[Etext producer's note: Chapter sub-headings in SECOND LONGER STAY ABROAD are misnumbered in the original hard copy, skipping from VII to IX.]
RECOLLECTIONS OF MY CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
AUTHOR OF "WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE," ETC.
DISCOVERING THE WORLD
First Impressions—Going to Bed—My Name—Fresh Elements—School—The King—Town and Country—The King's Gardens—The Friendly World—Inimical Forces—The World Widens—The Theatre—Progress—Warlike Instincts— School Adventures—Polite Accomplishments—My Relations
Our House—Its Inmates—My Paternal Grandfather—My Maternal Grandfather —School and Home—Farum—My Instructors—A Foretaste of Life—Contempt for the Masters—My Mother—The Mystery of Life—My First Glimpse of Beauty—The Head Master—Religion—My Standing in School—Self-esteem —An Instinct for Literature—Private Reading—Heine's Buch der Lieder—A Broken Friendship
School Boy Fancies—Religion—Early Friends—Daemonic Theory—A West Indian Friend—My Acquaintance Widens—Politics—The Reactionary Party—The David Family—A Student Society—An Excursion to Slesvig— Temperament—The Law—Hegel—Spinoza—Love for Humanity—A Religious Crisis—Doubt—Personal Immortality—Renunciation
Julius Lange—A New Master—Inadaption to the Law—The University Prize Competition—An Interview with the Judges—Meeting of Scandinavian Students—The Paludan-Muellers—Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson—Magdalene Thoresen—The Gold Medal—The Death of King Frederik VII—The Political Situation—My Master of Arts Examination—War—Admissus cum laude praecipua—Academical Attention—Lecturing—Music—Nature—A Walking Tour—In Print—Philosophical Life in Denmark—Death of Ludwig David— Stockholm
FIRST LONG SOJOURN ABROAD
My Wish to See Paris—Dualism in our Modern Philosophy—A Journey—Impressions of Paris—Lessons in French—Mademoiselle Mathilde —Taine
Feud in Danish Literature—Riding—Youthful Longings—On the Rack—My First Living Erotic Reality—An Impression of the Miseries of Modern Coercive Marriage—Researches on the Comic—Dramatic Criticism—A Trip to Germany—Johanne Louise Heiberg—Magdalene Thoresen—Rudolph Bergh— The Sisters Spang—A Foreign Element—The Woman Subject—Orla Lehmann— M. Goldschmidt—Public Opposition—A Letter from Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson— Hard Work
SECOND LONGER STAY ABROAD
Hamburg—My Second Fatherland—Ernest Hello—Le Docteur Noir— Taine—Renan—Marcelin—Gleyre—Taine's Friendship—Renan at Home— Philarete Chasles' Reminiscences—Le Theatre Francais—Coquelin —Bernhardt—Beginnings of Main Currents—The Tuileries—John Stuart Mill—London—Philosophical Studies—London and Paris Compared— Antonio Gallenga and His Wife—Don Juan Prim—Napoleon III—London Theatres—Gladstone and Disraeli in Debate—Paris on the Eve of War— First Reverses—Flight from Paris—Geneva, Switzerland—Italy—Pasquale Villari—Vinnie Ream's Friendship—Roman Fever—Henrik Ibsen's Influence—Scandinavians in Rome
Italian Landladies—The Carnival—The Moccoli Feast—Filomena's Views
SECOND LONGER STAY ABROAD Continued
Reflections on the Future of Denmark—Conversations with Giuseppe Saredo—Frascati—Native Beauty—New Susceptibilities—Georges Noufflard's Influence—The Sistine Chapel and Michael Angelo—Raphael's Loggias—A Radiant Spring
DISCOVERING THE WORLD
First Impressions—Going to Bed—My Name—Fresh Elements—School—The King—Town and Country—The King's Gardens—The Friendly World—Inimical Forces—The World Widens—The Theatre—Progress—Warlike Instincts— School Adventures—Polite Accomplishments—My Relations.
He was little and looked at the world from below. All that happened, went on over his head. Everyone looked down to him.
But the big people possessed the enviable power of lifting him to their own height or above it. It might so happen that suddenly, without preamble, as he lay on the floor, rummaging and playing about and thinking of nothing at all, his father or a visitor would exclaim: "Would you like to see the fowls of Kjoege?" And with the same he would feel two large hands placed over his ears and the arms belonging to them would shoot straight up into the air. That was delightful. Still, there was some disappointment mingled with it. "Can you see Kjoege now?" was a question he could make nothing of. What could Kjoege be? But at the other question: "Do you see the fowls?" he vainly tried to see something or other. By degrees he understood that it was only a phrase, and that there was nothing to look for.
