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Henrik Ibsen by Edmund Gosse

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absolutely enthralled and bewitched, and that what was fun to her made
life and death to him.

This very curious episode [Note: It was quite unknown until the
correspondence--which has not been translated into English--was
published by Georg Brandes at the desire of the lady herself (September,
1906).], which modifies in several important respects our conception of
the dramatist's character, is analogous with the apparent change of
disposition which made Renan surprise his unthinking admirers so
suddenly at the epoch of _L'Eau de Jouvence_ and _L'Abbesse de Jouarre_.
It was founded, of course, on that dangerous susceptibility to which an
elderly man of genius, whose life had been spent in labor and
reflection, may be inclined to resign himself, as he sees the sands
running out of the hour-glass, and realizes that in analyzing and
dissecting emotion he has never had time to enjoy it. Time is so short,
the nerves so fragile and so finite, the dreadful illusion, the _maia_,
so irresistible, that the old man gives way to it, and would sooner die
at once than not make one grasp at happiness.

It will have been remarked that Ibsen's habit was to store up an
impression, but not to use it immediately on creative work. We need,
therefore, feel no surprise that there is not a trace of the Bardach
episode in _Hedda Gabler_, although the composition of that play
immediately followed the _hohes, schmerzliches Glueck_ at Gossensass. He
was, too, no moonlight serenader, and his intense emotion is perfectly
compatible with the outline of some of the gossip which was repeated at
the time of his death; Ibsen being reported to have said of the Viennese
girl: "She did not get hold of me, but I got hold of her--for my play."
These things are very complex, and not to be hastily dismissed,
especially on the rough and ready English system. There would be give
and take in such a complicated situation, when the object was, as Ibsen
himself says, out of reach _unversichtbar_. There is no question that
for every pang which Hilda made her ancient lover suffer, he would
enrich his imagination with a dozen points of experience. There is no
paradox in saying that the poet was overwhelmed with a passion and yet
consciously made it serve as material for his plays. From this time
onwards every dramatic work of his bears the stamp of those hours among
the roses at Gossensass.

To the spring of 1891 belongs Ibsen's somewhat momentous visit to
Vienna, where he was invited by Dr. Max Burckhard, the director of the
Burg Theatre, to superintend the performance of his _Pretenders_. Ibsen
had already, in strict privacy, visited Vienna, where his plays enjoyed
an increasing success, but this was his first public entrance into a
city which he admired on the whole more than any other city of Europe.
"Mein schoener Wien!" he used to murmur, with quite a clan of affection.
In April, 1891, after the triumph of his tragedy on the stage, Ibsen was
the guest at a public banquet at Vienna, when the ovations were
overwhelming and were extended until four o'clock next morning. A
performance of _The Wild Duck_ produced, what was almost as dear to
Ibsen as praise, a violent polemic, and he passed on out of a world of
storm and passion to Buda-Pesth, where he saw _A Doll's House_ acted in
Hungarian, amid thunders of applause, and where he was the guest of
Count Albert Apponyi. These were the happy and fruitful years which
consoled the heart of the poet for the bitter time when

"Hate's decree Dwelt in his thoughts intolerable."

In the ensuing summer, in July, 1891, Ibsen left Munich with every
intention of returning to it, but with the plan of a long summer trip in
Norway, where the triumphant success of _Hedda Gabler_ had been very
agreeable to his feelings. Once more he pushed up through the country to
Trondhjem, a city which had always attracted him and pleased him. Here
he presently embarked on one of the summer coasting-steamers, and saw
the shores of Nordland and Finmark for the first time, visiting the
North Cape itself. He came back to Christiania for the rest of the
season, with no prospect of staying. But he enjoyed a most flattering
reception; he was begged to resume his practical citizenship, and he was
assured that life in Norway would be made very pleasant to him. In the
autumn, therefore, in his abrupt way, he took an apartment in Viktoria
Terrasse, and sent to Munich for his furniture. He said to a friend who
expressed surprise at this settlement: "I may just as well make
Christiania my headquarters as Munich. The railway takes me in a very
short time wherever I want to go; and when I am bored with Norway I can
travel elsewhere." But he never felt the fatigue he anticipated, and,
but for brief visits to Copenhagen or Stockholm, he left his native
country no more after 1891, although he changed his abode in Christiania

For the first twelve months Ibsen enjoyed the pleasures of the prodigal
returned, and fed with gusto on the fatted calf. Then, when three years
separated him from the illuminating soul-adventures of Gossensass, he
began to turn them into a play. It proved to be _The Master-Builder_,
and was published before the close of December, 1892, with the date 1893
on the title-page. This play was running for some time in Germany and
England before it was played in Scandinavia. But on the evening of March
8, 1893, it was simultaneously given at the National Theatre in
Christiania and at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. It was a work which
greatly puzzled the critics, and its meaning was scarcely apparent until
it had been seen on the stage, for which the oddity of its arrangements
are singularly well adapted. It was, however, almost immediately noticed
that it marked a new departure in Ibsen's writings. Here was an end of
the purely realistic and prosaic social dramas, which had reigned from
_The League of Youth_ to _Hedda Gabler_, and here was a return to the
strange and haunting beauty of the old imaginative pieces. Mr. Archer
was happily inspired when he spoke of "the pure melody" of the piece,
and the best scenes of _The Master-Builder_ were heroically and almost
recklessly poetical.

This remarkable composition is full of what, for want of a better word,
we must call "symbolism." In the conversations between Solness and Hilda
much is introduced which is really almost unintelligible unless we take
it to be autobiographical. The Master-Builder is one who constructs, not
houses, but poems and plays. It is the poet himself who gives
expression, in the pathetic and erratic confessions of Solness, to his
doubts, his craven timidities, his selfish secrets, and his terror at
the uniformity of his "luck." It is less easy to see exactly what Ibsen
believed himself to be presenting to us in the enigmatical figure of
Hilda, so attractive and genial, so exquisitely refreshing, and yet
radically so cruel and superficial. She is perhaps conceived as a symbol
of Youth, arriving too late within the circle which Age has trodden for
its steps to walk in, and luring it too rashly, by the mirage of
happiness, into paths no longer within its physical and moral capacity.
"Hypnotism," Mr. Archer tells us, "is the first and last word of the
dramatic action"; perhaps thought-transference more exactly expresses
the idea, but I should not have stated even this quite so strongly. The
ground of the dramatic action seems to me to be the balance of Nemesis,
the fatal necessity that those who enjoy exceptional advantages in life
shall pay for them by not less exceptional, but perhaps less obvious,
disadvantages. The motto of the piece--at least of the first two of its
acts--might be the couplet of the French tragedian:--

C'est un ordre des dieux qui jamais ne se rompt De nous vendre bien cher
les grands biens qu'ils nous font.

Beneath this, which we may call the transcendental aspect of the play,
we find a solid and objective study of the self-made man, the headstrong
amateur, who has never submitted to the wholesome discipline of
professional training, but who has trusted to the help of those trolls
or mascots, his native talent and his unfailing "luck." Upon such a man
descends Hilda, the disorganizer, who pierces the armor of his conceit
by a direct appeal to his passions. Solness has been the irresistible
sorcerer, through his good fortune, but he is not protected in his
climacteric against this unexpected attack upon the senses. Samson
philanders with Delila, and discovers that his strength is shorn from
him. There is no doubt that Ibsen intended in _The Master-Builder_ a
searching examination of "luck" and the tyranny of it, the terrible
effects of it on the Broviks and the Kajas whom nobody remembers, but
whose bodies lie under the wheels of its car. The dramatic situation is
here extremely interesting; it consists in the fact that Solness, who
breaks every one else, is broken by Hilda. The inherent hardness of
youth, which makes no allowances, which demands its kingdom here and now
upon the table, was never more powerfully depicted. Solness is smashed
by his impact with Hilda, as china is against a stone. In all this it
would be a mistake to see anything directly autobiographical, although
so much in the character and position of Solness may remind us,
legitimately enough, of Ibsen himself, and his adventures.

