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Henrik Ibsen by Edmund Gosse

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Produced by Ted Garvin, Nicole Apostola and David Widger


By Edmund Gosse


CHAPTER V: 1868-75
CHAPTER VI: 1875-82
CHAPTER VII: 1883-91


Henrik Ibsen
Ibsen in 1868
Ibsen in Dresden, October, 1873
From a drawing by Gustav Laerum
Facsimile of Ibsen's Handwriting
Ibsen. From the painting by Eilif Petersen
Bust of Ibsen, about 1865


Numerous and varied as have been the analyses of Ibsen's works
published, in all languages, since the completion of his writings, there
exists no biographical study which brings together, on a general plan,
what has been recorded of his adventures as an author. Hitherto the only
accepted Life of Ibsen has been _Et literaert Livsbillede_, published in
1888 by Henrik Jaeger; of this an English translation was issued in
1890. Henrik Jaeger (who must not be confounded with the novelist, Hans
Henrik Jaeger) was a lecturer and dramatic critic, residing near Bergen,
whose book would possess little value had he not succeeded in persuading
Ibsen to give him a good deal of valuable information respecting his
early life in that city. In its own day, principally on this account,
Jaeger's volume was useful, supplying a large number of facts which were
new to the public. But the advance of Ibsen's activity, and the increase
of knowledge since his death, have so much extended and modified the
poet's history that _Et literaert Livsbillede_ has become obsolete.

The principal authorities of which I have made use in the following
pages are the minute bibliographical _Oplysninger_ of J. B. Halvorsen,
marvels of ingenious labor, continued after Halvorsen's death by Sten
Konow (1901); the _Letters of Henrik Ibsen_, published in two volumes,
by H. Koht and J. Elias, in 1904, and now issued in an English
translation (Hodder & Stoughton); the recollections and notes of various
friends, published in the periodicals of Scandinavia and Germany after
his death; T. Blanc's _Et Bidrag til den Ibsenskte Digtnings
Scenehistorie_ (1906); and, most of all, the invaluable _Samliv med
Ibsen_ (1906) of Johan Paulsen. This last-mentioned writer aspires, in
measure, to be Ibsen's Boswell, and his book is a series of chapters
reminiscent of the dramatist's talk and manners, chiefly during those
central years of his life which he spent in Germany. It is a trivial,
naive and rather thin production, but it has something of the true
Boswellian touch, and builds up before us a lifelike portrait.

From the materials, too, collected for many years past by Mr. William
Archer, I have received important help. Indeed, of Mr. Archer it is
difficult for an English student of Ibsen to speak with moderation. It
is true that thirty-six years ago some of Ibsen's early metrical
writings fell into the hands of the writer of this little volume, and
that I had the privilege, in consequence, of being the first person to
introduce Ibsen's name to the British public. Nor will I pretend for a
moment that it is not a gratification to me, after so many years and
after such surprising developments, to know that this was the fact. But,
save for this accident of time, it was Mr. Archer and no other who was
really the introducer of Ibsen to English readers. For a quarter of a
century he was the protagonist in the fight against misconstruction and
stupidity; with wonderful courage, with not less wonderful good temper
and persistency, he insisted on making the true Ibsen take the place of
the false, and on securing for him the recognition due to his genius.
Mr. William Archer has his reward; his own name is permanently attached
to the intelligent appreciation of the Norwegian playwright in England
and America.

In these pages, where the space at my disposal was so small, I have not
been willing to waste it by repeating the plots of any of those plays of
Ibsen which are open to the English reader. It would please me best if
this book might be read in connection with the final edition of _Ibsen's
Complete Dramatic Works_, now being prepared by Mr. Archer in eleven
volumes (W. Heinemann, 1907). If we may judge of the whole work by those
volumes of it which have already appeared, I have little hesitation in
saying that no other foreign author of the second half of the nineteenth
century has been so ably and exhaustively edited in English as Ibsen has
been in this instance.

The reader who knows the Dano-Norwegian language may further be
recommended to the study of Carl Naerup's _Norsk Litteraturhistories
siste Tidsrum_ (1905), a critical history of Norwegian literature since
1890, which is invaluable in giving a notion of the effect of modern
ideas on the very numerous younger writers of Norway, scarcely one of
whom has not been influenced in one direction or another by the tyranny
of Ibsen's personal genius. What has been written about Ibsen in England
and France has often missed something of its historical value by not
taking into consideration that movement of intellectual life in Norway
which has surrounded him and which he has stimulated. Perhaps I may be
allowed to say of my little book that this side of the subject has been
particularly borne in mind in the course of its composition.

E. G.




The parentage of the poet has been traced back to a certain Danish
skipper, Peter Ibsen, who, in the beginning of the eighteenth century,
made his way over from Stege, the capital of the island of Moeen, and
became a citizen of Bergen. From that time forth the men of the family,
all following the sea in their youth, jovial men of a humorous
disposition, continued to haunt the coasts of Norway, marrying sinister
and taciturn wives, who, by the way, were always, it would seem, Danes
or Germans or Scotswomen, so that positively the poet had, after a
hundred years and more of Norwegian habitation, not one drop of pure
Norse blood to inherit from his parents. His grandfather, Henrik, was
wrecked in 1798 in his own ship, which went down with all souls lost on
Hesnaes, near Grimstad; this reef is the scene of Ibsen's animated poem
of Terje Viken. His father, Knud, who was born in 1797, married in 1825
a German, Marichen Cornelia Martie Altenburg, of the same town of Skien;
she was one year his senior, and the daughter of a merchant. It was in
1771 that the Ibsens, leaving Bergen, had settled in Skien, which was,
and still is, an important centre of the timber and shipping trades on
the south-east shore of the country.

It may be roughly said that Skien, in the Danish days, was a sort of
Poole or Dartmouth, existing solely for purposes of marine merchandise,
and depending for prosperity, and life itself, on the sea. Much of a
wire-drawn ingenuity has been conjectured about the probable strains of
heredity which met in Ibsen. It is not necessary to do more than to
recognize the slight but obstinate exoticism, which kept all his
forbears more or less foreigners still in their Norwegian home; and to
insist on the mixture of adventurousness and plain common sense which
marked their movements by sea and shore. The stock was intensely
provincial, intensely unambitious; it would be difficult to find
anywhere a specimen of the lower middle class more consistent than the
Ibsens had been in preserving their respectable dead level. Even in that
inability to resist the call of the sea, generation after generation, if
there was a little of the dare-devil there was still more of the
conventional citizen. It is, in fact, a vain attempt to detect elements
of his ancestors in the extremely startling and unprecedented son who
was born to Knud and Marichen Ibsen two years and three months after
their marriage.

This son, who was baptized Henrik Johan, although he never used the
second name, was born in a large edifice known as the Stockmann House,
in the centre of the town of Skien, on March 20, The house stood on one
side of a large, open square; the town pillory was at the right of and
the mad-house, the lock-up and other amiable urban institutions to the
left; in front was Latin school and the grammar school, while the church
occupied the middle of the square. Over this stern prospect the tourist
can no longer sentimentalize, for the whole of this part of Skien was
burned down in 1886, to the poet's unbridled satisfaction. "The
inhabitants of Skien," he said with grim humor, "were quite unworthy to
possess my birthplace."

He declared that the harsh elements of landscape, mentioned above, were
those which earliest captivated his infant attention, and he added that
the square space, with the church in the midst of it, was filled all day
long with the dull and droning sound of many waterfalls, while from dawn
to dusk this drone of waters was constantly cut through by a sound that
was like the sharp screaming and moaning of women. This was caused by
hundreds of saws at work beside the waterfalls, taking advantage of that
force. "Afterwards, when I read about the guillotine, I always thought
of those saws," said the poet, whose earliest flight of fancy seems to
have been this association of womanhood with the shriek of the sawmill.

In 1888, just before his sixtieth birthday, Ibsen wrote out for Henrik
Jaeger certain autobiographical recollections of his childhood. It is
from these that the striking phrase about the scream of the saws is
taken, and that is perhaps the most telling of these infant memories,
many of which are slight and naive. It is interesting, however, to find
that his earliest impressions of life at home were of an optimistic
character. "Skien," he says, "in my young days, was an exceedingly
lively and sociable place, quite unlike what it afterwards became.
Several highly cultivated and wealthy families lived in the town itself
or close by on their estates. Most of these families were more or less
closely related, and dances, dinners and music parties followed each
other, winter and summer, in almost unbroken sequence. Many travellers,
too, passed through the town, and, as there were as yet no regular inns,
they lodged with friends or connections. We almost always had guests in
our large, roomy house, especially at Christmas and Fair-time, when the
house was full, and we kept open table from morning till night." The
mind reverts to the majestic old wooden mansions which play so prominent
a part in Thomas Krag's novels, or to the house of Mrs. Solness'
parents, the burning down of which started the Master-Builder's
fortunes. Most of these grand old timber houses in Norway have indeed,
by this time, been so burned down.

We may speculate on what the effect of this genial open-handedness might
have been, had it lasted, on the genius of the poet. But fortune had
harsher views of what befitted the training of so acrid a nature. When
Ibsen was eight years of age, his father's business was found to be in
such disorder that everything had to be sold to meet his creditors. The
only piece of property left when this process had been gone through was
a little broken-down farmhouse called Venstoeb, in the outskirts of
Skien. Ibsen afterwards stated that those who had taken most advantage
of his parents' hospitality in their prosperous days were precisely
those who now most markedly turned a cold shoulder on them. It is likely
enough that this may have been the case, but one sees how inevitably
Ibsen would, in after years, be convinced that it was. He believed
himself to have been, personally, much mortified and humiliated in
childhood by the change in the family status. Already, by all accounts,
he had begun to live a life of moral isolation. His excellent sister
long afterwards described him as an unsociable child, never a pleasant
companion, and out of sympathy with all the rest of the family.

We recollect, in _The Wild Duck_, the garret which was the domain of
Hedvig and of that symbolic bird. At Venstoeb, the infant Ibsen possessed
a like retreat, a little room near the back entrance, which was sacred
to him and into the fastness of which he was accustomed to bolt himself.
Here were some dreary old books, among others Harrison's folio _History
of the City of London_, as well as a paint-box, an hour-glass, an
extinct eight-day clock, properties which were faithfully introduced,
half a century later, into _The Wild Duck_. His sister says that the
only outdoor amusement he cared for as a boy was building, and she
describes the prolonged construction of a castle, in the spirit of _The

Very soon he began to go to school, but to neither of the public
institutions in the town. He attended what is described as a "small
middle-class school," kept by a man called Johan Hansen, who was the
only person connected with his childhood, except his sister, for whom
the poet retained in after life any agreeable sentiment. "Johan Hansen,"
he says, "had a mild, amiable temper, like that of a child," and when he
died, in 1865, Ibsen mourned him. The sexton at Skien, who helped in the
lessons, described the poet afterwards as "a quiet boy with a pair of
wonderful eyes, but with no sort of cleverness except an unusual gift
for drawing." Hansen taught Ibsen Latin and theology, gently,
perseveringly, without any striking results; that the pupil afterwards
boasted of having successfully perused Phaedrus in the original is in
itself significant. So little was talent expected from him that when, at
the age of about fifteen, he composed a rather melodramatic description
of a dream, the schoolmaster looked at him gloomily, and said he must
have copied it out of some book! One can imagine the shocked silence of
the author, "passive at the nadir of dismay."

No great wild swan of the flocks of Phoebus ever began life as a more
ungainly duckling than Ibsen did. The ingenuity of biographers has done
its best to brighten up the dreary record of his childhood with
anecdotes, yet the sum of them all is but a dismal story. The only
talent which was supposed to lurk in the napkin was that for painting. A
little while before he left school, he was found to have been working
hard with water-colors. Various persons have recalled finished works of
the young Ibsen--a romantic landscape of the ironworks at Fossum, a view
from the windows at Venstoeb, a boy in peasant dress seated on a rock,
the latter described by a dignitary of the church as "awfully splendid,"
overmaade praegtigt. One sees what kind of painting this must have been,
founded on some impression of Fearnley and Tidemann, a far-away
following of the new "national" art of the praiseworthy "patriot-
painters" of the school of Dahl.

It is interesting to remember that Pope, who had considerable
intellectual relationship with Ibsen, also nourished in childhood the
ambition to be a painter, and drudged away at his easel for weeks and
months. As he to the insipid Jervases and Knellers whom he copied, so
Ibsen to the conscientious romantic artists of Norway's prime. In
neither case do we wish that an Ibsen or a Pope should be secured for
the National Gallery, but it is highly significant that such earnest
students of precise excellence in another art should first of all have
schooled their eyes to exactitude by grappling with form and color.