It was his first experience of empty phrases, and it made an impression.
It was just as great fun, though, when the big people said to him: "Would you like to be a fat lamb? Let us play at fat lamb." He would be flung over the man's shoulder, like a slaughtered lamb, and hang there, or jump up and ride with his legs round the man's hips, then climb valiantly several steps higher, get his legs round his shoulders, and behold! be up on the giddy height! Then the man would take him round the waist, swing him over, and after a mighty somersault in the air, he would land unscathed on his feet upon the floor. It was a composite kind of treat, of three successive stages: first came the lofty and comfortable seat, then the more interesting moment, with a feeling, nevertheless, of being on the verge of a fall, and then finally the jump, during which everything was upside down to him.
But, too, he could take up attitudes down on the floor that added to his importance, as it were, and obliged the grown-up people to look at him. When they said: "Can you stand like the Emperor Napoleon?" he would draw himself up, bring one foot a little forward, and cross his arms like the little figure on the bureau.
He knew well enough just how he had to look, for when his stout, broad- shouldered Swedish uncle, with the big beard and large hands, having asked his parents about the little fellow's accomplishments, placed himself in position with his arms crossed and asked: "Who am I like?" he replied: "You are like Napoleon's lackey." To his surprise, but no small delight, this reply elicited a loud exclamation of pleasure from his mother, usually so superior and so strict, and was rewarded by her, who seldom caressed, with a kiss.
The trying moment of the day was when he had to go to bed. His parents were extraordinarily prejudiced about bedtime, just when he was enjoying himself most. When visitors had arrived and conversation was well started—none the less interesting to him because he understood scarcely half of what was said—it was: "Now, to bed!"
But there were happy moments after he was in bed, too. When Mother came in and said prayers with him, and he lay there safely fenced in by the tall trellis-work, each bar of which, with its little outward bend in the middle, his fingers knew so well, it was impossible to fall out through them. It was very pleasant, the little bed with its railing, and he slept in it as he has never slept since.
It was nice, too, to lie on his back in bed and watch his parents getting ready to go to the theatre, Father in a shining white shirt and with his curly hair beautifully parted on one side Mother with a crepe shawl over her silk dress, and light gloves that smelled inviting as she came up to say goodnight and good-bye.
I was always hearing that I was pale and thin and small. That was the impression I made on everyone. Nearly thirty years afterwards an observant person remarked to me: "The peculiarity about your face is its intense paleness." Consequently I looked darker than I was; my brown hair was called black.
Pale and thin, with thick brown hair, difficult hair. That was what the hairdresser said—Mr. [Footnote: Danish Herre.] Alibert, who called Father Erre: "Good-morning, Erre," "Good-bye, Erre." And all his assistants, though as Danish as they could be, tried to say the same. Difficult hair! "There is a little round place on his crown where the hair will stand up, if he does not wear it rather long," said Mr. Alibert.
I was forever hearing that I was pale and small, pale in particular. Strangers would look at me and say: "He is rather pale." Others remarked in joke: "He looks rather green in the face." And so soon as they began talking about me the word "thin" would be uttered.
I liked my name. My mother and my aunts said it in such a kindly way. And the name was noteworthy because it was so difficult to pronounce. No boy or girl smaller than I could pronounce it properly; they all said Gayrok.
I came into the world two months too soon, I was in such a hurry. My mother was alone and had no help. When the midwife came I had arrived already. I was so feeble that the first few years great care had to be taken of me to keep me alive. I was well made enough, but not strong, and this was the source of many vexations to me during those years when a boy's one desire and one ambition is to be strong.
I was not clumsy, very agile if anything; I learnt to be a good high jumper, to climb and run well, was no contemptible wrestler, and by degrees became an expert fighter. But I was not muscularly strong, and never could be compared with those who were so.
The world, meanwhile, was so new, and still such an unknown country. About that time I was making the discovery of fresh elements.
I was not afraid of what I did not like. To overcome dislike of a thing often satisfied one's feeling of honour.
"Are you afraid of the water?" asked my brisk uncle from Fuenen one day. I did not know exactly what there was to be afraid of, but answered unhesitatingly: "No." I was five years old; it was Summer, consequently rainy and windy.