The personal record of Ibsen in these years is almost silent. He was
growing old and set in his habits. He was growing rich, too, and he
surrounded himself with sedentary comforts. His wealth, it may here be
said, was founded entirely upon the success of his works, but was
fostered by his extreme adroitness as a man of business. Those who are
so fond of saying that any man of genius might have excelled in some
other capacity are fully justified if they like to imagine Ibsen as the
model financier. He certainly possessed a remarkable aptitude for
affairs, and we learn that his speculations were at once daring and
crafty. People who are weary of commiserating the poverty of poets may
be pleased to learn that when Ibsen died he was one of the wealthiest
private citizens of Christiania, and this was wholly in consequence of
the care he had taken in protecting his copyrights and administering his
receipts. If the melancholy couplet is correct which tells us that

Aux petits des oiseaux Dieu donne la pature,
Mais sa bonte s'arrkete a la litterature,

we must believe, with Ibsen's enemies, that his fortunes were not under
the divine protection.

The actual numbers of each of his works printed since he first published
with Hegel in Copenhagen--a connection which he preserved without a
breach until the end--have been stated since his death. They contain
some points of interest. After 1876 Hegel ventured on large editions of
each new play, but they went off at first slowly. _The Lady from the
Sea_ was the earliest to appear, at once, in an issue of 10,000 copies,
which was soon exhausted. So great, however, had the public interest in
Ibsen become in 1894 that the edition of 10,000 copies of _Little Eyolf_
was found quite inadequate to meet the first order, and it was enlarged
to 15,000, all of which were gone in a fortnight. This circulation in so
small a reading public as that of Denmark and Norway was unprecedented,
and it must be remembered that the simultaneous translations into most
of the languages of Europe are not included.

_Little Eyolf_, which was written in Christiania during the spring and
summer of 1894, was issued, according to Ibsen's cometary custom, as the
second week of December rolled round. The reception of it was stormy,
even in Scandinavia, and led to violent outbursts of controversy. No
work from the master's pen had roused more difference of opinion among
the critics since the bluster over _Ghosts_ fourteen years before. Those
who prefer to absolute success in the creation of a work of art the
personal flavor or perfume of the artist himself were predisposed to
place _Little Eyolf_ very high among his writings. Nowhere is he more
independent of all other influences, nowhere more intensely, it may even
be said more distressingly, himself. From many points of view this play
may fairly be considered in the light of a _tour de force_. Ibsen--one
would conjecture--is trying to see to what extremities of agile
independence he can force his genius. The word "force" has escaped me;
but it may be retained as reproducing that sense of a difficulty not
quite easily or completely overcome which _Little Eyolf_ produces. To
mention but one technical matter; there are but four characters,
properly speaking, in the play--since Eyolf himself and the Rat-Wife are
but illustrations or symbolic properties--and of these four, one
(Borgheim) is wholly subsidiary. Ibsen, then, may be said to have
challenged imitation by composing a drama of passion with only three
characters in it. By a process of elimination this has been done by
Aeschylus (in the _Agamemnon_), by Racine (in _Phe*dre_ and
_Andromaque_), and in our own day by Maeterlinck (in _Pelle*as et
Me*lisande_). But Ibsen was accustomed to a wider field, and his
experiment seems not wholly successful. _Little Eyolf_, at least, is,
from all points of view, an exercise on the tight-rope. We may hazard
the conjecture that no drama gave Ibsen more satisfaction to write, but
for enjoyment the reader may prefer less prodigious agility on the

If we turn from the technical virtuosity of _Little Eyolf_ to its moral
aspects, we find it a very dreadful play, set in darkness which nothing
illuminates but the twinkling sweetness of Asta. The mysterious symbol
of the Rat-Wife breaks in upon the pair whose love is turning to hate,
the man waxing cold as the wife grows hot. The Angel of God, in the
guise of an old beggar-woman, descends into their garden, and she drags
away, by an invisible chain, "the little gnawing thing," the pathetic
lame child. The effect on the pair of Eyolf's death by drowning is the
subject of the subsequent acts. In Rita jealousy is incarnate, and she
seems the most vigorous, and, it must be added, the most repulsive, of
Ibsen's feminine creations. The reckless violence of Rita's energy,
indeed, interpreted by a competent actress--played, for instance, as it
was in London most admirably by Miss Achurch--is almost too painful for
a public exhibition, and to the old criticism, "nec pueros coram populo
Medea trucidet," if a pedant chooses to press it, there teems no reply.
The sex question, as treated in _Little Eyolf_, recalls _The Kreutzer
Sonata_ (1889) of Tolstoi. When, however, I ventured to ask Ibsen
whether there was anything in this, he was displeased, and stoutly
denied it. What, an author denies, however, is not always evidence.

Nothing further of general interest happened to Ibsen until 1896, when
he sat down to compose another drama, _John Gabriel Borkman_. This was a
study of the mental adventures of a man of high commercial imagination,
who is artificially parted from all that contact with real affairs which
keeps such energy on the track, and who goes mad with dreams of
incalculable power, a study, in fact, of financial megalomania. It was
said, at the time, that Ibsen was originally led to make this analysis
of character from reading in the Christiania newspapers a report of the
failure and trial of a notorious speculator convicted of fraud in 1895,
and sentenced to a long period of penal servitude.

Whether this be so or not, we have in the person of John Gabriel Borkman
a prominent example of the ninteenth century type of criminous
speculator, in whom the vastness of view and the splendidly altruistic
audacity present themselves as elements which render it exceedingly
difficult to say how far the malefactor is morally responsible for his
crime. He has imagined, and to a certain point has carried out, a
monster metal "trust," for the success of which he lacks neither courage
nor knowledge nor practical administrative capacity, but only that
trifling concomitant, sufficiency of capital. To keep the fires blazing
until his vast model is molten into the mould, he helps himself to money
here, there, and everywhere, scarcely giving a thought to his
responsibilities, so certain is he of ultimate and beneficent triumph.
He will make rich beyond the dreams of avarice all these his involuntary
supporters. Unhappily, just before his scheme is ready and the metal
runs, he is stopped by the stupidity of the law, and finds himself in

Side by side with this study of commercial madness runs a thread of that
new sense of the preciousness of vital joy which had occupied Ibsen so
much ever since the last of the summers at Gossensass. The figure of
Erhart Borkman is a very interesting one to the theatrical student. In
the ruin of the family, all hopes concentre in him. Every one claims
him, and in the bosoms of each of his shattered parents a secret hope is
born, Mrs. Borkman believing that by a brilliant career of commercial
rectitude her son will wipe out the memory of his father's crime;
Borkman, who has never given up the ambition of returning to business,
reposing his own hopes on the co-operation of his son.

But Erhart Borkman disappoints them all. He will be himself, he will
enjoy his life, he will throw off all the burdens both of responsibility
and of restitution. He has no ambition and little natural feeling; he
simply must be happy, and he suddenly elopes, leaving all their
anticipations bankrupt, with a certain joyous Mrs. Wilton, who has
nothing but her beauty to recommend her. Deserted thus by the _ignis
fatuus_ of youth, the collapse of the three old people is complete.
Under the shock the brain of Borkman gives way, and he wanders out into
the winter's night, full of vague dreams of what he can still do in the
world, if he can only break from his bondage and shatter his dream. He
dies there in the snow, and the two old sisters, who have followed him
in an anxiety which overcomes their mutual hatred, arrive in time to see
him pass away. We leave them in the wood, "a dead man and two shadows"--
so Ella Rentheim puts it--"for _that_ is what the cold has made of us";
the central moral of the piece being that all the errors of humanity
spring from cold-heartedness and neglect of the natural heat of love.
That Borkman embezzled money, and reduced hundreds of innocent people to
beggary, might be condoned; but there is no pardon for his cruel
bargaining for wealth with the soul of Ella Rentheim, since that is the
unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit. There are points of obscurity,
and one or two of positive and even regrettable whimsicality, about
_John Gabriel Borkman_, but on the whole it is a work of lofty
originality and of poignant human interest.