In 1843, being fifteen years of age, Ibsen was confirmed and taken away
from school. These events marked the beginning of adolescence with a
young middle-class Norwegian of those days, for whom the future proposed
no task in life demanding a more elaborate education than the local
schoolmaster could give. Ibsen announced his wish to be a professional
artist, but that was one which could not be indulged. Until a later date
than this, every artist in Norway was forced abroad for the necessary
technical training: as a rule, students went to Dresden, because J. C.
Dahl was there; but many settled in Duesseldorf, where the teaching
attracted them. In any case, the adoption of a plastic profession meant
a long and serious expenditure of money, together with a very doubtful
prospect of ultimate remuneration. Fearnley, who had seemed the very
genius of Norwegian art, had just (1842) died, having scarcely begun to
sell his pictures, at the age of forty. It is not surprising that Knud
Ibsen, whose to were in a worse condition than ever, refused even to
consider a course of life which would entail a heavy and long-continued

Ibsen hung about at home for a few months, then, shortly before his
sixteenth birthday, he apprenticed to an apothecary of the name of Mann,
at the little town of Grimstad, between Arendal and Christianssand, on
the extreme south-east corner of the Norwegian coast. This was his home
for more than five years; here he became a poet, and here the peculiar
color and tone of his temperament were developed. So far as the genius
of a very great man is influenced by his surroundings, and by his
physical condition in those surroundings, it was the atmosphere of
Grimstad and of its drug-store which moulded the character of Ibsen.
Skien and his father's house dropped from him like an old suit of
clothes. He left his parents, whom he scarcely knew, the town which he
hated, the schoolmates and schoolmasters to whom he seemed a surly
dunce. We find him next, with an apron round his middle and a pestle in
his hand, pounding drugs in a little apothecary's shop in Grimstad. What
Blackwood's so basely insinuated of Keats--"Back to the shop, Mr. John,
stick to plasters, pills and ointment-boxes," inappropriate to the
author of _Endymion_, was strictly true of the author of _Peer Gynt_.

Curiosity and hero-worship once took the author of these lines to
Grimstad. It is a marvellous object-lesson on the development of genius.
For nearly six years (from 1844 to 1850), and those years the most
important of all in the moulding of character and talent, one of the
most original and far-reaching imaginations which Europe has seen for a
century was cooped up here among ointment-boxes, pills and plasters.
Grimstad is a small, isolated, melancholy place, connected with nothing
at all, visitable only by steamer. Featureless hills surround it, and it
looks out into the east wind, over a dark bay dotted with naked rocks.
No industry, no objects of interest in the vicinity, a perfect
uniformity of little red houses where nobody seems to be doing anything;
in Ibsen's time there are said to have been about five hundred of these
apathetic inhabitants. Here, then, for six interminable years, one of
the acutest brains in Europe had to interest itself in fraying
ipecacuanha and mixing black draughts behind an apothecary's counter.

For several years nothing is recorded, and there was probably very
little that demanded record, of Ibsen's life at Grimstad. His own
interesting notes, it is obvious, refer only to the closing months of
the period. Ten years before the birth of Ibsen of the greatest poets of
Europe had written words which seem meant to characterize an adolescence
such as his. "The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature
imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between,
in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of
life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted; thence proceed mawkishness
and a thousand bitters."

It is easy to discover that Ibsen, from his sixth to his twentieth year,
suffered acutely from moral and intellectual distemper. He was at war--
the phrase is his own--with the little community in which he lived. And
yet it seems to have been, in its tiny way, a tolerant and even friendly
little community. It is difficult for us to realize what life in a
remote coast-town of Norway would be sixty years ago. Connection with
the capital would be rare and difficult, and, when achieved, the capital
was as yet little more than we should call a village. There would,
perhaps, be a higher uniformity of education among the best inhabitants
of Grimstad than we are prepared to suppose. A certain graceful veneer
of culture, an old-fashioned Danish elegance reflected from Copenhagen,
would mark the more conservative citizens, male and female. A fierier
generation--not hot enough, however, to set the fjord on flame--would
celebrate the comparatively recent freedom of the country in numerous
patriotic forms. It is probable that a dark boy like Ibsen would, on the
whole, prefer the former type, but he would despise them both.

He was poor, excruciatingly poor, with a poverty that excluded all
indulgence, beyond the bare necessities, in food and clothes and books.
We can conceive the meagre advance of his position, first a mere
apprentice, then an assistant, finally buoyed up by the advice of
friends to study medicine and pharmacy, in the hope of being, some
bright day, himself no less than the owner of a drug-store. Did Mr.
Anstey know this, or was it the sheer adventure of genius, when he
contrasted the qualities of the master into "Pill-Doctor Herdal,"
compounding "beautiful rainbow-colored powders that will give one a real
grip on the world"? Ibsen, it is allowable to think, may sometimes have
dreamed of a pill, "with arsenic in it, Hilda, and digitalis, too, and
strychnine and the best beetle-killer," which would decimate the
admirable inhabitants of Grimstad, strewing the rocks with their bodies
in their go-to-meeting coats and dresses. He had in him that source of
anger, against which all arguments are useless, which bubbles up in the
heart of youth who vaguely feels himself possessed of native energy, and
knows not how to stir a hand or even formulate a wish. He was savage in
manners, unprepossessing in appearance, and, as he himself has told us
with pathetic naivete, unable to express the real gratitude he felt to
the few who would willingly have extended friendship to him if he had
permitted it.

As he advanced in age, he does not seem to have progressed in grace. By
the respectable citizens of Grimstad--and even Grimstad had its little
inner circle of impenetrable aristocracy--he regarded as "not quite
nice." The apothecary's assistant was a bold young man, who did not seem
to realize his menial position. He was certainly intelligent, and
Grimstad would have overlooked the pills and ointments if his manners
had been engaging, but he was rude, truculent and contradictory. The
youthful female sex is not in the habit of sharing the prejudices of its
elders in this respect, and many a juvenile Orson has, in such
conditions, enjoyed substantial successes. But young Ibsen was not a
favorite even with the girls, whom he alarmed and disconcerted. One of
the young ladies of Grimstad in after years attempted to describe the
effect which the poet made upon them. They had none of them liked him,
she said, "because"--she hesitated for the word--"because he was so
_spectral_." This gives us just the flash we want; it reveals to us for
a moment the distempered youth, almost incorporeal, displayed wandering
about at twilight and in lonely places, held in common esteem to be
malevolent, and expressing by gestures rather than by words sentiments
of a nature far from complimentary or agreeable.

Thus life at Grimstad seems to have proceeded until Ibsen reached his
twenty-first year. In this quiet backwater of a seaport village the
passage of time was deliberate, and the development of hard-worked
apothecaries was slow. Ibsen's nature was not in any sense precocious,
and even if he had not languished in so lost a corner of society, it is
unlikely that he would have started prematurely in life or literature.
The actual waking up, when it came at last, seems to have been almost an
accident. There had been some composing of verses, now happily lost, and
some more significant distribution of "epigrams" and "caricatures" to
the vexation of various worthy persons. The earliest trace of talent
seems to been in this direction, in the form of lampoons or
"characters," as people called them in the seventeenth century,
sarcastic descriptions of types in which certain individuals could be
recognized. No doubt if these could be recovered, we should find them
rough and artless, but containing germs of the future keenness of
portraiture. They were keen enough, it seems, to rouse great resentment
in Grimstad.

There is evidence to show that the lad had docility enough, at all
events, to look about for some aid in the composition of Norwegian
prose. We should know nothing of it but for a passage in Ibsen's later
polemic with Paul Jansenius Stub of Bergen. In 1848 Stub was an invalid
schoolmaster, who, it appears, eked out his income by giving
instruction, by correspondence, in style. How Ibsen heard of him does
not seem to be known, but when, in 1851, Ibsen entered, with needless
acrimony, into a controversy with his previous teacher about the
theatre, Stub complained of his ingratitude, since he had "taught the
boy to write." Stub's intervention in the matter, doubtless, was limited
to the correction of a few exercises.

Ibsen's own theory was that his intellect and character were awakened by
the stir of revolution throughout Europe. The first political event
which really interested him was the proclamation of the French Republic,
which almost coincided with his twentieth birthday. He was born again, a
child of '48. There were risings in Vienna, in Milan, in Rome. Venice
was proclaimed a republic, the Pope fled to Gaeta, the streets of Berlin
ran with the blood of the populace. The Magyars rose against Jellalic
and his Croat troops; the Czechs demanded their autonomy; in response to
the revolutionary feeling in Germany, Schleswig-Holstein was up in arms.

Each of these events, and others like them, and all occurring in the
rapid months of that momentous year, smote like hammers on the door of
Ibsen's brain, till it quivered with enthusiasm and excitement. The old
brooding languor was at an end, and with surprising clearness and
firmness he saw his pathway cut out before him as a poet and as a man.
The old clouds vanished, and though the social difficulties which hemmed
in his career were as gross as ever, he himself no longer doubted what
was to be his aim in life. The cry of revolution came to him, of
revolution faint indeed and broken, the voice of a minority appealing
frantically and for a moment against the overwhelming forces of a
respectable majority, but it came to him just at the moment when his
young spirit was prepared to receive it with faith and joy. The effect
on Ibsen's character was sudden and it was final:

Then he stood up, and trod to dust
Fear and desire, mistrust and trust,
And dreams of bitter sleep and sweet,
And bound for sandals on his feet
Knowledge and patience of what must
And what things maybe, in the heat
And cold of years that rot and rust
And alter; and his spirit's meat
Was freedom, and his staff was wrought
Of strength, and his cloak woven of thought.

We are not left to conjecture on the subject; in a document of extreme
interest, which seems somehow to have escaped the notice of his
commentators, the preface to the second (1876) edition of _Catilina_, he
has described what the influences were which roused him out of the
wretchedness of Grimstad; they were precisely the revolution of
February, the risings in Hungary, the first Schleswig war. He wrote a
series of sonnets, now apparently lost, to King Oscar, imploring him to
take up arms for the help of Denmark, and of nights, when all his duties
were over at last, and the shop shut up, he would creep to the garret
where he slept, and dream himself fighting at the centre of the world,
instead of lost on its extreme circumference. And here he began his
first drama, the opening lines of which,

"I must, I must; a voice is crying to me
From my soul's depth, and I will follow it,"

might be taken as the epigraph of Ibsen's whole life's work.

In one of his letters to Georg Brandes he has noted, with that
clairvoyance which marks some of his utterances about himself, the
"full-blooded egotism" which developed in him during his last year of
mental and moral starvation at Grimstad. Through the whole series of his
satiric dramas we see the little narrow-minded borough, with its
ridiculous officials, its pinched and hypocritical social order, its
intolerable laws and ordinances, modified here and there, expanded
sometimes, modernized and brought up to date, but always recurrent in
the poet's memory. To the last, the images and the rebellions which were
burned into his soul at Grimstad were presented over and over again to
his readers.

But the necessity of facing the examination at Christiania now presented
itself. He was so busily engaged in the shop that he had, as he says, to
steal his hours for study. He still inhabited the upper room, which he
calls a garret; it would not seem that the alteration in his status,
assistant now and no longer apprentice, had increased his social
conveniences. He was still the over-worked apothecary, pounding drugs
with a pestle and mortar from morning till night. Someone has pointed
out the odd circumstance that almost every scene in the drama of
_Catilina_ takes place in the dark. This was the unconscious result of
the fact that all the attention which the future realist could give to
the story had to be given in the night hours. When he emerged from the
garret, it was to read Latin with a candidate in theology, a Mr. Monrad,
brother of the afterwards famous professor. By a remarkable chance, the
subject given by the University for examination was the Conspiracy of
Catiline, to be studied in the history of Sallust and the oration of

No theme could have been more singularly well fitted to fire the
enthusiasm of Ibsen. At no time of his life a linguist, or much
interested in history, it is probable that the difficulty of
concentrating his attention on a Latin text would have been
insurmountable had the subject been less intimately sympathetic to him.
But he tells us that he had no sooner perceived the character of the man
against whom these diatribes are directed than he devoured them greedily
(_jeg slugte disse skrifter_). The opening words of Sallust, which every
schoolboy has to read--we can imagine with what an extraordinary force
they would strike upon the resounding emotion of such a youth as Ibsen.
_Lucius Catilina nobili genere natus, magna vi et animi et corporis, sed
ingenio malo pravoque_--how does this at once bring up an image of the
arch-rebel, of Satan himself, as the poets have conceived him, how does
it attract, with its effects of energy, intelligence and pride, the
curiosity of one whose way of life, as Keats would say, is still
undecided, his ambition still thick-sighted!