I undressed in the bathing establishment; the old sailor fastened a cork belt round my waist. It was odiously wet, as another boy had just taken it off, and it made me shiver. Uncle took hold of me round the waist, tossed me out into the water, and taught me to take care of myself. Afterwards I learnt to swim properly with the help of a long pole fastened to the cork belt and held by the bathing-man, but my familiarity with the salt element dated from the day I was flung out into it like a little parcel. Without by any means distinguishing myself in swimming, any more than in any other athletic exercise, I became a very fair swimmer, and developed a fondness for the water and for bathing which has made me very loth, all my life, to miss my bath a single day.
There was another element that I became acquainted with about the same time, and which was far more terrifying than the water. I had never seen it uncontrolled: fire.
One evening, when I was asleep in the nursery, I was awaked by my mother and her brother, my French uncle. The latter said loudly: "We must take the children out of bed."
I had never been awaked in the night before. I opened my eyes and was thrilled by a terror, the memory of which has never been effaced. The room was brightly illuminated without any candle having been lighted, and when I turned my head I saw a huge blaze shoot up outside the window. Flames crackled and sparks flew. It was a world of fire. It was a neighbouring school that was burning. Uncle Jacob put his hand under my "night gown," a long article of clothing with a narrow cotton belt round the waist, and said laughing: "Do you have palpitations of the heart when you are afraid?" I had never heard of palpitations of the heart before. I felt about with my hand and for the first time found my heart, which really was beating furiously. Small though I was, I asked the date and was told that it was the 25th of November; the fright I had had was so great that I never forgot this date, which became for me the object of a superstitious dread, and when it drew near the following year, I was convinced that it would bring me fresh misfortune. This was in so far the case that next year, at exactly the same time, I fell ill and was obliged to spend some months in bed.
I was too delicate to be sent to school at five years old, like other boys. My doctor uncle said it was not to be thought of. Since, however, I could not grow up altogether in ignorance, it was decided that I should have a tutor of my own.
So a tutor was engaged who quickly won my unreserved affection and made me very happy. The tutor came every morning and taught me all I had to learn. He was a tutor whom one could ask about anything under the sun and he would always know. First, there was the ABC. That was mastered in a few lessons. I could read before I knew how to spell. Then came writing and arithmetic and still more things. I was soon so far advanced that the tutor could read Frithiof's Saga aloud to me in Swedish and be tolerably well understood; and, indeed, he could even take a short German extract, and explain that I must say ich and not ish, as seemed so natural.
Mr. Voltelen was a poor student, and I quite understood from the conversation of my elders what a pleasure and advantage it was to him to get a cup of coffee extra and fine white bread and fresh butter with it every day. On the stroke of half-past ten the maid brought it in on a tray. Lessons were stopped, and the tutor ate and drank with a relish that I had never seen anyone show over eating and drinking before. The very way in which he took his sugar—more sugar than Father or Mother took—and dissolved it in the coffee before he poured in the cream, showed what a treat the cup of coffee was to him.
Mr. Voltelen had a delicate chest, and sometimes the grown-up people said they were afraid he could not live. There was a report that a rich benefactor, named Nobel, had offered to send him to Italy, that he might recover in the warmer climate of the South. It was generous of Mr. Nobel, and Mr. Voltelen was thinking of starting. Then he caught another complaint. He had beautiful, brown, curly hair. One day he stayed away; he had a bad head, he had contracted a disease in his hair from a dirty comb at a bathing establishment. And when he came again I hardly recognised him. He wore a little dark wig. He had lost every hair on his head, even his eyebrows had disappeared. His face was of a chalky pallor, and he coughed badly too.
Why did not God protect him from consumption? And how could God find it in His heart to give him the hair disease when he was so ill already? God was strange. He was Almighty, but He did not use His might to take care of Mr. Voltelen, who was so good and so clever, and so poor that he needed help more than anyone else. Mr. Nobel was kinder to Mr. Voltelen than God was. God was strange, too, in other ways; He was present everywhere, and yet Mother was cross and angry if you asked whether He was in the new moderator lamp, which burnt in the drawing-room with a much brighter light than the two wax candles used to give. God knew everything, which was very uncomfortable, since it was impossible to hide the least thing from Him. Strangest of all was it when one reflected that, if one knew what God thought one was going to say, one could say something else and His omniscience would be foiled. But of course one did not know what He thought would come next. The worst of all, though, was that He left Mr. Voltelen in the lurch so.