The veteran was now beginning to be conscious of the approaches of old
age, but they were made agreeable to him by many tokens of national

On his seventieth birthday, March 20, 1898, Ibsen received the
felicitations of the world. It is pleasing to relate that a group of
admirers in England, a group which included Mr. Asquith, Mr. J. M.
Barrie, Mr. Thomas Hardy, Mr. Henry Arthur Jones, Mr. Pinero and Mr.
Bernard Shaw took part in these congratulations and sent Ibsen a
handsome set of silver plate, this being an act which, it had been
discovered, he particularly appreciated. The bearer of this gift was the
earliest of the long stream of visitors to arrive on the morning of the
poet's birthday, and he found Ibsen in company with his wife, his son,
his son's wife (Bjoernson's daughter), and his little grandson, Tankred.
The poet's surprise and pleasure were emphatic. A deputation from the
Storthing, headed by the Leader of the House, deputations representing
the University, the various Christiania Theatres, and other official or
academic bodies arrived at intervals during the course of the day; and
all the afternoon Ibsen was occupied in taking these hundreds of
visitors, in parties, up to the case containing the English tribute, in
showing the objects and in explaining their origin. There could be no
question that the gift gave genuine pleasure to the recipient; it was
the first, as it was to be the last, occasion on which any public
testimony to English appreciation of his genius found its way to Ibsen's

Immediately after the birthday festivities, which it was observed had
fatigued him, Ibsen started on a visit to Copenhagen, where he was
received by the aged King of Denmark, and to Stockholm, where he was
overpowered with ovations from all classes. There can be no doubt that
this triumphal progress, though deeply grateful to the aged poet's
susceptibilities, made a heavy drain upon his nervous resources. When he
returned to Norway, indeed, he was concealed from all visitors at his
physician's orders, and it is understood that he had some kind of
seizure. It was whispered that he would write no more, and the biennial
drama, due in December, 1898, did not make its appearance. His stores of
health, however, were not easily exhausted; he rested for several
months, and then he was seen once more in Carl Johans Gade, smiling; in
his usual way, and entirely recovered. It was announced that winter that
he was writing his reminiscences, but nothing more was heard of any such

He was able to take a vivid interest in the preparations for the
National Norwegian Theatre in Christiania, which was finally opened by
the King of Sweden and Norway on September 1, 1899. Early in the
morning, colossal bronze statues of Ibsen and Bjoernson were unveiled in
front of the theatre, and the poets, now, unfortunately, again not on
the best of terms, were seen making vast de*tours for the purpose of
satisfying their curiosity, and yet not meeting one another in flesh or
in metal. The first night, to prevent rivalry, was devoted to
antiquarianism, and to the performance of extracts from the plays of
Holberg. Ibsen and Bjoernson occupied the centre of the dress circle,
sitting uplifted in two gilded fauteuils and segregated by a vast
garland of red and white roses. They were the objects of universal
attention, and the King seemed never to have done smiling and bowing to
the two most famous of his Norwegian subjects.

The next night was Ibsen's fe*te, and he occupied, alone, the manager's
box. A poem in his honor, by Niels Collet Vogt, was recited by the
leading actor, who retired, and then rushed down the empty stage, with
his arms extended, shouting "Long live Henrik Ibsen." The immense
audience started to its feet and repeated the words over and over again
with deafening fervor. The poet appeared to be almost overwhelmed with
emotion and pleasure; at length, with a gesture which was quite
pathetic, smiling through his tears, he seemed to beg his friends to
spare him, and the plaudits slowly ceased. _An Enemy of the People_ was
then admirably performed. At the close of every act Ibsen was called to
the front of his box, and when the performance was over, and the actors
had been thanked, the audience turned to him again with a sort of
affectionate ferocity. Ibsen was found to have stolen from his box, but
he was waylaid and forcibly carried back to it. On his reappearance, the
whole theatre rose in a roar of welcome, and it was with difficulty that
the aged poet, now painfully exhausted from the strain of an evening of
such prolonged excitement, could persuade the public to allow him to
withdraw. At length he left the theatre, walking slowly, bowing and
smiling, down a lane cleared for him, far into the street, through the
dense crowd of his admirers. This astonishing night, September 2, 1899,
was the climax of Ibsen's career.

During all this time Ibsen was secretly at work on another drama, which
he intended as the epilogue to his earlier dramatic work, or at least to
all that he had written since _The Pillars of Society_. This play, which
was his latest, appeared, under the title of _When We Dead Awaken_, in
December, 1899 (with 1900 on the title-page). It was simultaneously
published, in very large editions, in all the principal languages of
Europe, and it was acted also, but it is impossible to deny that,
whether in the study or on the boards, it proved a disappointment. It
displayed, especially in its later acts, many obvious signs of the
weakness incident on old age.

When it is said that _When We Dead Awaken_ was not worthy of its
predecessors, it should be explained that no falling off was visible in
the technical cleverness with which the dialogue was built up, nor in
the wording of particular sentences. Nothing more natural or amusing,
nothing showing greater, command of the resources of the theatre, had
ever been published by Ibsen himself than the opening act of _When We
Dead Awaken_. But there was certainly in the whole conception a
cloudiness, an ineffectuality, which was very little like anything that
Ibsen had displayed before. The moral of the piece was vague, the
evolution of it incoherent, and indeed in many places it seemed a parody
of his earlier manner. Not Mr. Anstey Guthrie's inimitable scenes in
_Mr. Punch's Ibsen_ were more preposterous than almost all the
appearances of Irene after the first act of _When We Dead Awaken_.

It is Irene who describes herself as dead, but awakening in the society
of Rubek, whilst Maia, the little gay soulless creature whom the great
sculptor has married, and has got heartily tired of, goes up to the
mountains with Ulpheim the hunter, in pursuit of the free joy of life.
At the close, the assorted couples are caught on the summit of an
exceeding high mountain by a snowstorm, which opens to show Rubek and
Irene "whirled along with the masses of snow, and buried in them," while
Maia and her bear-hunter escape in safety to the plains. Interminable,
and often very sage and penetrating, but always essentially rather
maniacal, conversation fills up the texture of the play, which is
certainly the least successful of Ibsen's mature compositions. The
boredom of Rubek in the midst of his eminence and wealth, and his
conviction that by working in such concentration for the purity of art
he merely wasted his physical life, inspire the portions of the play
which bring most conviction and can be read with fullest satisfaction.
It is obvious that such thoughts, such faint and unavailing regrets,
pursued the old age of Ibsen; and the profound wound that his heart had
received so long before at Gossensass was unhealed to his last moments
of consciousness. An excellent French critic, M. P. G. La Chesnais, has
ingeniously considered the finale of this play as a confession that
Ibsen, at this end of his career, was convinced of the error of his
earlier rigor, and, having ceased to believe in his mission, regretted
the complete sacrifice of his life to his work. But perhaps it is not
necessary to go into such subtleties. _When We Dead Awaken_ is the
production of a very tired old man, whose physical powers were

In the year 1900, during our South African War, sentiment in the
Scandinavian countries was very generally ranged on the side of the
Boers. Ibsen, however, expressed himself strongly and publicly in favor
of the English position. In an interview (November 24, 1900), which
produced a considerable sensation, he remarked that the Boers were but
half-cultivated, and had neither the will nor the power to advance the
cause of civilization. Their sole object had come to be a jealous
exclusion of all the higher forms of culture. The English were merely
taking what the Boers themselves had stolen from an earlier race; the
Boers had pitilessly hunted their precursors out of house and home, and
now they were tasting the same cup themselves. These were considerations
which had not occurred to generous sentimentalists in Norway, and
Ibsen's defence of England, which he supported in further communications
with irony and courage, made a great sensation, and threw cold water on
the pro-Boer sentimentalists. In Holland, where Ibsen had a wide public,
this want of sympathy for Dutch prejudice raised a good deal of
resentment, and Ibsen's statements were replied to by the fiery young
journalist, Cornelius Karel Elout, who even published a book on the
subject. Ibsen took dignified notice of Elout's attacks (December 9,
1900), repeating his defence of English policy, and this was the latest
of his public appearances.