It was Sallust's picture more than Cicero's that absorbed Ibsen.
Criticism likes to trace a predecessor behind every genius, a Perugino
for Raffaelle, a Marlowe for Shakespeare. If we seek for the master-mind
that started Ibsen, it is not to be found among the writers of his age
or of his language. The real master of Ibsen was Sallust. There can be
no doubt that the cold and bitter strength of Sallust; his unflinching
method of building up his edifice of invective, stone by stone; his
close, unidealistic, dry penetration into character; his clinical
attitude, unmoved at the death-bed of a reputation; that all these
qualities were directly operative on the mind and intellectual character
of Ibsen, and went a long way to mould it while moulding was still

There is no evidence to show that the oration of Cicero moved him nearly
so much as the narratives of Sallust. After all, the object of Cicero
was to crush the conspiracy, but what Ibsen was interested in was the
character of Catiline, and this was placed before him in a more
thrilling way by the austere reserve of the historian. No doubt, to a
young poet, when that poet was Ibsen, there would be something deeply
attractive in the sombre, archaic style, and icy violence of Sallust.
How thankful we ought to be that the historian, with his long sonorous
words--_flagitiosorum ac facinorosorum_--did not make of our perfervid
apothecary a mere tub-thumper of Corinthian prose!

Ibsen now formed the two earliest friendships of his life. He had
reached the age of twenty without, as it would seem, having been able to
make his inner nature audible to those around him. He had been to the
inhabitants of Grimstad a stranger within their gates, not speaking
their language; or, rather, wholly "spectral," speaking no language at
all, but indulging in cat-calls and grimaces. He was now discovered like
Caliban, and tamed, and made vocal, by the strenuous arts of friendship.
One of those who thus interpreted him was a young musician, Due, who
held a post in the custom-house; the other was Ole Schulerud (1827-59),
who deserves a cordial acknowledgment from every admirer of Ibsen. He
also was in the receipt of custom, and a young man of small independent
means. To Schulerud and to Due, Ibsen revealed his poetic plans, and he
seems to have found in them both sympathizers with his republican
enthusiasms and transcendental schemes for the liberation of the
peoples. It was a stirring time, in 1848, and all generous young blood
was flowing fast in the same direction.

Since Ibsen's death, Due has published a very lively paper of
recollections of the old Grimstad days. He says:

His daily schedule admitted few intervals for rest or sleep. Yet I never
heard Ibsen complain of being tired. His health was uniformly good. He
must have had an exceptionally strong constitution, for when his
financial conditions compelled him to practice the most stringent
economy, he tried to do without underclothing, and finally even without
stockings. In these experiments he succeeded; and in winter he went
without an overcoat; yet without being troubled by colds or other bodily

We have seen that Ibsen was so busy that he had to steal from his duties
the necessary hours for study. But out of these hours, he tells us, he
stole moments for the writing of poetry, of the revolutionary poetry of
which we have spoken, and for a great quantity of lyrics of a
sentimental and fanciful kind. Due was the confidant to whom he recited
the latter, and one at least of these early pieces survives, set to
music by this friend. But to Schulerud a graver secret was intrusted, no
less than that in the night hours of 1848-49 there was being composed in
the garret over the apothecary's shop a three-act tragedy in blank
verse, on the conspiracy of Catiline. With his own hand, when the first
draft was completed, Schulerud made a clean copy of the drama, and in
the autumn of 1849 he went to Christiania with the double purpose of
placing _Catilina_ at the theatre and securing a publisher for it. A
letter (October 15, 1849) from Ibsen, first printed in 1904--the only
document we possess of this earliest period--displays to a painful
degree the torturing anxiety with which the poet awaited news of his
play, and, incidentally, exposes his poverty. With all Schulerud's
energy, he found it impossible to gain attention for _Catilina_ at the
theatre, and in January, 1850, Ibsen received what he called its "death
warrant," but it was presently brought out as a volume, under the
pseudonym of Brynjolf Bjarme, at Schulerud's expense. Of _Catilina_
about thirty copies were sold, and it attracted no notice whatever from
the press.

Meanwhile, left alone in Grimstad, since Due was now with Schulerud in
Christiania, Ibsen had been busy with many literary projects. He had
been writing an abundance of lyrics, he had begun a one-act drama called
"The Normans," afterwards turned into _Kaempehoejen_; he was planning a
romance, _The Prisoner at Akershus_ (this was to deal with the story of
Christian Lofthus); and above all he was busy writing a tragedy of _Olaf
Trygvesoen. [Note: On the authority of the Breve, pp. 59, 59, where
Halvdan Koht prints "Olaf Tr." and "Olaf T." expanding these to
Tr[ygvesoen]. But is it quite certain that what Ibsen wrote in these
letters was not "Olaf Li." and "Olaf L.," and that the reference is not
to Olaf Liljekrans, which was certainly begun at Grimstad? Is there any
other evidence that Ibsen ever started an _Olaf Trygvesoen_?

One of his poems had already been printed in a Christiania newspaper.
The call was overwhelming; he could endure Grimstad and the gallipots no
longer. In March, 1850, at the age of twenty-one, Ibsen stuck a few
dollars in his pocket and went off to try his fortune in the capital.



In middle life Ibsen, who suppressed for as long a time as he could most
of his other juvenile works, deliberately lifted _Catilina_ from the
oblivion into which it had fallen, and replaced it in the series of his
writings. This is enough to indicate to us that he regarded it as of
relative importance, and imperfect as it is, and unlike his later plays,
it demands some critical examination. I not know whether any one ever
happened to ask Ibsen whether he had been aware that Alexandre Dumas
produced in Paris a five-act drama of _Catiline_ at the very moment
(October, 1848) when Ibsen started the composition of his. It is quite
possible that the young Norwegian saw this fact noted in a newspaper,
and immediately determined to try what he could make of the same
subject. In Dumas' play Catiline is presented merely as a demagogue; he
is the red Flag personified, and the political situation in France is
discussed under a slight veil of Roman history. Catiline is simply a
sort of Robespierre brought up to date. There is no trace of all this in

Oddly enough, though the paradox is easily explained, we find much more
similarity when we compare the Norwegian drama with that tragedy of
_Catiline_ which Ben Jonson published in 1611. Needless to state, Ibsen
had never read the old English play; it would be safe to lay a wager
that, when he died, Ibsen had never heard or seen the name of Ben
Jonson. Yet there is an odd sort of resemblance, founded on the fact
that each poet keeps very close to the incidents recorded by the Latins.
Neither of them takes Sallust's presentment of the character of Catiline
as if it were gospel, but, while holding exact touch with the narrative,
each contrives to add a native grandeur to the character of the arch-
conspirator, such as his original detractors denied him. In both poems,
Ben Jonson's and Ibsen's, Catiline is--

Armed with a glory high as his despair.

Another resemblance between the old English and the modern Norwegian
dramatist is that each has felt the solid stuff of the drama to require
lightening, and has attempted to provide this by means, in Ben Jonson's
case, of solemn "choruses," in Ibsen's of lyrics. In the latter instance
the tragedy ends in rolling and rhymed verse, little suited to the

This is a very curious example, among many which might be brought
forward, of Ibsen's native partiality for dramatic rhyme. In all his
early plays, his tendency is to slip into the lyrical mood. This
tendency reached its height nearly twenty years later in _Brand_ and
_Peer Gynt_, and the truth about the austere prose which he then adopted
for his dramas is probably this, not that the lyrical faculty had
quitted him, but that he found it to be hampering his purely dramatic
expression, and that he determined, by a self-denying ordinance, to tear
it altogether off his shoulders, like an embroidered mantle, which is in
itself very ornamental, but which checks an actor's movements.

The close of Ibsen's _Catalina_ is, as we have said, composed entirely
in rhyme, and the effect of this curious. It is as though the young poet
could not restrain the rhythm bubbling up in him, and was obliged to
start running, although the moment was plainly one for walking. Here is
a fragment. Catiline has stabbed Aurelia, and left her in the tent for
dead. But while he was soliloquizing at the door of the tent, Fulvia has
stabbed him. He lies dying at the foot of a tree, and makes a speech
which ends thus:--

See, the pathway breaks, divided! I will wander, dumb,
To the left hand.

(appearing, blood-stained, at the door of the tent).
Nay! the right hand! Towards Elysium.

(greatly alarmed).
O yon pallid apparition, how it fills me with remorse.
'Tis herself! Aurelia! tell me, art thou living? not a corse?

Yes, I live that I may full thy sea of sorrows, and may lie
With my bosom pressed a moment to thy bosom, and then die.

What? thou livest?

Death's pale herald o'er my senses threw a pall,
But my dulled eye tracked thy footsteps, and I saw, I saw it all,
And my passion a wife's forces to my wounded body gave;
Breast to breast, my Catiline, let us sink into our grave.

[Note: In 1875 Ibsen practically rewrote the whole of this part of
_Catilina_, without, however, improving it. Why will great authors
confuse the history of literature by tampering with their early

He had slipped far out of the sobriety of Sallust when he floundered, in
this way, in the deep waters of romanticism. In the isolation of
Grimstad he had but himself to consult, and the mind of a young poet who
has not yet enjoyed any generous communication with life is invariably
sentimental and romantic. The critics of the North have expended a great
deal of ingenuity in trying to prove that Ibsen exposed his own
temperament and character in the course of _Catilina_. No doubt there is
a great temptation to indulge in this species of analysis, but it is
amusing to note that some of the soliloquies which have been pointed out
as particularly self-revealing are translated almost word for word out
of Sallust. Perhaps the one passage in the play which is really
significant is that in which the hero says:--

If but for one brief moment I could flame
And blaze through space, and be a falling star;
If only once, and by one glorious deed,
I could but knit the name of Catiline
With glory and with deathless high renown,--
Then should I blithely, in the hour of conquest,
Leave all, and hie me to an alien shore,
Press the keen dagger gayly to my heart,
And die; for then I should have lived indeed.

This has its personal interest, since we know, on the evidence of his
sister, that such was the tenor of Ibsen's private talk about himself at
that precise time.

Very imperfect as _Catilina_ is in dramatic art, and very primitive as
is the development of plot in it, it presents one aspect, as a literary
work, which is notable. That it should exist at all is curious, since,
surprising as it seems, it had no precursor. Although, during the
thirty-five years of Norwegian independence, various classes of
literature had been cultivated with extreme diligence, the drama had
hitherto been totally neglected. With the exception of a graceful opera
by Bjerregaard, which enjoyed a success sustained over a quarter of a
century, the only writings in dramatic form produced in Norway between
1815 and 1850 were the absurd lyrical farces of Wergeland, which were
devoid of all importance. Such a thing as a three-act tragedy in blank
verse was unknown in modern Norway, so that the youthful apothecary in
Grimstad, whatever he was doing, was not slavishly copying the fashions
of his own countrymen.

The principal, if not the only influence which acted upon Ibsen at this
moment, was that of the great Danish tragedian, Adam Oehlenschlaeger. It
might be fantastically held that the leading romantic luminary of
Scandinavia withdrew on purpose to make room for his realistic
successor, since Oehlenschlaeger's latest play, _Kiartan and Gudrun_,
appeared just when Ibsen was planning _Catilina_, while the death of the
Danish poet (January 20, 1850) was practically simultaneous with Ibsen's
arrival in Christiania. In later years, Ibsen thought that Holberg and
Oehlenschlaeger were the only dramatists he had read when his own first
play was written; he was sure that he knew nothing of Schiller,
Shakespeare or the French. Of the rich and varied dramatic literature of
Denmark, in the generation between Oehlenschlaeger's and his own, he must
also for the present have known nothing. The influence of Heiberg and of
Hertz, presently to be so potent, had evidently not yet begun. But it is
important to perceive that already Norway, and Norwegian taste and
opinion, were nothing to him in his selection of themes and forms.

