the houses of mutual
friends. He let me know through this man that he would like to make my
acquaintance, gave him his address and mentioned his receiving hours. As
I held back, he repeated the invitation, but in vain. Broechner's
influence was too strong. A few years later, in some dramatic articles,
I had expressed myself in a somewhat satirical, offhand manner about
Goldschmidt, when one day an attempt was made to bring the poet and
myself into exceedingly close connection.
One Spring morning in 1869, a little man with blue spectacles came into
my room and introduced himself as Goldschmidt's publisher, Bookseller
Steen. He had come on a confidential errand from Goldschmidt, regarding
which he begged me to observe strict silence, whatever the outcome of
the matter might be.
Goldschmidt knew that, as a critic, I was not in sympathy with him, but
being very difficultly placed, he appealed to my chivalry. For reasons
which he did not wish to enter into, he would be obliged, that same
year, to sever his connection with Denmark and settle down permanently
in England. For the future he should write in English. But before he
left he wished to terminate his literary activity in his native country