He took an interest, however, in the preparation of the great edition of
his _Collected Works_, which appeared in Copenhagen in 1901 and 1902, in
ten volumes. Before the publication of the latest of these, however,
Ibsen had suffered from an apoplectic stroke, from which he never wholly
recovered. It was believed that any form of mental fatigue might now be
fatal to him, and his life was prolonged by extreme medical care. He was
contented in spirit and even cheerful, but from this time forth he was
more and more completely withdrawn from consecutive interest in what was
going on in the world without. The publication, in succession, of his
juvenile works (_Kaempehoejen_, _Olaf Liljekrans_, both edited by Halvdan
Koht, in 1902), of his _Correspondence_, edited by Koht and Julius
Elias, in 1904, of the bibliographical edition of his collected works by
Carl Naerup, in 1902, left him indifferent and scarcely conscious. The
gathering darkness was broken, it is said, by a gleam of light in 1905;
when the freedom of Norway and the accession of King Hakon were
explained to him, he was able to express his joyful approval before the
cloud finally sank upon his intelligence.

During his long illness Ibsen was troubled by aphasia, and he expressed
himself painfully, now in broken Norwegian, now in still more broken
German. His unhappy hero, Oswald Alving, in _Ghosts_, had thrilled the
world by his cry, "Give me the sun, Mother!" and now Ibsen, with glassy
eyes, gazed at the dim windows, murmuring "Keine Sonne, keine Sonne,
keine Sonne!" At the table where all the works of his maturity had been
written the old man sat, persistently learning and forgetting the
alphabet. "Look!" he said to Julius Elias, pointing to his mournful
pothooks, "See what I am doing! I am sitting here and learning my letters
--my _letters_! I who was once a Writer!" Over this shattered image of
what Ibsen had been, over this dying lion, who could not die, Mrs. Ibsen
watched with the devotion of wife, mother and nurse in one, through six
pathetic years. She was rewarded, in his happier moments, by the
affection and tender gratitude of her invalid, whose latest articulate
words were addressed to her--"_min soede, kjaere, snille frue_" (my
sweet, dear, good wife); and she taught to adore their grandfather the
three children of a new generation, Tankred, Irene, Eleonora.

Ibsen preserved the habit of walking about his room, or standing for
hours staring out of window, until the beginning of May, 1906. Then a
more complete decay confined him to his bed. After several days of
unconsciousness, he died very peacefully in his house on Drammensvej,
opposite the Royal Gardens of Christiania, at half-past two in the
afternoon of May 23, 1906, being in his seventy-ninth year. By a
unanimous vote of the he was awarded a public funeral, which the King of
Norway attended in person, while King Edward VII was represented there
by the British Minister. The event was regarded through out Norway as a
national ceremony of the highest solemnity and importance, and the poet
who had suffered such bitter humiliation and neglect in his youth was
carried to his grave in solemn splendor, to the sound of a people's



During the latest years of his life, which were spent as a wealthy and
prosperous citizen of Christiania, the figure of Ibsen took forms of
legendary celebrity which were equalled by no other living man of
letters, not even by Tolstoi, and which had scarcely been surpassed,
among the dead, by Victor Hugo. When we think of the obscurity of his
youth and middle age, and of his consistent refusal to advertise himself
by any of the little vulgar arts of self-exhibition, this extreme
publicity is at first sight curious, but it can be explained. Norway is
a small and a new country, inordinately, perhaps, but justly and
gracefully proud of those--an Ole Bull, a Frithjof Nansen, an Edvard
Grieg--who spread through the world evidences of its spiritual life. But
the one who was more original, more powerful, more interesting than any
other of her sons, had persistently kept aloof from the soil of Norway,
and was at length recaptured and shut up in a golden cage with more
expenditure of delicate labor than any perverse canary or escaped macaw
had ever needed. Ibsen safely housed in Christiania!--it was the
recovery of an important national asset, the resumption, after years of
vexation and loss, of the intellectual regalia of Norway.

Ibsen, then--recaptured, though still in a frame of mind which left the
captors nervous--was naturally an object of pride. For the benefit of
the hundreds of tourists who annually pass through Christiania, it was
more than tempting, it was irresistible to point out, in slow advance
along Carl Johans Gade, in permanent silence at a table in the Grand
Cafe, "our greatest citizen." To this species of demonstration Ibsen
unconsciously lent himself by his immobility, his regularity of habits,
his solemn taciturnity. He had become more like a strange physical
object than like a man among men. He was visible broadly and quietly,
not conversing, rarely moving, quite isolated and self-contained, a
recognized public spectacle, delivered up, as though bound hand and
foot, to the kodak-hunter and the maker of "spicy" paragraphs. That
Ibsen was never seen to do anything, or heard to say anything, that
those who boasted of being intimate with him obviously lied in their
teeth--all this prepared him for sacrifice. Christiania is a hot-bed of
gossip, and its press one of the most "chatty" in the world. Our
"greatest living author" was offered up as a wave-offering, and he
smoked daily on the altar of the newspapers.

It will be extremely rash of the biographers of the future to try to
follow Ibsen's life day by day in the Christiania press from, let us
say, 1891 to 1901. During that decade he occupied the reporters
immensely, and he was particularly useful to the active young men who
telegraph "chat" to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Berlin.
Snapshots of Ibsen, dangerous illness of the playwright, quaint habits
of the Norwegian dramatist, a poet's double life, anecdotes of Ibsen and
Mrs.----, rumors of the King's attitude to Ibsen--this pollenta, dressed
a dozen ways, was the standing dish at every journalist's table. If a
space needed filling, a very rude reply to some fatuous question might
be fitted in and called "Instance of Ibsen's Wit." The crop of fable was
enormous, and always seemed to find a gratified public, for whom nothing
was too absurd if it was supposed to illustrate "our great national
poet." Ibsen, meanwhile, did nothing at all. He never refuted a calumny,
never corrected a story, but he threw an ironic glance through his gold-
rimmed spectacles as he strolled down Carl Johan with his hands behind
his back.

His personal appearance, it must be admitted, formed a tempting basis
upon which to build a legend. His force of will had gradually
transfigured his bodily forms until he thoroughly looked the part which
he was expected to fill. At the age of thirty, to judge by the early
photographs, he had been a commonplace-looking little man, with a shock
of coal-black hair and a full beard, one of those hirsute types common
in the Teutonic races, which may prove, on inquiry, to be painter,
musician, or engraver, or possibly engineer, but less probably poet.
Then came the exile from Norway, and the residence in Rome, marked by a
little bust which stands before me now, where the beard is cut away into
two round whiskers so as to release the firm round chin, and the long
upper lip is clean-shaved. Here there is more liveliness, but still no
distinction. Then comes a further advance--a photograph (in which I feel
a tender pride, for it was made to please me) taken in Dresden (October
15, 1873), where the brow, perfectly smooth and white, has widened out,
the whiskers have become less chubby, and the small, scrutinizing eyes
absolutely sparkle with malice. Here, you say at last, is no poet,
indeed, but an unusually cultivated banker or surprisingly adroit
solicitor. Here the hair, retreating from the great forehead, begins to
curl and roll with a distinguished wildness; here the long mouth, like a
slit in the face, losing itself at each end in whisker, is a symbol of
concentrated will power, a drawer in some bureau, containing treasures,
firmly locked up.

