Henrik Ibsen, by Edmund Gosse

Chapter II

Early Influences

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 Ibsen.

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 stage.

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 texts?

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 Oehlenschläger. It might be fantastically held that the leading romantic luminary of Scandinavia withdrew on purpose to make room for his realistic successor, since Oehlenschläger’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 Oehlenschläger 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 Oehlenschläger’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. Strömberg, 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 Oehlenschläger, 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 régime, 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 Wergeland’s —

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 taste.

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, Björnson, 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 Björnson there stretched a period of fourteen years, yet Björnson was a student before either Ibsen or Vinje. That Ibsen immediately formed Björnson’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 Kaempehöien (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 débutante, 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 Kaempehöien 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 £70 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, Oehlenschläger 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 Molière 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 became.

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.]


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:58