It is not to be supposed that the taste for dramatic performances did
not exist in Norway, because no Norwegian plays were written. On the
contrary, in most of the large towns there were, and had long been,
private theatres or rooms which could be fitted up with a stage, at
which wandering troupes of actors gave performances that were eagerly
attended by "the best people." These actors, however, were exclusively
Danes, and there was an accepted tradition that Norwegians could not
act. If they attempted to do so, their native accents proved
disagreeable to their fellow-citizens, who demanded, as an imperative
condition, the peculiar intonation and pronunciation cultivated at the
Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, as well as an absence of all native
peculiarities of language. The stage, therefore--and this is very
important in a consideration of the career of Ibsen--had come to be the
symbol of a certain bias in political feeling. Society in Norway was
divided into two classes, the "Danomaniacs" and the "Patriots." Neither
of these had any desire to alter the constitutional balance of power,
but while the latter wished Norway to be intellectually self-productive,
and leaned to a further isolation in language, literature, art and
manners, the former thought that danger of barbarism lay in every
direction save that of keeping close to the tradition of Denmark, from
which all that was witty, graceful and civilized had proceeded.

Accordingly the theatre, at which exclusively Danish plays were acted,
in the Danish style, by Danish actors and actresses, was extremely
popular with the conservative class, who thought, by attendance on these
performances, to preserve the distinction of language and the varnish of
"high life" which came, with so much prestige, from Copenhagen. By the
patriotic party, on the other hand, the stage was looked upon with grave
suspicion as likely to undermine the purity of national feeling.

The earliest attempt at the opening of a National Theatre had been made
at Christiania by the Swede, J. P. Stroemberg, in 1827; this was not
successful, and his theatre was burned down in 1835. In it some effort
had been made to use the Norwegian idiom and to train native actors, but
it had been to no avail. The play-going public liked their plays to be
Danish, and even nationalists of a pronounced species could not deny
that dramas, like the great historical tragedies of Oehlenschlaeger, many
of which dealt enthusiastically with legends that were peculiarly
Norwegian, were as national as it was possible for poems by a foreign
poet to be. All this time, it must be remembered, Christiania was to
Copenhagen as Dublin till lately was to London, or as New York was half
a century ago. It is in the arts that the old colonial instinct of
dependence is most loath to disappear.

The party of the nationalists, however, had been steadily increasing in
activity, and the universal quickening of patriotic pulses in 1848 had
not been without its direct action upon Norway.

Nevertheless, for various reasons of internal policy, there was perhaps
no country in Europe where this period of seismic disturbance led to
less public turmoil than precisely here in the North. The accession of a
new king, Oscar I, in 1844, had been followed by a sense of renewed
national security; the peasants were satisfied that the fresh reign
would be favorable to their rights and liberties; and the monarch showed
every inclination to leave his country of Norway as much as possible to
its own devices. The result of all this was that '48 left no mark on the
internal history of the country, and the fever which burned in youthful
bosoms was mainly, if not entirely, intellectual and transcendental. The
young Catiline from Grimstad, therefore, met with several sympathetic
rebels, but found nobody willing to conspire. But what he did find is so
important in the consideration of his future development that it is
needful briefly to examine it.

Norway had, in 1850, been independent of Denmark for thirty-six years.
During the greater part of that time the fiery excitements of a struggle
for politic existence had fairly exhausted her mental resources, and had
left her powerless to inaugurate a national literature. Meanwhile, there
was no such discontinuity in the literary and scientific relations of
the two countries as that which had broken their constitutional union. A
tremendous effort was made by certain patriots to discover the basis of
an entirely independent intellectual life, something that should start
like the phoenix from the ashes of the old regime, and should offer no
likeness with what continued to flourish south of the Skagarak. But all
the efforts of the University of Christiania were vain to prevent the
cultivated classes from looking to Copenhagen as their centre of light.
Such authors as there were, and they were few indeed, followed humbly in
the footsteps of their Danish brethren.

Patriotic historians of literature are not always to be trusted, and
those who study native handbooks of Norwegian criticism must be on their
guard when these deal with the three poets who "inaugurated in song the
young liberties of Norway." The writings of the three celebrated lyric
patriots, Schwach, Bjerregaard and Hansen, will not bear to have the
blaze of European experience cast upon them; their tapers dwindle to
sparks in the light of day. They gratified the vanity of the first
generation after 1815, but they deserve no record in the chronicles of
poetic art. If Ibsen ever read these rhymes of circumstance, it must
have been to treat them with contempt.

Twenty years after the Union, however, and in Ibsen's early childhood,
an event occurred which was unique in the history of Norwegian
literature, and the consequences of which were far-reaching. As is often
the case in countries where the art of verse is as yet little exercised,
there grew up about 1830 a warm and general, but uncritical, delight in
poetry. This instinct was presently satisfied by the effusion of a vast
quantity of metrical writing, most of it very bad, and was exasperated
by a violent personal feud which for a while interested all educated
persons in Norway to a far greater degree than any other intellectual
or, for the time being, even political question. From 1834 to 1838 the
interests of all cultivated people centred around what was called the
"Twilight Feud" (_Daemringsfejden_), and no record of Ibsen's
intellectual development can be complete without a reference to this
celebrated controversy, the results of which long outlived the
popularity of its skits and pamphlets.

Modern Norwegian literature began with this great fight. The
protagonists were two poets of undoubted talent, whose temperaments and
tendencies were so diametrically opposed that it seemed as though
Providence must have set them down in that raw and inflammable
civilization for the express purpose of setting the standing corn of
thought on fire. Henrik Wergeland (1808-45) was a belated son of the
French Revolution; ideas, fancies, melodies and enthusiasms fermented in
his ill-regulated brain, and he poured forth verses in a violent and
endless stream. It is difficult, from the sources of Scandinavian
opinion, to obtain a sensible impression of Wergeland. The critics of
Norway as persistently overrate his talents as those of Denmark neglect
and ridicule his pretensions. The Norwegians still speak of him as
_himmelstraevende sublim_ ("sublime in his heavenly aspiration"); the
Danes will have it that he was an hysterical poetaster. Neither view
commends itself to a foreign reader of the poet.

The fact, internationally stated, seems rather to be this. In Wergeland
we have a typical example of the effects of excess of fancy in a
violently productive but essential uncritical nature. He was ecstatic,
unmeasured, a reckless improvisatore. In his ideas he was preposterously
humanitarian; a prodigious worker, his vigor of mind seemed never
exhausted by his labors; in theory an idealist, in his private life he
was charged with being scandalously sensual. He was so much the victim
of his inspiration that it would come upon him like a descending wind,
and leave him physically prostrate. In Wergeland we see an instance of
the poetical temper in its most unbridled form. A glance through the
enormous range of his collected works is like an excursion into chaos.
We are met almost at the threshold by a colossal epic, _Creation, Man
and the Messiah_ (1830); by songs that turn into dithyrambic odes, by
descriptive pieces which embrace the universe, by all the froth and roar
and turbidity of genius, with none of its purity and calm. The genius is
there; it is idle to deny it; but it is in a state of violent turmoil.

It is when the ruling talent of an age is of the character of

Thundering and bursting,
In torrents, in waves,
Carolling and shouting
Over tombs, over graves--

that delicate spirits, as in Matthew Arnold's poem, sigh for the silence
and the hush, and rise at length in open rebellion against Iacchus and
his maenads, who destroy all the quiet of life and who madden innocent
blood with their riot. Johan Sebastian Welhaven (1807-73) was a student
at the University with Wergeland, and he remained silent while the
latter made the welkin ring louder and louder with his lyric shrieks.
Welhaven endured the rationalist and republican rhetoric of Wergeland as
long as he could, although with growing exasperation, until the
rhapsodical author of _Creation_, transgressing all moderation, accused
those who held reasonable views in literature and politics of being
traitors. Then it became necessary to deal with this raw and local
parody of Victor Hugo. When, in the words of _The Cask of Amontillado_,
Wergeland "ventured upon insult," Welhaven "vowed he would be avenged."

Welhaven formed as complete a contrast to his antagonist as could be
imagined. He was of the class of Sully Prudhomme, of Matthew Arnold, of
Lowell, to name three of his younger contemporaries. In his nature all
was based upon equilibrium; his spirit, though full of graceful and
philosophical intuitions, was critical rather than creative. He wrote
little, and with difficulty, and in exquisite form. His life was as
blamelessly correct as his literary art was harmonious. Wergeland knew
nothing of the Danish tradition of his day, which he treated with
violent and bitter contempt. Welhaven, who had moved in the circle of
the friends of Rahbek, instinctively referred every literary problem to
the tribunal of Danish taste. He saw that with the enthusiasm with which
the poetry of Wergeland was received in Norway was connected a suspicion
of mental discipline, a growing worship of the peasant and a hatred and
scorn of Denmark, with all of which he had no sympathy. He thought the
time had come for better things; that the national temper ought to be
mollified with the improved economic situation of the country; that the
students, who were taking a more and more prominent place, ought to be
on the side of the angels. It was not unnatural that Welhaven should
look upon the corybantic music of Wergeland as the source and origin of
an evil of which it was really the symptom; he gathered his powers
together to crush it, and he published a thunderbolt of sonnets.

The English reader, familiar with the powerlessness of even the best
verse to make any impression upon Anglo-Saxon opinion, may smile to
think of a great moral and ethical attack conducted with no better
weapon than a paper of sonnets. But the scene of the fight was a small,
intensely local, easily agitated society of persons, all keenly though
narrowly educated, and all accustomed to be addressed in verse.
Welhaven's pamphlet was entitled _The Twilight of Norway_ (1834), and
the sonnets of which it consisted were highly polished in form, filled
with direct and pointed references to familiar persons and events and
absolutely unshrinking in attack. No poetry of equal excellence had been
produced in Norway since the Union. It is not surprising that this
invective against the tendencies of the youthful bard over whose
rhapsodies all Norway was growing crazy with praise should arrest
universal attention, although in the _Twilight_ Welhaven adroitly
avoided mentioning Wergeland by name. Fanaticism gathered in an angry
army around the outraged standard of the republican poet, but the lovers
of order and discipline had found a voice, and they clustered about
Welhaven with their support. Language was not minced by the assailants,
and still less by the defenders. The lovers of Wergeland were told that
politics and brandy were their only pleasures, but those of Welhaven
were warned that they were known to be fed with bribes from Copenhagen.
Meanwhile Welhaven himself, in successive publications, calmly analyzed
the writings of his antagonist, and proved them to be "in complete
rebellion against sound thought and the laws of beauty." The feud raged
from 1834 to 1838, and left Norway divided into two rival camps of

Although the "Twilight Feud" had passed away before Ibsen ceased to be a
boy, the effect of it was too widely spread not to affect him. In point
of fact, we see by the earliest of his lyric poems that while he was at
Grimstad he had fully made up his mind. His early songs and
complimentary pieces are all in the Danish taste, and if they show any
native influence at all, it is that of Welhaven. The extreme
superficiality of Wergeland would naturally be hateful to so arduous a
craftsman as Ibsen, and it is a fact that so far as his writings reveal
his mind to us, the all-popular poet of his youth appears to be
absolutely unknown to him. What this signifies may be realized if we say
that it is as though a great English or French poet of the second half
of the nineteenth century should seem to have never heard of Tennyson or
Victor Hugo. On the other hand, at one crucial point of a late play,
_Little Eyolf_, Ibsen actually pauses to quote Welhaven.

In critical history the absence of an influence is sometimes as
significant as the presence of it. The looseness of Wergeland's style,
its frothy abundance, its digressions and parentheses, its slipshod
violence, would be to Ibsen so many beacons of warning, to be viewed
with horror and alarm. A poem of three stanzas, "To the Poets of
Norway," only recently printed, dates from his early months in
Christiania, and shows that even in 1850 Ibsen was impatient with the
conventional literature of his day. "Less about the glaciers and the
pine-forests," he cries, "less about the dusty legends of the past, and
more about what is going on in the silent hearts of your brethren!" Here
already is sounded the note which was ultimately to distinguish him from
all the previous writers of the North.

No letters have been published which throw light on Ibsen's first two
years in the capital. We know that he did not communicate with his
parents, whose poverty was equalled by his own. He could receive no help
from them, nor offer them any, and he refrained, as they refrained, from
letter writing. This separation from his family, begun in this way, grew
into a habit, so that when his father died in 1877 no word had passed
between him and his son for nearly thirty years. When Ibsen reached
Christiania, in March, 1850, his first act was to seek out his friend
Schulerud, who was already a student. For some time he shared the room
of Schulerud and his thrifty meals; later on the two friends, in company
with Theodor Abildgaard, a young revolutionary journalist, lived in
lodgings kept by a certain Mother Saether.