Then came Munich, where Ibsen's character underwent very considerable
changes, or rather where its natural features became fixed and
emphasized. We are not left without precious indication of his gestures
and his looks at this time, when he was a little past the age of fifty.
Where so much has been extravagantly written, or described in a
journalistic key of false emphasis, great is the value of a quiet
portrait by one of those who has studied Ibsen most intelligently. It is
perhaps the most careful pen-sketch of him in any language.

Mr. William Archer, then, has given the following account of his first
meeting with Ibsen. It was in the Scandinavia Club, in Rome, at the
close of 1881:--

I had been about a quarter of an hour in the room, and was standing
close to the door, when it opened, and in glided an undersized man with
very broad shoulders and a large, leonine head, wearing a long black
frock-coat with very broad lapels, on one of which a knot of red ribbon
was conspicuous. I knew him at once, but was a little taken aback by his
low stature. In spite of all the famous instances to the contrary, one
instinctively associates greatness with size. His natural height was
even somewhat diminished by a habit of bending forward slightly from the
waist, begotten, no doubt, of short-sightedness, and the need to peer
into things. He moved very slowly and noiselessly, with his hands behind
his back--an unobtrusive personality, which would have been
insignificant had the head been strictly proportionate to the rest of
the frame. But there was nothing insignificant about the high and
massive forehead, crowned with a mane of (then) iron-gray hair, the
small and pale but piercing eyes behind the gold-rimmed spectacles, or
the thin lipped mouth, depressed at the corners into a curve indicative
of iron will, and set between bushy whiskers of the same dark gray as
the hair. The most cursory observer could not but recognize power and
character in the head; yet one would scarcely have guessed it to be the
power of a poet, the character of a prophet. Misled, perhaps, by the
ribbon at the buttonhole, and by an expression of reserve, almost of
secretiveness, in the lines of the tight-shut mouth, one would rather
have supposed one's self face to face with an eminent statesman or

With the further advance of years all that was singular in Ibsen's
appearance became accentuated. The hair and beard turned snowy white;
the former rose in a fierce sort of Oberland, the latter was kept square
and full, crossing underneath the truculent chin that escaped from it.
As Ibsen walked to a banquet in Christiania, he looked quite small under
the blaze of crosses, stars and belts which he displayed when he
unbuttoned the long black overcoat which enclosed him tightly. Never was
he seen without his hands behind him, and the poet Holger Drachmann
started a theory that as Ibsen could do nothing in the world but write,
the Muse tied his wrists together at the small of his back whenever they
were not actually engaged in composition. His regularity in all habits,
his mechanical ways, were the subject of much amusement. He must sit day
after day in the same chair, at the same table, in the same corner of
the cafe, and woe to the ignorant intruder who was accidentally
beforehand with him. No word was spoken, but the indignant poet stood at
a distance, glaring, until the stranger should be pierced with
embarrassment, and should rise and flee away.

Ibsen had the reputation of being dangerous and difficult of access. But
the evidence of those who knew him best point to his having been
phlegmatic rather than morose. He was "umbrageous," ready to be
discomposed by the action of others, but, if not vexed or startled, he
was elaborately courteous. He had a great dislike of any abrupt
movement, and if he was startled, he had the instinct of a wild animal,
to bite. It was a pain to him to have the chain of his thoughts suddenly
broken, and he could not bear to be addressed by chance acquaintances in
street or cafe*. When he was resident in n Munich and Dresden, the
difficulty of obtaining an interview with Ibsen was notorious. His wife
protected him from strangers, and if her defences broke down, and the
stranger contrived to penetrate the inner fastness, Ibsen might suddenly
appear in the doorway, half in a rage, half quivering with distress, and
say, in heartrending tones, "Bitte um Arbeitsruhe"--"Please let me work
in peace!" They used to tell how in Munich a rich baron, who was the
local Maecenas of letters, once bored Ibsen with a long recital of his
love affairs, and ended by saying, with a wonderful air of fatuity, "To
you, Master, I come, because of your unparalleled knowledge of the
female heart. In your hands I place my fate. Advise me, and I will
follow your advice." Ibsen snapped his mouth and glared through his
spectacles; then in a low voice of concentrated fury he said: "Get home,
and--go to bed!" whereat his noble visitor withdrew, clothed with
indignation as with a garment.

His voice was uniform, soft and quiet. The bitter things he said seemed
the bitterer for his gentle way of saying them. As his shape grew burly
and his head of hair enormous, the smallness of his extremities became
accentuated. His little hands were always folded away as he tripped upon
his tiny feet. His movements were slow and distrait. He wasted few words
on the current incidents of life, and I was myself the witness, in 1899,
of his _sang-froid_ under distressing circumstances. Ibsen was
descending a polished marble staircase when his feet slipped and he fell
swiftly, precipitately, downward. He must have injured himself severely,
he might have been killed, if two young gentlemen had not darted forward
below and caught him in their arms. Once more set the right way up,
Ibsen softly thanked his saviours with much frugality of phrase--"Tak,
mine Herrer!"--tenderly touched an abraded surface of his top-hat, and
marched forth homeward, unperturbed.

His silence had a curious effect on those in whose company he feasted;
it seemed to hypnotise them. The great Danish actress, Mrs. Heiberg,
herself the wittiest of talkers, said that to sit beside Ibsen was to
peer into a gold-mine and not catch a glitter from the hidden treasure.
But his dumbness was not so bitterly ironical as it was popularly
supposed to be. It came largely from a very strange passivity which made
definite action unwelcome to him. He could never be induced to pay
visits, yet he would urge his wife and his son to accept invitations,
and when they returned he would insist on being told every particular--
who was there, what was said, even what everybody wore. He never went to
a theatre or concert-room, except on the very rare occasions when he
could be induced to be present at the performance of his own plays. But
he was extremely fond of hearing about the stage. He had a memory for
little things and an observation of trifles which was extraordinary. He
thought it amazing that people could go into a room and not notice the
pattern of the carpet, the color of the curtains, the objects on the
walls; these being details which he could not help observing and
retaining. This trait comes out in his copious and minute stage

Ibsen was simplicity itself; no man was ever less affected. But his
character was closed; he was perpetually on the defensive. He was seldom
confidential, he never "gave way"; his emotions and his affections were
genuine, but his heart was a fenced city. He had little sense of
domestic comfort; his rooms were bare and neat, with no personal objects
save those which belonged to his wife. Even in the days of his wealth,
in the fine house on Drammensvej, there was a singular absence of
individuality about his dwelling rooms. They might have been prepared
for a rich American traveller in some hotel. Through a large portion of
his career in Germany he lived in furnished rooms, not because he did
not possess furniture of his own, which was stored up, but because he
paid no sort of homage to his own penates. He had friends, but he did
not cultivate them; he rather permitted them, at intervals, to cultivate
him. To Georg Brandes (March 6, 1870) he wrote: "Friends are a costly
luxury; and when one has devoted one's self wholly to a profession and a
mission here in life, there is no place left for friends." The very
charming story of Ibsen's throwing his arms round old Hans Christian
Andersen's neck, and forcing him to be genial and amiable, [Note:
_Samliv med Ibsen._] is not inconsistent with the general rule of
passivity and shyness which he preserved in matters of friendship.

Ibsen's reading was singularly limited. In his fine rooms on Drammensvej
I remember being struck by seeing no books at all, except the large
Bible which always lay at his side, and formed his constant study. He
disliked having his partiality for the Bible commented on, and if, as
would sometimes be the case, religious people expressed pleasure at
finding him deep in the sacred volume, Ibsen would roughly reply: "It is
only for the sake of the language." He was the enemy of anything which
seemed to approach cant and pretension, and he concealed his own views
as closely as he desired to understand the views of others. He possessed
very little knowledge of literature. The French he despised and
repudiated, although he certainly had studied Voltaire with advantage;
of the Italians he knew only Dante and of the English only Shakespeare,
both of whom he had studied in translations. In Danish he read and
reread Holberg, who throughout his life unquestionably remained Ibsen's
favorite author; he preserved a certain admiration for the Danish
classics of his youth: Heiberg, Hertz, Schack-Steffelt. In German, the
foreign language which he read most currently, he was strangely ignorant
of Schiller and Heine, and hostile to Goethe, although _Brand_ and _Peer
Gynt_ must owe something of their form to _Faust_. But the German poets
whom he really enjoyed were two dramatists of the age preceding his own,
Otto Ludwig (1813-65) and Friedrich Hebbel (1813-63). Each of these
playwrights had been occupied in making certain reforms, of a realistic
tendency, in the existing tradition of the stage, and each of them
dealt, before any one else in Europe did so, with "problems" on the
stage. These two German poets, but Hebbel particularly, passed from
romanticism to realism, and so on to mysticism, in a manner fascinating
to Ibsen, whom it is possible that they influenced. [Note: It would be
interesting to compare _Die Niebelungen_, the trilogy which Hebbel
published in 1862, in which the struggle between pagan and Christian
ideals of conduct is analyzed, with Ibsen's _Emperor and Galilean_.] He
remained, in later years, persistently ignorant of Zola, and of Tolstoi
he had read, with contemptuous disapproval, only some of the polemical
pamphlets. He said to me, in 1899, of the great Russian: "Tolstoi?--he
is mad!" with a screwing up of the features such as a child makes at the
thought of a black draught.

If he read at all, it was poetry. His indifference to music was
complete; he had, in fact, no ear whatever, and could not distinguish
one tune from another. His efforts to appreciate the music which Grieg
made for _Peer Gynt_ were pathetic. But for verse his sense was
exceedingly delicate, and the sound of poetry gave him acute pleasure.
At times, when his nerves were overstrained, he was fatigued by the riot
of rhymes which pursued him through his dreams, and which his memory
vainly strove to recapture. For academic philosophy and systems of
philosophic thought he had a great impatience. The vexed question of
what he owed to the eminent Danish philosopher, Soeren Kierkegaard, has
never been solved. Brandes has insisted, again and again, on the close
relation between _Brand_ and other works of Ibsen and the famous
_Either-Or_ of Kierkegaard; "it actually seems," he says, "as though
Ibsen had aspired to the honor of being called Kierkegaard's poet."
Ibsen, however, aspired to no such honor, and, while he never actually
denied the influence, the relation between him and the philosopher seems
to be much rather one of parallelism than of imitation. Ibsen was a
poetical psychologist of the first order, but he could not bring himself
to read the prose of the professional thinkers.

In his attitude both to philosophical and poetical literature Ibsen is
with such apparently remote figures as Guy de Maupassant and Shelley; in
his realism and his mysticism he is unrelated to immediate predecessors,
and has no wish to be a disciple of the dead. His extreme interest in
the observation of ethical problems is not identified with any curiosity
about what philosophical writers have said on similar subjects.
Weininger has pointed out that Ibsen's philosophy is radically the same
as that of Kant, yet there is no evidence that Ibsen had ever studied or
had even turned over the pages of the _Criticism of Pure Reason_. It is
not necessary to suppose that he had done so. The peculiar aspect of the
Ego as the principal and ultimately sole guide to truth was revealed
anew to the Norwegian poet, and references to Kant, or to Fichte, or to
Kierkegaard, seem, therefore, to be beside the mark. The watchword of
_Brand_, with his cry of "All or Nothing," his absolute repudiation of
compromise, was not a literary conception, but was founded, without the
help of books, on a profound contemplation of human nature, mainly, no
doubt, as Ibsen found it in himself. But in these days of the tyranny of
literature it is curious to meet with an author of the first rank who
worked without a library.

Ibsen's study of women was evidently so close, and what he writes about
them is usually so penetrating, that many legends have naturally sprung
up about the manner in which he gained his experience. Of these, most
are pure fiction. As a matter of fact, Ibsen was shy with women, and
unless they took the initiative, he contented himself with watching them
from a distance: and noting their ways in silence. The early flirtation
with Miss Rikke Hoist at Bergen, which takes so prominent a place in
Ibsen's story mainly because such incidents were extremely rare in it,
is a typical instance. If this young girl of sixteen had not taken the
matter into her own hands, running up the steps of the hotel and
flinging her posy of flowers into the face of the young poet, the
incident would have closed in his watching her down the street, while
the fire smouldered in his eyes. It was not until her fresh field-
blossoms had struck him on the cheek that he was emboldened to follow
her and to send her the lyrical roses and auriculas which live forever
in his poems. If we wish to note the difference of temperament, we have
but to contrast Ibsen's affair with Rikke Holst with Goethe's attitude
to Christiana Vulpius; in doing so, we bring the passive and the active
lover face to face.

Ibsen would gladly have married his flower of the field, a vision of
whose bright, untrammelled adolescence reappears again and again in his
works, and plainly in _The Master-Builder_. But he escaped a great
danger in failing to secure her as his wife, for Rikke Holst, when she
had lost her girlish freshness, would probably have had little character
and no culture to fall back upon. He waited, fortunately for his
happiness, until he secured Susannah Thoresen. Mrs. Ibsen, his faithful
guide, guardian and companion for half a century, will live among the
entirely successful wives of difficult men of genius. In the midst of
the spiteful gossip of Christiania she had to traverse her _via
dolorosa_, for it was part of the fun of the journalists to represent
this husband and wife as permanently alienated. That Ibsen was easy to
live with is not probable, but his wife not merely contrived to do it,
but by her watchfulness, her adroitness, and, when necessary, by her
firmness of decision, she smoothed the path for the great man whom she
adored, and who was to her a great wilful child to be cajoled and
circumvented. He was absolutely dependent on her, although he affected
amusing airs of independence; and if she absented herself, there were
soon cries in the house of "My Cat, My Cat!" the pet name by which he
called his wife. Of their domestic ways little is yet known in detail,
but everything can be imagined.

To the enigma of Ibsen's character it was believed that his private
correspondence might supply a key. His letters were collected and
arranged while he was still alive, but he was not any longer in a mental
condition which permitted him to offer any help in comment to his
editors. His son, Mr. Sigurd Ibsen, superintended the work, and two
careful bibliographers, Mr. Halvdan Koht and Mr. Julius Elias, carried
out the scheme in two volumes [Note: _Breve fra Henrik Ibsen_,
Gyldendalske Boghadel, 1904.], with the execution of which no fault can
be suggested. But the enigma remained unsolved; the sphinx spoke much,
but failed to answer the questions we had been asking. These letters, in
the first place, suffer from the fact that Ibsen was a relentless
destroyer of documents; they are all written by him; not one single
example had been preserved of the correspondence to which this is the
reply. Then Ibsen's letters, as revealers of the unseen mood, are
particularly unsatisfactory. With rare exceptions, he remains throughout
them tightly buttoned up in his long and legendary frock-coat. There is
no laughter and no tears in his letters; he is occasionally extremely
angry, and exudes drops of poison, like the captive scorpion which he
caught when he was in Italy, and loved to watch and tease. But there is
no self-abandonment, and very little emotion; the letters are
principally historical and critical, "finger-posts for commentators."
They give valuable information about the genius of his works, but they
tell almost less about his inner moral nature than do his imaginative

In his youth the scorpion in Ibsen's heart seems to have stung him
occasionally to acts which afterwards filled him with embarrassment. We
hear that in his Bergen days he sent to Lading, his fellow-teacher at
the theatre, a challenge of which, when the mood was over, he was
greatly ashamed. It is said that on another occasion, under the pressure
of annoyance, maddened with fear and insomnia, he sprang out of bed in
his shirt and tried to throw himself into the sea off one of the quays
in the harbor. Such performances were futile and ridiculous, and they
belong only to his youth. It seems certain that he schooled himself to
the suppression of such evidences of his anger, and that he did so
largely by shutting up within his breast all the fire that rose there.
The _Correspondence_--dark lantern as it is--seems to illuminate this
condition of things; we see before us Ibsen with his hands clenched, his
mouth tightly shut, rigid with determination not to "let himself go,"
the eyes alone blazing behind the gleaming spectacles.