Schulerud received a monthly allowance which was "not enough for one,
and starvation for two"; but Ibsen's few dollars soon came to an end,
and he seems to have lived on the kindness of Schulerud to their great
mutual privation. Both young men attended the classes of a celebrated
"crammer" of that day, H. A. S. Heltberg, who had opened in 1843 a Latin
school where elder pupils came for a two-years' course to prepare them
for taking their degree. This place, known familiarly as "the Student
Factory," holds quite a prominent place in Norwegian literary history,
Ibsen, Bjoernson, Vinje and Jonas Lie having attended its classes and
passed from it to the University.

Between these young men, the leading force of literature in the coming
age, a generous friendship sprang up, despite the disparity in their
ages. Vinje, a peasant from Thelemark, was thirty-two; he had been a
village schoolmaster and had only now, in 1850, contrived to reach the
University. With Vinje, the founder of the movement for writing
exclusively in Norwegian patois, Ibsen had a warm personal sympathy,
while he gave no intellectual adherence to his theories. Between the
births of Vinje and Bjoernson there stretched a period of fourteen years,
yet Bjoernson was a student before either Ibsen or Vinje. That Ibsen
immediately formed Bjoernson's acquaintance seems to be proved from the
fact that they both signed a protest against the deportation of a Dane
called Harring on May 29, 1850. It was a fortunate chance which threw
Ibsen thus suddenly into the midst of a group of those in whom the hopes
of the new generation were centred. But we are left largely to
conjecture in what manner their acquaintanceship acted upon his mind.

His material life during the next year is obscure. Driven by the
extremity of need, it is plain that he adopted every means open to him
by which he could add a few dollars to Schulerud's little store. He
wrote for the poor and fugitive journals of the day, in prose and verse;
but the payment of the Norwegian press in those days was almost nothing.
It is difficult to know how he subsisted, yet he continued to exist.
Although none of his letters of this period seem to have been preserved,
a few landmarks are left us. The little play called _Kaempehoeien_ (The
Warrior's Barrow), which he had brought unfinished with him from
Grimstad, was completed and put into shape in May, 1850, accepted at the
Christiania Theatre, and acted three times during the following autumn.
Perhaps the most interesting fact connected with this performance was
that the only female part, that of Blanka, was taken by a young
debutante, Laura Svendsen; this was the actress afterwards to rise to
the height of eminence as the celebrated Mrs. Gundersen, no doubt the
most gifted of all Ibsen's original interpreters.

It was a matter of course that the poet was greatly cheered by the
acceptance of his play, and he immediately set to work on another, _Olaf
Liljekrans_; but this he put aside when _Kaempehoeien_ practically
failed. He wrote a satirical comedy called _Norma_. He endeavored to get
certain of his works, dramatic and lyric, published in Christiania, but
all the schemes fell through. It is certain that 1851 began darkly for
the young man, and that his misfortunes encouraged in him a sour and
rebellious temper. For the first and only time in his life he meddled
with practical politics. Vinje and he--in company with a charming
person, Paul Botten-Hansen (1824-69), who flits very pleasantly through
the literary history of this time--founded a newspaper called
_Andhrimner_, which lasted for nine months.

One of the contributors was Abildgaard, who, as we have seen, lived in
the same house with Ibsen. He was a wild being, who had adopted the
republican theories of the day in their crudest form. He posed as the
head of a little body whose object was to dethrone the king, and to
found a democracy in Norway. On July 7, 1851, the police made a raid
upon these childish conspirators, the leaders being arrested and
punished with a long imprisonment. The poet escaped, as by the skin of
his teeth, and the warning was a lifelong one. He never meddled with
politics any more. This was, indeed, as perhaps he felt, no time for
rebellion; all over Europe the eruption of socialism had spent itself,
and the docility of the populations had become wonderful.

The discomfort and uncertainty of Ibsen's position in Christiania made
him glad to fill a post which the violinist, Ole Bull, offered him
during autumn. The newly constituted National Theatre in Bergen (opened
Jan. 2, 1850) had accepted a prologue written for an occasion by the
young poet, and on November 6, 1851, Ibsen entered into a contract by
which he bound himself go to Bergen "to assist the theatre as dramatic
author." The salary was less than L70 a year, but it was eked out by
travelling grants, and little as it might be, it was substantially more
than the nothing-at-all which Ibsen had been enjoying in Christiania.

It is difficult to imagine what asset could be bought to the treasuries
of a public theatre by a youth of three and twenty so ill-educated, so
empty of experience and so ill-read as Ibsen was in 1851. His crudity,
we may be sure, passed belief. He was the novice who has not learned his
business, the tyro to whom the elements of his occupation are unknown.
We have seen that when he wrote _Catilina_ he had neither sat through
nor read any of the plays of the world, whether ancient or modern. The
pieces which belong to his student years reveal a preoccupation with
Danish dramas of the older school, Oehlenschlaeger and (if we may guess
what _Norma_ was) Holberg, but with nothing else. Yet Ole Bull, one of
the most far-sighted men of his time, must have perceived the germs of
theatrical genius in him, and it is probable that Ibsen owed his
appointment more to what this wise patron felt in his future than what
Ole Bull or any one else could possibly point to as yet accomplished.
Unquestionably, a rude theatrical penetration could already he divined
in his talk about the stage, vague and empirical as that must have been.

At all events, to Bergen he went, as a sort of literary manager, as a
Claretie or Antoine, to compare a small thing with great ones, and the
fact was of inestimable value. It may even be held, without fear of
paradox, that this was the turning-point of Ibsen's life, that this
blind step in the dark, taken in the magnificent freedom of youth, was
what made him what he became. No Bergen in 1851, we may say, and no
_Doll's House_ or _Hedda Gabler_ ultimately to follow. For what it did
was to force this stubborn genius, which might so easily have slipped
into sinister and abnormal paths, and have missed the real humanity of
the stage, to take the tastes of the vulgar into due consideration and
to acquaint himself with the necessary laws of play-composition.

Ibsen may seem to have little relation with the drama of the world, but
in reality he is linked with it at every step. There is something of
Shakespeare in _John Gabriel Borkman_, something Moliere in _Ghosts_,
something of Goethe in _Peer Gynt_. We may go further and say, though it
would have made Ibsen wince, that there is something of Scribe in _An
Enemy of the People_. Is very doubtful whether, without the discipline
which forced him to put on the stage, at Bergen and in Christiania,
plays evidently unsympathetic to his own taste, which obliged him to do
his best for the popular reception of those plays, and which forced him
minutely to analyze their effects, he would ever have been the world-
moving dramatist which, as all sane critics must admit, he at length

He made some mistakes at first; how could he fail to do so? It was the
recognition of these blunders, and perhaps the rough censure of them the
local press, which induced the Bergen theatre to scrape a few dollars
together and send him, in charge of some of the leading actors and
actresses, to Copenhagen and Dresden for instruction. To go from Bergen
to Copenhagen was like travelling from Abdera to Athens, and to find a
species of Sophocles in J. A. Heiberg, who had since 1849 been sole
manager of the Royal Theatre. Here the drama of the world, all the
salutary names, all the fine traditions, burst upon the pilgrims from
the North. Heiberg, the gracious and many-sided, was the centre of light
in those days; no one knew the stage as he knew no one interpreted it
with such splendid intelligence, and he received the crude Norwegian
"dramatist-manager" with the utmost elegance of cordiality. Among the
teachers of Ibsen, Heiberg ranks as the foremost. We may farther and say
that he was the last. When Ibsen had learned the lesson of Heiberg, only
nature and his own genius had anything more to teach him. [See Note
below] In August, 1852, rich with the spoils of time, but otherwise poor
indeed, Ibsen made his way back to his duties in Bergen.

[Note: Perhaps no author, during the whole of his career, more deeply
impressed Ibsen with reverence and affection than Johan Ludvig Heiberg
did. When the great Danish poet died (at Bonderup, August 25, 1860),
Ibsen threw on his tomb the characteristic bunch of bitter herbs called
_Til de genlevende_--"To the Survivors," in which he expressed the
faintest appreciation of those who lavished posthumous honor on Heiberg
in Denmark:

In your land a torch he lifted;
With its flame ye scorched his forehead.

How to swing the sword he taught you,
And,--ye plunged it in his bosom.

While he routed trolls of darkness,--
With your shields you tripped and bruised him.

But his glittering star of conquest
Ye must guard, since he has left you:

Try, at least, to keep it shining,
While the thorn-crowned conqueror slumbers.]


LIFE IN BERGEN (1852-57)

Ibsen's native biographers have not found much to record, and still less
that deserves to recorded, about his life during the next five years. He
remained in Bergen, cramped by want of means in his material condition,
and much harassed and worried by the little pressing requirements of the
theatre. It seems that every responsibility fell upon his shoulders, and
that there was no part of stage-life that it was not his duty to look
after. The dresses of the actresses, the furniture, the scene-painting,
the instruction of raw Norwegian actors and actresses, the selection of
plays, now to please himself, now to please the bourgeois of Bergen, all
this must be done by the poet or not done at all. Just so, two hundred
years earlier, we may imagine Moliere, at Carcassonne or Albi, bearing
up in his arms, a weary Titan, all the frivolities and anxieties and
misdeeds of a whole company of comedians.

So far as our very scanty evidence goes, we find the poet isolated from
his fellows, so far as isolation was possible, during his long stay at
Bergen. He was not accused, and if there had been a chance he would have
been accused, of dereliction. No doubt he pushed through the work of the
theatre doggedly, but certainly not in a convivial spirit. The
Norwegians are a hospitable and festal people, and there is no question
that the manager of the theatre would have unusual opportunities of
being jolly with his friends. But it does not appear that Ibsen made
friends; if so, they were few, and they were as quiet as himself. Even
in these early years he did not invite confidences, and no one found him
wearing his heart upon his sleeve. He went through his work without
effusion, and there is no doubt that what leisure he enjoyed he spent in
study, mainly of dramatic literature.

His reading must have been limited by his insensibility to foreign
languages. All through his life he forgot the tongues of other countries
almost faster than he gained them. Probably, at this time, he had begun
to know German, a language in which he did ultimately achieve a fluency
which was, it appears, always ungrammatical. But, as is not unfrequent
with a man who is fond of reading but no linguist, Ibsen's French and
English came and went in a trembling uncertainty. As time passed on, he
gave up the effort to read, even a newspaper, in either language.

The mile-stones in this otherwise blank time are the original plays
which, perhaps in accordance with some clause in his agreement, he
produced at his theatre in the first week of January in each year. A
list of them cannot be spared in this place to the most indolent of
readers, since it offers, in a nutshell, a resume of what the busy
imagination of Ibsen was at work upon up to his thirtieth year. His
earliest new-year's gift to the play-goers of Bergen was _St. John's
Night_, 1853, a piece which has not been printed; in 1854 he revived
_The Warrior's Barrow_; in 1855 he made an immense although irregular
advance with _Lady Inger at Oestraat_; in 1856 he produced _The Feast at
Solhoug_; in 1857 a rewritten version of the early _Olaf Liljekrans_.
These are the juvenile works of Ibsen, which are scarcely counted in the
recognized canon of his writings. None of them is completely
representative of his genius, and several are not yet within reach of
the English reader. Yet they have a considerable importance, and must
detain us for a while. They are remarkable as showing the vigor of the
effort by which he attempted to create an independent style for himself,
no less than the great difficulties which he encountered in following
this admirable aim.

_Lady Inger at Oestraat_, written in the winter of 1854 but not published
until 1857, is unique among Ibsen's works as a romantic exercise in the
manner of Scribe. It is the sole example of a theme taken by him
directly from comparatively modern history, and treated purely for its
value as a study of contemporary intrigue. From this point of view it
curiously exemplifies a remark of Hazlitt: "The progress of manners and
knowledge has an influence on the stage, and will in time perhaps
destroy both tragedy and comedy. ... At last, there will be nothing
left, good nor bad, to be desired or dreaded, on the theatre or in real

When Ibsen undertook to write about Inger Gyldenloeve, he was but little
acquainted with the particulars of her history. He conceived her, as he
found her in the incomplete chronicles he consulted, as a Matriarch, a
wonderful and heroic elderly woman around whom all the hopes of an
embittered patriotism were legitimately centred. Unfortunately, "the
progress of knowledge," as Hazlitt would say, exposed the falsity of
this conception. A closer inspection of the documents, and further
analysis of the condition of Norway in 1528, destroyed the fair
illusion, and showed Ibsen in the light of an indulgent idealist.