An instance of his suppression of personal feeling may be offered. The
lengthiest of all Ibsen's published letters describes to Brandes (April
25, 1866) the suicide, at Rome, of a young Danish lawyer, Ludvig David,
of whom Ibsen had seen a good deal. The lad threw himself head-foremost
out of window, in a crisis of fever. Ibsen writes down all the minutest
details with feeling and refinement, but with as little sympathetic
emotion as if he was drawing up a report for the police. With this trait
may be compared his extreme interest in the detailed accounts of public
trials; he liked to read exactly what the prisoner said, and all the
evidence of the witnesses. In this Ibsen resembled Robert Browning,
whose curiosity about the small incidents surrounding a large event was
boundless. When Ibsen, in the course of such an investigation, found the
real purpose of some strange act dawn upon him, he exhibited an almost
childish pleasure; and this was doubled when the interpretation was one
which had not presented itself to the conventional legal authorities.

In everything connected with the execution of his own work there was no
limit to the pains which he was willing to take. His handwriting had
always been neat, but it was commonplace in his early years. The
exquisite calligraphy which he ultimately used on every occasion, and
the beauty of which was famous far and wide, he adopted deliberately
when he was in Rome in 1862. To the end of his life, although in the
latest years the letters lost, from the shakiness of his hand, some of
their almost Chinese perfection, he wrote his smallest notes in this
character. His zeal for elaboration as an artist led him to collect a
mass of consistent imaginary information about the personages in his
plays, who became to him absolutely real. It is related how, some one
happening to say that Nora, in _A Doll's House_, had a curious name,
Ibsen immediately replied, "Oh! her full name was Leonora; but that was
shortened to Nora when she was quite a little girl. Of course, you know,
she was terribly spoilt by her parents." Nothing of this is revealed in
the play itself, but Ibsen was familiar with the past history of all the
characters he created. All through his career he seems to have been long
haunted by the central notion of his pieces, and to have laid it aside,
sometimes for many years, until a set of incidents spontaneously
crystallized around it. When the medium in which he was going to work
became certain he would put himself through a long course of study in
the technical phraseology appropriate to the subject. No pains were too
great to prepare him for the final task.

When Mr. Archer visited Ibsen in the Harmonien Hotel at Saeby in 1887 he
extracted some valuable evidence from him as to his methods of

It seems that the _idea_ of a piece generally presents itself before the
characters and incidents, though, when I put this to him flatly, he
denied it. It seems to follow, however, from his saying that there is a
certain stage in the incubation of a play when it might as easily turn
into all essay as into a drama. He has to incarnate the ideas, as it
were, in character and incident, before the actual work of creation can
be said to have fairly begun. Different plans and ideas, he admits,
often flow together, and the play he ultimately produces is sometimes
very unlike the intention with which he set out. He writes and rewrites,
scribbles and destroys, an enormous amount before he makes the
exquisite fair copy he sends to Copenhagen.

He altered, as we have said, the printed text of his earlier works, in
order to bring them into harmony with his finished style, but he did not
do this, so far as I remember, after the publication of _Brand_. In the
case of all the dramas of his maturity he modified nothing when the work
had once been given to the world.



Having accustomed ourselves to regard Ibsen as a disturbing and
revolutionizing force, which met with the utmost resistance at the
outset, and was gradually accepted before the close of his career, we
may try to define what the nature of his revolt was, and what it was,
precisely, that he attacked. It may be roughly said that what peculiarly
roused the animosity of Ibsen was the character which has become
stereotyped in one order of ideas, good in themselves but gradually
outworn by use, and which cannot admit ideas of a new kind. Ibsen
meditated upon the obscurantism of the old regime until he created
figures like Rosmer, in whom the characteristics of that school are
crystallized. From the point of view which would enter sympathetically
into the soul of Ibsen and look out on the world from his eyes, there is
no one of his plays more valuable in its purely theoretic way than
_Rosmersholm_. It dissects the decrepitude of ancient formulas, it
surveys the ruin of ancient faiths. The curse of heredity lies upon
Rosmer, who is highly intelligent up to a certain point, but who can go
no further. Even if he is persuaded that a new course of action would be
salutary, he cannot move--he is bound in invisible chains. It is useless
to argue with Rosmer; his reason accepts the line of logic, but he
simply cannot, when it comes to action, cross the bridge where Beate
threw herself into the torrent.

But Ibsen had not the ardor of the fighting optimist. He was one who
"doubted clouds would break," who dreamed, since "right was worsted,
wrong would triumph." With Robert Browning he had but this one thing in
common, that both were fighters, both "held we fall to rise, are baffled
to fight better," but the dark fatalism of the Norwegian poet was in
other things in entire opposition to the sunshiny hopefulness of the
English one. Browning and Ibsen alike considered that the race must be
reformed periodically or it would die. The former anticipated reform as
cheerily as the sower expects harvest. Ibsen had no such happy
certainty. He was convinced of the necessity of breaking up the old
illusions, the imaginative call for revolt, but his faith wavered as to
the success of the new movements. The old order, in its resistance to
all change, is very strong. It may be shaken, but it is the work of a
blind Sampson, and no less, to bring it rattling to the ground. In
_Rosmersholm_, all the modern thought, all the vitality, all the
lucidity belong to Rebecca, but the decrepit formulas are stoutly
intrenched. In the end it is not the new idea who conquers; it is the
antique house, with its traditions, its avenging vision of white horses,
which breaks the too-clairvoyant Rebecca.

This doubt of the final success of intelligence, this obstinate question
whether, after all, as we so glibly intimate, the old order changeth at
all, whether, on the contrary, it has not become a Juggernaut car that
crushes all originality and independence out of action, this breathes
more and more plainly out of the progressing work of Ibsen. Hedda Gabler
condemns the old order, in its dulness, its stifling mediocrity, but she
is unable to adapt her energy to any wholesome system of new ideas, and
she sinks into deeper moral dissolution. She hates all that has been
done, yet can herself do nothing, and she represents, in symbol, that
detestable condition of spirit which cannot create, though it sees the
need of creation, and can only show the irritation which its own
sterility awakens within it by destruction. All Hedda can actually do,
to assert her energy, is to burn the MS. of Loevborg, and to kill herself
with General Gabler's pistol. The race must be reformed or die; the
Hedda Gablers which adorn its latest phase do best to die.

We have seen that Ibsen's theory was that love of self is the
fundamental principle of all activity. It is the instinct of self-
preservation and self-amelioration which leads to every manifestation of
revolt against stereotyped formulas of conduct. Between the excessive
ideality of Rebecca and the decadent sterility of Hedda Gabler comes
another type, perhaps more sympathetic than either, the master-builder
Solness. He, too, is led to condemn the old order, but in the act of
improving it he is overwhelmed upon his pinnacle, and swoons to death,
"dizzy, lost, yet unupbraiding." Ibsen's exact meaning in the detail of
these symbolic plays will long be discussed, but they repay the closest
and most reiterated study. Perhaps the most curious of all is _The Lady
from the Sea_, which has been examined from the technically
psychological view by a learned French philosopher, M. Jules de
Gaultier. For M. de Gaultier the interest which attaches to Ibsen's
conception of human life, with its conflicting instincts and
responsibilities, is more fully centred in _The Lady from the Sea_ than
in any other of his productions.