Here is what Jaeger [Note: In _En literaert Livsbillede_] has to give us
of the disconcerting results of research:

In real life Lady Inger was not a woman formed upon so grand a plan. She
was the descendant of an old and noble family which had preserved its
dignity, and she consequently was the wealthiest landowner in the
country. This, and this alone, gives her a right to a place in history.
If we study her life, we find no reason to suppose that patriotic
considerations ever affected her conduct. The motive power of her
actions was on a far lower plane, and seems to have consisted mainly in
an amazingly strong instinct for adding to her wealth and her status. We
find her, for instance, on one occasion seizing the estates of a
neighbor, and holding them till she was actually forced to resign them.
When she gave her daughters in marriage to Danish noblemen, it was to
secure direct advantage from alliance with the most high-born sons-in-
law procurable. When she took a convent under her protection, she
contrived to extort a rent which well repaid her. Even for a good action
she exacted a return, and when she offered harbor to the persecuted
Chancellor, she had the adroitness to be well rewarded by a large sum in
rose-nobles and Hungarian gulden.

All this could not fail to be highly exasperating to Ibsen, who had set
out to be a realist, and was convicted by the spiteful hand of history
of having been an idealist of the rose-water class. No wonder that he
never touched the sequence of modern events any more.

There is some slight, but of course unconscious, resemblance to
_Macbeth_ in the external character of _Lady Inger_. This play has
something of the roughness of a mediaeval record, and it depicts a
condition of life where barbarism uncouthly mingles with a certain
luxury of condition. There is, however, this radical difference that in
_Lady Inger_ there is nothing preternatural, and it is, indeed, in this
play that Ibsen seems first to appreciate the value of a stiff attention
to realism. The romantic elements of the story, however, completely
dominate his imagination, and when we have read the play carefully what
remains with us most vividly is the picturesqueness and unity of the
scene. The action, vehement and tumultuous as it is, takes place
entirely within the walls of Oestraat castle, a mysterious edifice,
sombre and ancient, built on a crag over the ocean, and dimly lighted by

Magic casements opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn.

The action is exclusively nocturnal, and so large a place in it is taken
by huge and portable candlesticks that it might be called the Tragedy of
the Candelabra. Through the windows, on the landward side, a procession
of mysterious visitors go by in the moonlight, one by one, each fraught
with the solemnity of fate. The play is full of striking pictures,
groups in light and shade, pictorial appeals to terror and pity.

The fault of the drama lies in the uncertain conception of the
characters, and particularly of that of the Matriarch herself. Inger is
described to us as the Mother of the Norwegian People, as the one
strong, inflexible and implacable brain moving in a world of depressed
and irritated men. "Now there is no knight left in our land," says Finn,
but--and this is the point from which the play starts--there is Inger
Gyldenloeve. We have approached the moment of crisis when the fortunes
and the fates of Norway rest upon the firmness of this majestic woman.
Inger is driven forward on the tide of circumstance, and, however she
may ultimately fail, we demand evidence of her inherent greatness. This,
however, we fail to receive, and partly, no doubt, because Ibsen was
still distracted at the division of the ways.

Oehlenschlaeger, if he had attempted this theme, would have made no
attempt after subtlety of character painting and still less after
correctness of historic color. He would have given small shrift to Olaf
Skaktavl, the psychological outlaw. But he would have drawn Inger, the
Mother of her People, in majestic strokes, and we should have had a
great simplicity, a noble outline with none of the detail put in. Ibsen,
already, cannot be satisfied with this; to him the detail is every
thing, and the result is a hopeless incongruity between the cartoon and
the finished work.

Lady Inger, in Ibsen's play, fails to impress us with greatness. "The
deed no less than the attempt confounds" her. She displays, from the
opening scene, a weakness that is explicable, but excludes all evidence
of her energy. The ascendency of Nils Lykke, over herself and over her
singularly and unconvincingly modern daughter, Elima, in what does it
consist? In a presentation of a purely physical attractiveness; Nils
Lykke is simply a voluptuary, pursuing his good fortunes, with impudent
ease, in the home of his ancestral enemies. In his hands, and not in his
only, the majestic Inger is reduced from a queen to a pawn. All manhood,
we are told, is dead in Norway; if this be so, then what a field is
cleared where a heroine like Inger, not young and a victim to her
passions, nor old and delivered to decrepit fears, may show us how a
woman of intellect and force can take the place of man. Instead of this,
one disguised and anonymous adventurer after another comes forth out of
the night, and confuses her with pretensions and traps her with deceits
against which her intellect protests but her will is powerless to

Another feature in the conduct of _Lady Inger_ portrays the ambitious
but the inexperienced dramatist. No doubt a pious commentator can
successfully unravel all the threads of the plot, but the spectator
demands that a play should be clearly and easily intelligible. The
audience, however, is sorely puzzled by the events of this awful third
night after Martinmas, and resents the obscurity of all this intrigue by
candlelight. Why do the various persons meet at Oestraat? Who sends them?
Whence do they come and whither do they go? To these questions, no
doubt, an answer can be found, and it is partly given, and very
awkwardly, by the incessant introduction of narrative. The confused and
melodramatic scene in the banquet-hall between Nils Lykke and Skaktavl
is of central importance, but what is it about? The business with
Lucia's coffin is a kind of nightmare, in the taste of Webster or of
Cyril Tourneur. All these shortcomings are slurred over by the
enthusiastic critics of Scandinavia, yet they call for indulgence. The
fact is that _Lady Inger+ is a brilliant piece of romantic extravagance,
which is extremely interesting in illuminating the evolution of Ibsen's
genius, and particularly as showing him in the act of emancipating
himself from Danish traditions, but which has little positive value as a

The direct result of the failure of _Lady Inger_--for it did not please
the play-goers of Bergen and but partly satisfied its author--was,
however, to send him back, for the moment, more violently than ever to
the Danish tradition. Any record of this interesting phase in Ibsen's
career is, however, complicated by the fact that late in his life (in
1883) he did what was very unusual with him: he wrote a detailed account
of the circumstances of his poetical work in 1855 and 1856. He denied,
in short, that he had undergone any influence from the Danish poet whom
he had been persistently accused of imitating, and he traced the
movement of his mind to purely Norwegian sources. During the remainder
of his lifetime, of course, this statement greatly confounded criticism,
and there is still a danger of Ibsen's disclaimer being accepted for
gospel. However, literary history must be built on the evidence before
it, and the actual text of _The Feast at Solhoug_, and of _Olaf
Liljekrans_ must be taken in spite of anything their author chose to say
nearly thirty years afterwards. Great poets, without the least wish to
mystify, often, in the cant phrase, "cover their tracks." Tennyson, in
advanced years, denied that he had ever been influenced by Shelley or
Keats. So Ibsen disclaimed any effect upon his style of the lyrical
dramas of Hertz. But we must appeal from the arrogance of old age to the
actual works of youth.

Henrik Hertz (1798-1870) was the most exquisite, the most delicate, of
the Danish writers of his age. He was deeply impressed with the
importance of form in drama, and at the height of his powers he began to
compose rhymed plays which were like old ballads put into dialogue. His
comedy of _Cupid's Strokes of Genius_ (1830) began a series of tragi-
comedies which gradually deepened in passion and melody, till they
culminated in two of the acknowledged masterpieces of the Danish stage,
_Svend Dyring's House_ (1837) and _King Rene's Daughter_ (1845). The
genius of Hertz was diametrically opposed to that of Ibsen; in all
Europe there were not two authors less alike. Hertz would have pleased
Kenelm Digby, and if that romantic being had read Danish, the poet of
chivalry must have had a niche in _The Broad Stone of Honour_. Hertz's
style is delicate to the verge of sweetness; his choice of words is
fantastically exquisite, yet so apposite as to give an impression of the
inevitable. He cares very little for psychological exactitude or truth
of observation; but he is the very type of what we mean by a verbal

Ibsen made acquaintance with the works, and possibly with the person, of
Hertz, when he was in Copenhagen in 1852. There can be no doubt whatever
that, while he was anxiously questioning his own future, and conscious
of crude faults in _Lady Inger_, he set himself, as a task, to write in
the manner of Hertz. It is difficult to doubt that it was a deliberate
exercise, and we see the results in _The Feast at Solhoug_ and in _Olaf
Liljekrans_. These two plays are in ballad-rhyme and prose, like Hertz's
romantic dramas; there is the same determination to achieve the
chivalric ideal; but the work is that of a disciple, not of a master.
Where Hertz, with his singing-robes fluttering about him, dances without
an ungraceful gesture through the elaborate and yet simple masque that
he has set before him to perform, Ibsen has high and sudden flights of
metrical writing, but breaks down surprisingly at awkward intervals, and
displays a hopeless inconsistency between his own nature and the medium
in which he is forcing himself to write. As a proof that the similarity
between _The Feast at Solhoug_ and _Svend Dyring's House_ is accidental,
it has been pointed out that Ibsen produced his own play on the Bergen
stage in January, 1856, and revived Hertz's a month later. It might,
surely, be more sensibly urged that this fact shows how much he was
captivated by the charm of the Danish dramatist.

The sensible thing, in spite of Ibsen's late disclaimer, is to suppose
that, in the consciousness of his crudity and inexperience as a writer,
he voluntarily sat at the feet of the one great poet whom he felt had
most to teach him. On the boards at Bergen, _The Feast at Solhoug_ was a
success, while _Olaf Liljekrans_ was a failure; but neither incident
could have meant very much to Ibsen, who, if there ever was a poet who
lived in the future, was waiting and watching for the development of his
own genius. Slowly, without precocity, without even that joy in strength
of maturity which comes to most great writers before the age of thirty,
he toiled on in a sort of vacuum. His youth was one of unusual darkness,
because he had not merely poverty, isolation, citizenship of a remote
and imperfectly civilized country to contend against, but because his
critical sense was acute enough to teach him that he himself was still
unripe, still unworthy of the fame that he thirsted for. He had not even
the consolation which a proud confidence in themselves gives to the
unappreciated young, for in his heart of hearts he knew that he had as
yet done nothing which deserved the highest praise. But his imagination
was expanding with a steady sureness, and the long years of his
apprenticeship were drawing to a close.

Ibsen was now, like other young Norwegian poets, and particularly
Bjoernson, coming into the range of that wind of nationalistic
inspiration which had begun to blow down from the mountains and to fill
every valley with music. The Norwegians were discovering that they
possessed a wonderful hidden treasure in their own ancient poetry and
legend. It was a gentle, clerically minded poet--himself the son of a
peasant--Joergen Moe (1813-82), long afterwards Bishop of Christianssand,
who, as far back as 1834, began to collect from peasants the folk-tales
of Norway. The childlike innocence and playful humor of these stories
were charming to the mind of Moe, who was fortunately joined by a
stronger though less delicate spirit in the person of Peter Christian
Asbjoernsen. Their earliest collection of folk-lore in collaboration
appeared in 1841, but it was the full edition of 1856 which produced a
national sensation, and doubtless awakened Ibsen in Bergen. Meanwhile,
in 1853, M. B. Landstad had published the earliest of his collections of
the folkeviser, or national songs, while L. M. Lindeman in the same
years (1853-59) was publishing, in installments, the peasant melodies of
Norway. Moreover, Ibsen, who read no Icelandic, was studying the ancient
sagas in the faithful and vigorous paraphrase of Petersen, and all
combined to determine him to make an experiment in a purely national and
archaistic direction.

Ibsen, whose practice is always better than his theory, has given rather
a confused account of the circumstances that led to the composition of
his next play, _The Vikings at Helgeland_. But it is clear that in
looking through Petersen for a subject which would display, in broad and
primitive forms, the clash of character in an ancient Norwegian family,
he fell upon "Volsungasaga," and somewhat rashly responded to its
vigorous appeal. He thought that in this particular episode, "the
titanic conditions and occurrences of the 'Nibelungenlied'" and other
pro-mediaeval legends had "been reduced to human dimensions." He
believed that to dramatize such a story would lift what he called "our
national epic material" to a higher plane. There is one phrase in his
essay which is very interesting, in the light it throws upon the object
which the author had before him in writing _The Vikings at Helgeland_.
He says clearly--and this was intended as a revolt against the tradition
of Oehlenschlaeger--"it was not my aim to present our mythic world, but
simply our life in primitive times." Brandes says of this departure that
it is "indeed a new conquest, but, like so many conquests, associated
with very extensive plundering."

In turning to an examination of _The Vikings_, the first point which
demands notice is that Ibsen has gained a surprising mastery over the
arts of theatrical writing since we met with him last. There is nothing
of the lyrical triviality of the verse in _The Feast at Solhoug_ about
the trenchant prose of _The Vikings_, and the crepuscular dimness of
_Lady Inger_ is exchanged for a perfect lucidity and directness.
Whatever we may think about the theatrical propriety of the conductor of
the vikings, there is no question at all as to what it is they do and
mean. Ibsen has gained, and for good, that master quality of translucent
presentation without which all other stage gifts are shorn of their
value. When we have, however, praised the limpidity of _The Vikings at
Helgeland_, we have, in honesty, to make several reservations in our
criticism of the author's choice of a subject. It is valuable to compare
Ibsen's treatment of Icelandic family-saga with that of William Morris;
let us say, in _The Lovers of Gudrun_. That enchanting little epic deals
with an episode from one of the great Iceland narratives, and follows it
much more closely than Ibsen's does. But we are conscious of a less
painful effort and of a more human result. Morris does successfully what
Ibsen unsuccessfully aimed at doing: he translates the heroic and half-
fabulous action into terms that are human and credible.

It was, moreover, an error of judgment on the part of the Norwegian
playwright to make his tragedy a mosaic of effective bits borrowed
hither and thither from the Sagas. Scandinavian bibliography has toiled
to show his indebtedness to this tale and to that, and he has been
accused of concealing his plagiarisms. But to say this is to miss the
mark. A poet is at liberty to steal what he will, if only he builds his
thefts up into a living structure of his own. For this purpose, however,
it is practically found that, owing perhaps to the elastic consistency
of individual human nature, it is safest to stick to one story,
embroidering and developing it along its own essential lines.

There is great vigor, however, in many of the scenes in _The Vikings_.
The appearance of Hioerdis on the stage, in the opening act, marks,
perhaps, the first occasion on which Ibsen had put forth his full
strength as a playwright. This entrance of Hioerdis ought to be extremely
effective; in fact, we understand, it rarely is. The cause of this
disappointment can easily be discovered. It is the misfortune of The
Vikings that it is hardly to be acted by mortal men. Hioerdis herself is
superhuman; she has eaten the heart of a wolf, she claims direct descent
from a race of fighting giants. There is a grandeur about the conception
of her form and character, but it is a grandeur which might well daunt a
human actress. One can faintly imagine the part being played by Mrs.
Siddons, with such an extremity of fierceness and terror that ladies and
gentlemen would be carried out of the theatre in hysterics, as in the
days of Byron. Where Hioerdis insults her guests, and contrives the
horrid murder of the boy Thorolf before their eyes, we have a stage-
dilemma presented to us-either the actress must treat the scene
inadequately, or else intolerably. _Ne pueros coram populo Medea
trucidet_, and we shrink from Hioerdis with a physical disgust. Her great
hands and shrieking mouth are like Bellona's, and they smell of blood.

What is true of Hioerdis is true in less degree of all the characters in
_The Vikings_. They are "great beautiful half-witted men," as Mr.
Chesterton would say:

Our sea was dark with dreadful ships
Full of strange spoil and fire,
And hairy men, as strange as sin,
With horrid heads, came wading in
Through the long low sea-mire.

This is the other side of the picture; this is how Oernulf and his seven
terrible sons must have appeared to Kaare the peasant, and this is how,
to tell the truth, they would in real life appear to us. The persons in
_The Vikings at Helgeland_ are so primitive that they scarcely appeal to
our sense of reality. In spite of all the romantic color that the poet
has lavished upon them, and the majestic sentiments which he has put
into their mouths, we feel that the inhabitants of Helgeland must have
regarded them as those of Surbiton regarded the beings who were shot
down from Mars in Mr. Wells' blood-curdling story.

_The Vikings at Helgeland_ is a work of extraordinary violence and
agitation. The personages bark at one another like seals and roar like
sea-lions; they "cry for blood, like beasts at night." Oernulf, the aged
father of a grim and speechless clan, is sorely wounded at the beginning
of the play, but it makes no difference to him; no one binds up his arm,
but he talks, fights, travels as before. We may see here foreshadowed
various features of Ibsen's more mannered work. Here is his favorite
conventional tame man, since, among the shouting heroes, Gunnar whimpers
like a Tesman. Here is Ibsen's favorite trick of unrequited self-
sacrifice; it is Sigurd, in Gunnar's armor, who kills the mystical white
bear, but it is Gunnar who reaps the advantage. It is only fair to say
that there is more than this to applaud in _The Vikings at Helgeland_;
it moves on a consistent and high level of austere romantic beauty. Mr.
William Archer, who admires the play more than any Scandinavian critic
has done, justly draws attention to the nobility of Oernulf's entrance in
the third act. Yet, on the whole, I confess myself unable to be
surprised at the severity with which Heiberg judged _The Vikings_ at its
first appearance, a severity which must have wounded Ibsen to the quick.

The year 1857 was one of unsettlement in Ibsen's condition. The period
for which he had undertaken to manage the theatre at Bergen had now come
to a close, and he was not anxious to prolong it. He had had enough of
Bergen, to which only one chain now bound him. Those who read the
incidents of a poet's life into the pages of his works may gratify their
tendency by seeing in the discussions between Dagny and Hioerdis some
echo of the thoughts which were occupying Ibsen's mind in relation to
the married state. Since his death, the story has been told of his love-
affair with a very young girl, Rikke Holst, who had attracted his notice
by throwing a bunch of wild flowers in his face, and whom he followed
and desired to marry. Her father had rejected the proposal with
indignation. Ibsen had suffered considerably, but this was, after all,
an early and a very fugitive sentiment, which made no deep impression on
his heart, although it seems to have always lingered in his memory.

There had followed a sentiment much deeper and much more emphatic. A
charming, though fragmentary, set of verses, addressed in January, 1856,
to Miss Susannah Thoresen, show that already for a long while he had
come to regard this girl of twenty as "the young dreaming enigma," the
possible solution of which interested him more than that of any other
living problem. It was more than the conversation of a versifying lover
which made Ibsen speak of Miss Thoresen's "blossoming child-soul" as the
bourne of his ambitions. In his dark way, he was already violently in
love with her.

The household of her father, Hans Conrad Thoresen, was the most
cultivated in Bergen. He himself, the rector of Holy Cross, was a
bookish, meditative man of no particular initiative, but he had married,
as his third wife, Anna Maria Kragh, a Dane by birth, and for a long
time, with the possible exception of Camilla Collett, Wergeland's
sister, the most active woman of letters in Norway. Mrs. Thoresen was
the step-mother of Susannah, the only child of her husband's second
marriage. Between Magdalene Thoresen and Ibsen a strong friendship had
sprung up, which lasted to the end of their lives, and some of Ibsen's
best letters are those written to his wife's step-mother. She worked
hard for him at the Bergen theatre, translating plays from the French,
and it was during Ibsen's management of the theatre that several of her
own pieces were produced. Her prose stories, in connection with which
her name lives in Norwegian literature, were not yet written; so long as
Ibsen was at her side, her ideas seem to have been concentrated on the
stage. Constant communication with this charming woman only nine years
his senior, and much his superior in conventional culture, must have
been a school of refinement to the crude and powerful young poet. And
now the wise Magdalene appeared to him in a new light, dedicating to him
the best treasure of the family circle, the gay and yet mysterious

While he was writing _The Vikings at Helgeland_, and courting Susannah
Thoresen, Ibsen received what seemed a timely invitation to settle in
Christiania as director of the Norwegian Theatre; he returned,
thereupon, to the capital in the summer of 1857, after an absence of six
years. Now began another period of six years more, these the most
painful in Ibsen's life, when, as Halvorsen has said, he had to fight
not merely for the existence of himself and his family, but for the very
existence of Norwegian poetry and the Norwegian stage. This struggle was
an excessively distressing one. He had left Bergen crippled with debts,
and his marriage (June 26, 1856) weighed him down with further
responsibilities. The Norwegian Theatre at Christiania was, a secondary
house, ill-supported by its patrons, often tottering at the brink of
bankruptcy, and so primitive was the situation of literature in the
country that to attempt to live by poetry and drama was to court
starvation. His slender salary was seldom paid, and never in full. The
only published volume of Ibsen's which had (up to 1863) sold at all was
_The Warriors_, by which he had made in all 227 specie dollars (or about

The Christiania he had come to, however, was not that which he had left.
In many directions it had developed rapidly. From an intellectual point
of view, the labors of the nationalists had made themselves felt; the
folk-lore of Landstad, Moe and Asbjoernsen had impressed young
imaginations. In some of its forms the development was unpleasing and
discouraging to Ibsen; the success of the blank-verse tragedies of
Andreas Munch (_Salomon de Caus_, 1855; _Lord William Russell_, 1857)
was, for instance, an irritating step in the wrong direction. The new-
born school of prose fiction, with Bjoernson as its head (_Synnoeve
Solbakken_, 1857; _Arne_, 1858), with Camilla Collett's _Prefect's
Daughters_, 1855, as its herald; with Oestgaard's sketches of peasant
life and humors in the mountains (1852)--all this was a direct menace to
the popularity of the national stage, offering an easy and alluring
alternative for home-loving citizens. Was it certain that the classic
Danish, which alone Ibsen cared to write, would continue to be the
language of the cultivated classes in Norway? Here was Ivar Aasen (in
1853) showing that the irritating landsmaal could be used for prose and

Wherever he turned Ibsen saw increased vitality, but in shapes that were
either useless or antagonistic to himself, and all that was harsh and
saturnine in his nature awakened. We see Ibsen, at this moment of his
life, like Shakespeare in his darkest hour, "in disgrace with fortune
and men's eyes," unappreciated and ready to doubt the reality of his own
genius; and murmuring to himself:--

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope.
With what I most enjoy contented least.

How little his greatness was perceived in the Christiania literary
coteries may be gathered from the little fact that the species of
official anthology of _Modern Norwegian Poets_, published in 1859,
though it netted the shallows of national song very closely, contained
not a line by the author of the lovely lyrics in _The Feast at Solhoug_.
It was at this low and miserable moment that Ibsen's talent suddenly
took wings; he conceived, in the summer of 1858, what finally became,
five years later, his first acknowledged masterpiece, and perhaps the
most finished of all his writings, the sculptural tragedy of _The

_The Pretenders_ (_Kongsemnerne_, properly stuff from which Kings can be
made) is the earliest of the plays of Ibsen in which the psychological
interest is predominant, and in which there is no attempt to disguise
the fact. Nothing that has since been written about this drama, the very
perfection of which is baffling to criticism, has improved upon the
impression which Georg Brandes received from it when he first read it
forty years ago. The passage is classic, and deserves to be cited, if
only as perhaps the very earliest instance in which the genius of Ibsen
was rewarded by the analysis of a great critic. Brandes wrote (in

What is it that The Pretenders treats of? Looked at simply, it is an old
story. We all know the tale of Aladdin and Nureddin, the simple legend
in the Arabian Nights, and our great poet's [Oehlenschlaeger's]
incomparable poem. In _The Pretenders_ two figures again stand opposed
to one another as the superior and the inferior being, an Aladdin and a
Nureddin nature. It is towards this contrast that Ibsen has hitherto
unconsciously directed his endeavors, just as Nature feels her way in
her blind preliminary attempts to form her types. Hakon and Skule are
pretenders to the same throne, scions of royalty out of whom a king may
be made. But the first is the incarnation of fortune, victory, right and
confidence; the second--the principal figure in the play, masterly in
its truth and originality--is the brooder, a prey to inward struggle and
endless distrust, brave and ambitious, with perhaps every qualification
and claim to be king, but lacking the inexpressible, impalpable somewhat
that would give a value to all the rest--the wonderful Lamp. "I am a
king's arm," he says, "mayhap a king's brain as well; but Hakon is the
whole king." "You have wisdom and courage, and all noble gifts of the
mind," says Hakon to him; "you are born to stand nearest a king, but not
to be a king yourself."