The theory of the French writer is that Ibsen's constant aim is to
reconcile and to conciliate the two biological hypotheses which have
divided opinion in the nineteenth century, and which are known
respectively by the names of Cuvier and Lamarck; namely, that of the
invariability of species and that of the mutability of organic forms. In
the reconciliation of these hypotheses Ibsen finds the only process
which is truly encouraging to life. According to this theory, all the
trouble, all the weariness, all the waste of moral existences around us
comes from the neglect of one or other of these principles, and true
health, social or individual, is impossible without the harmonious
application of them both. According to this view, the apotheosis of
Ibsen's genius, or at least the most successful elucidation of his
scheme of ideological drama, is reached in the scene in _The Lady from
the Sea_ where Wangel succeeds in winning the heart of Ellida back from
the fascination of the Stranger. It is certainly in this mysterious and
strangely attractive play that Ibsen has insisted, more than anywhere
else, on the necessity of taking physiology into consideration in every
discussion of morals. He refers, like a zooelogist, to the laws which
regulate the formation and the evolution of species, and the decision of
Ellida, on which so much depends, is an amazing example of the
limitation of the power of change produced by heredity. The
extraordinary ingenuity of M. de Gaultier's analysis of this play
deserves recognition; whether it can quite be accepted, as embraced by
Ibsen's intention, may be doubtful. At the same time, let us recollect
that, however subtle our refinements become, the instinct of Ibsen was
probably subtler still.

In 1850, when Ibsen first crept forward, with the glimmering taper of
his Catilina, there was but one person in the world who fancied that the
light might pass from lamp to lamp and in half a century form an
important part of the intellectual illumination of Europe. The one
person who did suspect it was, of course, Ibsen himself. Against all
probability and common-sense, this apothecary's assistant, this ill-
educated youth who had just been plucked in his preliminary examination,
who positively was, and remained, unable to pass the first tests and
become a student at the University, maintained in his inmost soul the
belief that he was born to be "a king of thought." The impression is
perhaps not uncommon among ill-educated lads; what makes the case
unique, and defeats our educational formulas, is that it happened to be
true. But the impact of Ibsen with the social order of his age was
unlucky, we see, from the first; it was perhaps more unlucky than that
of any other great man of the same class with whose biography we have
been made acquainted. He was at daggers drawn with all that was
successful and respectable and "nice" from the outset of his career
until near the end of it.

Hence we need not be surprised if in the tone of his message to the
world there is something acrimonious, something that tastes in the mouth
like aloes. He prepared a dose for a sick world, and he made it as
nauseous and astringent as he could, for he was not inclined to be one
of those physicians who mix jam with their julep. There was no other
writer of genius in the nineteenth century who was so bitter in dealing
with human frailty as Ibsen was. By the side of his cruel clearness the
satire of Carlyle is bluster, the diatribes of Leopardi shrill and thin.
All other reformers seem angry and benevolent by turns, Ibsen is
uniformly and impartially stern. That he probed deeper into the problems
of life than any other modern dramatist is acknowledged, but it was his
surgical calmness which enabled him to do it. The problem-plays of
Alexandre Dumas _fils_ flutter with emotion, with prejudice and pardon.
But Ibsen, without impatience, examines under his microscope all the
protean forms of organic social life and coldly draws up his diagnosis
like a report. We have to think of him as thus ceaselessly occupied. We
have seen that, long before a sentence was written, he had invented and
studied, in its remotest branches, the life-history of the characters
who were to move in his play. Nothing was unknown to him of their
experience, and for nearly two years, like a coral-insect, he was
building up the scheme of them in silence. Odd little objects, fetiches
which represented people to him, stood arranged on his writing table,
and were never to be touched. He gazed at them until, as if by some feat
of black magic, he turned them into living persons, typical and yet

We have recorded that the actual writing down of the dialogue was often
swift and easy, when the period of incubation was complete. Each of
Ibsen's plays presupposes a long history behind it; each starts like an
ancient Greek tragedy, in the full process of catastrophe. This method
of composition was extraordinary, was perhaps, in modern times,
unparalleled. It accounted in measure for the coherency, the
inevitability, of all the detail, but it also accounted for some of the
difficulties which meet us in the task of interpretation. Ibsen calls
for an expositor, and will doubtless give occupation to an endless
series of scholiasts. They will not easily exhaust their theme, and to
the last something will escape, something will defy their most careful
examination. It is not disrespectful to his memory to claim that Ibsen
sometimes packed his stuff too closely. Criticism, when it marvels most
at the wonder of his genius, is constrained to believe that he sometimes
threw too much of his soul into his composition, that he did not stand
far enough away from it always to command its general effect. The
result, especially in the later symbolical plays, is too vibratory, and
excites the spectator too much.

One very curious example of Ibsen's minute care is found in the
copiousness of his stage directions. Later playwrights have imitated him
in this, and we have grown used to it; but thirty years ago such
minuteness seemed extravagant and needless. As a fact, it was essential
to the absolutely complete image which Ibsen desired to produce. The
stage directions in his plays cannot be "skipped" by any reader who
desires to follow the dramatist's thought step by step without losing
the least link. These notes of his intention will be of ever-increasing
value as the recollection of his personal wishes is lost. In 1899 Ibsen
remarked to me that it was almost useless for actors nowadays to try to
perform the comedies of Holberg, because there were no stage directions
and the tradition was lost. Of his own work, fortunately, that can never
be said. Dr. Verrall, in his brilliant and penetrating studies of the
Greek Tragedies, has pointed out more than once the "undesigned and
unforeseen defect with which, in studying ancient drama, we must
perpetually reckon," namely, the loss of the action and of the
equivalent stage directions. It is easy to imagine "what problems
Shakespeare would present if he were printed like the _Poetae Scenici
Graeci_," and not more difficult to realize how many things there would
be to puzzle us in _Ghosts_ and _The Wild Duck_ if we possessed nothing
but the bare text.

The body of work so carefully conceived, so long maintained, so
passionately executed, was far too disturbing in its character to be
welcome at first. In the early eighties the name of Ibsen was loathed in
Norway, and the attacks on him which filled the press were often of an
extravagant character. At the present moment any one conversant with
Norwegian society who will ask a priest or a schoolmaster, an officer or
a doctor, what has been the effect of Ibsen's influence, will be
surprised at the unanimity of the reply. Opinions may differ as to the
attractiveness of the poet's art or of its skill, but there is an almost
universal admission of its beneficial tendency. Scarcely will a voice be
found to demur to the statement that Ibsen let fresh air and light into
the national life, that he roughly but thoroughly awakened the national
conscience, that even works like _Ghosts_, which shocked, and works like
_Rosmersholm_, which insulted the prejudices of his countrymen, were
excellent in their result. The conquest of Norway by this dramatist, who
reviled and attacked and abandoned his native land, who railed at every
national habit and showed a worm at the root of every national
tradition, is amazing. The fierce old man lived long enough to be
accompanied to his grave "to the noise of the mourning of a nation," and
he who had almost starved in exile to be conducted to the last resting
place by a Parliament and a King.

It must always be borne in mind that, although Ibsen's appeal is to the
whole world--his determination to use prose aiding him vastly in this
dissemination--yet it is to Norway that he belongs, and it is at home
that he is best understood. No matter how acrid his tone, no matter how
hard and savage the voice with which he prophesied, the accord between
his country and himself was complete long before the prophet died. As he
walked about, the strange, picturesque little old man, in the streets of
Christiania, his fellow-citizens gazed at him with a little fear, but
with some affection and with unbounded reverence. They understood at
last what the meaning of his message had been, and how closely it
applied to themselves, and how much the richer and healthier for it
their civic atmosphere had become. They would say, as the soul of Dante
said in the _New Life_:--

e costui Che viene a consolar la nostra mente, Ed e la sua tanto
possente, Ch'altro pensier non lascia star con nui.

No words, surely, could better express the intensity with which Ibsen
had pressed his moral quality, his _virtu_, upon the Norwegian
conscience, not halting in his pursuit till he had captured it and had
banished from it all other ideals of conduct. No one who knows will
doubt that the recent events in which Norway has taken so chivalric, and
at the same time so winning and gracious, an attitude in the eyes of the
world, owe not a little to their being the work of a generation nurtured
in that new temper of mind, that _spiritel nuovo d'amore_ which was
inculcated by the whole work of Ibsen.

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