To a poet the achievements of his greatest contemporaries in their
common art have all the importance of high deeds in statesmanship and
war. It is, therefore, by no means extravagant to see in the noble
emulation of the two dukes in _The Pretenders_ some reflection of
Ibsen's attitude to the youthful and brilliant Bjoernson. The luminous
self-reliance, the ardor and confidence and good fortune of Bjoernson-
Hakon could not but offer a violent contrast with the gloom and
hesitation, the sick revulsions of hope and final lack of conviction, of
Ibsen-Skule. It was Bjoernson's "belt of strength," as it was Hakon's,
that he had utter belief in himself, and with this his rival could not
yet girdle himself. "The luckiest man is the greatest man," says Bishop
Nicholas in the play, and Bjoernson seemed in these melancholy years as
lucky as Ibsen was unlucky. But the Bishop's views were not wide enough,
and the end was not yet.


THE SATIRES (1857-67)

Temperament and environment combined at the period we have now reached
to turn Ibsen into a satirist. It was during his time of _Sturm und
Drang_, from 1857 to 1864, that the harshest elements in his nature were
awakened, and that he became one who loved to lash the follies of his
age. With the advent of prosperity and recognition this phase melted
away, leaving Ibsen without illusions and without much pity, but no
longer the scourge of his fellow-citizens. Although _The Pretenders_, a
work of dignified and polished aloofness, was not completed until 1863,
it really belongs to the earlier and more experimental section of
Ibsen's works, and is so completely the outcome and the apex of his
national studies that it has seemed best to consider it with _The
Vikings at Helgeland_, in spite of its immense advance upon that drama.
But we must now go back a year, and take up an entirely new section
which overlaps the old, namely, that of Ibsen's satires in dramatic

With regard to the adoption of that form of poetic art, a great
difference existed between Norwegian and English taste, and this must be
borne in mind. Almost exactly at the date when Ibsen was inditing the
sharp couplets of his _Love's Comedy_, Tennyson, in _Sea Dreams_, was
giving voice to the English abandonment of satire--which had been
rampant in the generation of Byron--in the famous words:--

I loathe it: he had never kindly heart,
Nor ever cared to better his own kind,
Who first wrote satire, with no pity in it.

What England repudiated, Norway comprehended, and in certain hands
enjoyed. Polemical literature, if seldom of a high class, was abundant
and was much appreciated. The masterpiece of modern Norwegian poetry
was, still, the satiric cycle of Welhaven. In ordinary controversy, the
tone was more scathing, the bludgeon was whirled more violently, than
English taste at that period could endure. Those whom Ibsen designed to
crush had not minced their own words. The press was violence itself, and
was not tempered with justice; when the poet looked round he saw
"afflicted virtue insolently stabbed with all manner of reproaches," as
Dryden said.

Yet it was not an age of gross and open vices; manners were not
flagitious, they were merely of a nauseous insipidity. Ibsen, flown with
anger as with wine, could find no outrageous offences to lash, and all
he could invite the age to do was to laugh at certain conventions and to
reconsider some prejudicated opinions. He had to be pungent, not openly
ferocious; he had to be sarcastic and to treat the current code of
morals as a jest. He found the society around him excessively
distasteful to him, but there were no crying evils of a political or
ethical kind to be stigmatized. What was open to him was what an old
writer of our own defined as "a sharp, well-mannered way of laughing a
folly out of countenance."

Unfortunately, the people laughed at will never consent to think the way
well mannered, and Ibsen was bitterly blamed for "want of taste," that
vaguest and most insidious of accusations. We are told that he began his
enterprise in prose [Note: "_Svanhild_: a Comedy in three acts and in
prose: 1860," is understood to exist still in manuscript], but found
that too stiff and bald a medium for a satire on the social crudity of
Norway. In writing satire, it is all-important that the form should be
adequate, and at this time Ibsen had not reached the impeccable
perfection of his later colloquial prose. He started _Love's Comedy_,
therefore, anew, and he wrote it as a pamphlet in rhyme. It is not
certain that he had any very definite idea of the line which his attack
should take. He was very poor, very sore, very uncomfortable, and he was
easily convinced that the times were out of joint. Then he observed that
if there was anything that the Norwegian upper classes prided themselves
upon it was their conduct of betrothal and marriage. Plato had said that
the familiarity of young persons before marriage prevented enmity and
disappointment in later years, that it was useful to know the
peculiarities of temperament beforehand, and so, being accustomed to
them, to discount them. But Ibsen was not of this opinion, or rather,
perhaps, he did not choose to be. The extremely slow and public method
of betrothal in the North gave him his first opportunity.

It is with a song, in the original one of the most delicious of his
lyrics, that he opens the campaign. To a miscellaneous party of
Philistines circled around the tea table, "all sober and all ----" the
rebellious hero sings:--

In the sunny orchard-closes,
While the warblers sing and swing,
Care not whether blustering Autumn
Break the promises of Spring;
Rose and white the apple-blossom
Hides you from the sultry sky;
Let it flutter, blown and scattered,
On the meadow by and by.

In the sexual struggle, that is to say, the lovers should not pause to
consider the worldly advantages of their match, but should fly in secret
to each other's arms. By the law of battle, the female should be
snatched to the conqueror's saddle-bow, and ridden away with into the
night, not subjected to the jokes and the good advice and the
impertinent congratulations of the clan. Young Lochinvar does not wait
to ask the counsel of the bride's cousins, nor to run the gantlet of her
aunts; he fords the Esk river with her, where ford there is none. Ibsen
is in favor of the _mariage de convenance_, which suppresses, without
favor, the absurdity of love-matches. Above all, anything is better than
the publicity, the meddling and long-drawn exposure of betrothal, which
kills the fine delicacy of love, as birds are apt to break their own
eggs if intruding hands have touched them.

This is the central point in _Love's Comedy_, but there is much beside
this in its reckless satire on the "sanctities" of domestic life. The
burden of monogamy is frivolously dealt with, and the impertinent poet
touches with levity upon the question of the duration of marriage:

With my living, with my singing,
I will tear the hedges down!
Sweep the grass and heap the blossom!
Let it shrivel, pale and blown!
Throw the wicket wide! Sheep, cattle,
Let them browse among the best!
_I_ broke off the flowers; what matter
Who may graze among the rest!

_Love's Comedy_ is perhaps the most diverting of Ibsen's works; it is
certainly the most impertinent. If there was one class in Norwegian
society which was held to be above criticism it was the clerical. A
prominent character in Ibsen's comedy is the Rev. Mr. Strawman, a gross,
unctuous and uxorious priest, blameless and dull, upon whose inert body
the arrows of satire converge. This was never forgotten and long was
unforgiven. As late as 1866 the Storthing refused a grant to Ibsen
definitely on the ground of the scandal caused by his sarcastic portrait
of Pastor Strawman. But the gentler sex, to which every poet looks for
an audience, was not less deeply outraged by the want of indulgence
which he had shown for all forms of amorous sentiment, although Ibsen
had really, through his satire on the methods of betrothal, risen to
something like a philosophical examination of the essence of love

To Brandes, who reproached him for not recording the history of ideal
engagements, and who remarked, "You know, there are sound potatoes and
rotten potatoes in this world," Ibsen cynically replied, "I am afraid
none of the sound ones have come under my notice"; and when Guldstad
proves to the beautiful Svanhild the paramount importance of creature
comforts, the last word of distrust in the sustaining power of love had
been said. The popular impression of Ibsen as an "immoral" writer seems
to be primarily founded on the paradox and fireworks of _Love's Comedy_.

Much might be forgiven to a man so wretched as Ibsen was in 1862, and
more to a poet so lively, brilliant and audacious in spite of his
misfortunes. These now gathered over his head and threatened to submerge
him altogether. He was perhaps momentarily saved by the publication of
_Terje Vigen_, which enjoyed a solid popularity. This is the principal
and, indeed, almost the only instance in Ibsen's works of what the
Northern critics call "epic," but what we less ambitiously know as the
tale in verse. _Terje Figen_ will never be translated successfully into
English, for it is written, with brilliant lightness and skill, in an
adaptation of the Norwegian ballad-measure which it is impossible to
reproduce with felicity in our language.

Among Ibsen's writings _Terje Vigen_ is unique as a piece of pure
sentimentality carried right rough without one divagation into irony or
pungency. It is the story of a much-injured and revengeful Norse pilot,
who, having the chance to drown his old enemies, Milord and Milady,
saves them at the mute appeal of their blue-eyed English baby. _Terje
Vigen_ is a masterpiece of what we may define as the "dash-away-a-manly-
tear" class of narrative. It is extremely well written and picturesque,
but the wonder is that, of all people in the world, Ibsen should have
written it.

His short lyric poems of this period betray much more clearly the real
temper of the man. They are filled full and brimming over with longing
and impatience, with painful passion and with hope deferred. It is in
the strident lyrics Ibsen wrote between 1857 and 1863 that we can best
read the record of his mind, and share its exasperations, and wonder at
its elasticity. The series of sonnets _In a Picture Gallery_ is a
strangely violent confession of distrust in his own genius; the _Epistle
to H. O. Blom_ a candid admission of his more than distrust in the
talent and honesty of others. It was the peculiarity and danger of
Ibsen's position that he represented no one but himself. For instance,
the liberty of many of the expressions in _Love's Comedy_ led those who
were beginning a movement in favor of the emancipation of women to
believe that Ibsen was in sympathy with them, but he was not. All
through his life, although his luminous penetration into character led
him to be scrupulously fair in his analysis of female character, he was
never a genuine supporter of the extension of public responsibility to
the sex. A little later (in 1869), when John Stuart Mill's _Subjection
of Women_ produced a sensation in Scandinavia, and met with many
enthusiastic supporters, Ibsen coldly reserved his opinion. He was
always an observer, always a clinical analyst at the bedside of society,
never a prophet, never a propagandist.

His troubles gathered upon him. Neither theatre consented to act _Love's
Comedy_, and it would not even have been printed but for the zeal of the
young novelist Jonas Lie, who, to his great honor, bought for about L35
the right to publish it as a supplement to a newspaper that he was
editing. Then the storm broke out; the press was unanimously adverse,
and in private circles abuse amounted almost to a social taboo. In 1862
the second theatre became bankrupt, and Ibsen was thrown on the world,
the most unpopular man of his day, and crippled with debts. It is true
that he was engaged at the Christiania Theatre at a nominal salary of
about a pound a week, but he could not live on that. In August, 1860, he
had made a pathetic appeal to the Government for a _digter-gage_, a
payment to a poet, such as is freely given to talent in the Northern
countries. Sums were voted to Bjoernson and Vinje, but to Ibsen not a
penny. By some influence, however, for he was not without friends, he
was granted in March, 1862, a travelling grant of less than L20 to
enable him to wander for two months in western Hardanger and the
districts around the Sognefjord for the purpose of collecting folk-songs
and legends. The results of this journey were prepared for publication,
but never appeared. This interesting excursion, however, has left its
mark stamped broadly upon _Brand_ and _Peer Gynt_.

All through 1863 his condition was critical. He determined that his only
hope was to exile himself definitely from Norway, which had become too
hot to hold him. Various private friends generously helped him over this
dreadful time of adversity, earning a gratitude which, if it was not
expansive, was lifelong. Very grudging recognition of his gifts was at
length made by the Government in the shape of another trifling
travelling grant (March, 1863), again a handsome sum being awarded to
Bjoernson, his popular rival. In May Ibsen applied, in despair, to the
King himself, who conferred upon him a small pension of L90 a year,
which for the immediate future stood between this great poet and
starvation. The news of it was received in Christiania by the press in
terms of despicable insult.

But in June of this _annee terrible_ Ibsen had a flash of happiness. He
was invited down to Bergen to the fifth great "Festival of Song," a
national occurrence, and he and his poems met with a warm reception.
Moreover, he found his brilliant antagonist, Bjoernson, at Bergen on a
like errand, and renewed an old friendship with this warm-hearted and
powerful man of genius, destined to play through life the part of Hakon
to Ibsen's Skule. They spent much of the subsequent winter together. As
Halvdan Koht has excellently said: "Their intercourse brought them
closer to each other than they had ever been before. They felt that they
were inspired by the same ideas and the same hopes, and they suffered
the same bitter disappointments. With anguish they watched the Danish
brother-nation's desperate struggle against the superior power of
Germany, and save a province with a population of Scandinavian race and
speech taken from Denmark and incorporated in a foreign kingdom, whilst
the Norwegian and Swedish kinsmen, in spite of solemn promises,
refrained from yielding any assistance." An attack on Holstein (December
22, 1863) had introduced the Second Danish War, to which a disastrous

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