Some flashes of terrestrial majesty and magnificence shone on my modest existence. Next after God came the King. As I was walking along the street one day with my father, he exclaimed: "There is the King!" I looked at the open carriage, but saw nothing noticeable there, so fixed my attention upon the coachman, dressed in red, and the footman's plumed hat. "The King wasn't there!" "Yes, indeed he was—he was in the carriage." "Was that the King? He didn't look at all remarkable—he had no crown on." "The King is a handsome man," said Father. "But he only puts on his state clothes when he drives to the Supreme Court."
So we went one day to see the King drive to the Supreme Court. A crowd of people were standing waiting at the Naval Church. Then came the procession. How splendid it was! There were runners in front of the horses, with white silk stockings and regular flower-pots on their heads; I had never seen anything like it; and there were postillions riding on the horses in front of the carriage. I quite forgot to look inside the carriage and barely caught a glimpse of the King. And that glimpse made no impression upon me. That he was Christian VIII. I did not know; he was only "the King."
Then one day we heard that the King was dead, and that he was to lie in state twice. These lyings in state were called by forced, unnatural names, Lit de Parade and Castrum doloris; I heard them so often that I learnt them and did not forget them. On the Lit de Parade the body of the King himself lay outstretched; that was too sad for a little boy. But Castrum doloris was sheer delight, and it really was splendid. First you picked your way for a long time along narrow corridors, then high up in the black-draped hall appeared the coffin covered with black velvet, strewn with shining, twinkling stars. And a crowd of candles all round. It was the most magnificent sight I had ever beheld.
I was a town child, it is true, but that did not prevent me enjoying open-air life, with plants and animals. The country was not so far from town then as it is now. My paternal grandfather had a country-house a little way beyond the North gate, with fine trees and an orchard; it was the property of an old man who went about in high Wellington boots and had a regular collection of wax apples and pears—such a marvellous imitation that the first time you saw them you couldn't help taking a bite out of one. Driving out to the country-house in the Summer, the carriage would begin to lumber and rumble as soon as you passed through the North gate, and when you came back you had to be careful to come in before the gate was closed.
We lived in the country ourselves, for that matter, out in the western suburb, near the Black Horse (as later during the cholera Summer), or along the old King's Road, where there were beautiful large gardens. In one such a huge garden I stood one Summer day by my mother's side in front of a large oblong bed with many kinds of flowers. "This bed shall be yours," said Mother, and happy was I. I was to rake the paths round it myself and tend and water the plants in it. I was particularly interested to notice that a fresh set of flowers came out for every season of the year. When the asters and dahlias sprang into bloom the Summer was over. Still the garden was not the real country. The real country was at Inger's, my dear old nurse's. She was called my nurse because she had looked after me when I was small. But she had not fed me, my mother had done that.
Inger lived in a house with fields round it near High Taastrup. There was no railway there then, and you drove out with a pair of horses. It was only later that the wonderful railway was laid as far as Roskilde. So it was an unparalleled event for the children, to go by train to Valby and back. Their father took them. Many people thought that it was too dangerous. But the children cared little for the danger. And it went off all right and they returned alive.
Inger had a husband whose name was Peer. He was nice, but had not much to say. Inger talked far more and looked after everything. They had a baby boy named Niels, but he was in the cradle and did not count. Everything at Inger and Peer's house was different from the town. There was a curious smell in the rooms, with their chests of drawers and benches, not exactly disagreeable, but unforgettable. They had much larger dishes of curds and porridge than you saw in Copenhagen. They did not put the porridge or the curds on plates. Inger and Peer and their little visitor sat round the milk bowl or the porridge dish and put their spoons straight into it. But the guest had a spoon to himself. They did not drink out of separate glasses, but he had a glass to himself.
It was jolly in the country. A cow and little pigs to play with and milk warm from the cow. Inger used to churn, and there was buttermilk to drink. It was great fun for a little Copenhagen boy to roll about in the hay and lie on the hay-waggons when they were driven home. And every time I came home from a visit to Inger Mother would laugh at me the moment I opened my mouth, for, quite unconsciously, I talked just like Inger and the other peasants.
In the wood attic, a little room divided from the main garret by wooden bars, in which a quantity of split firewood and more finely chopped fir sticks, smelling fresh and dry, are piled up in obliquely arranged heaps, a little urchin with tightly closed mouth and obstinate expression has, for more than two hours, been bearing his punishment of being incarcerated there.
Several times already his anxious mother has sent the housemaid to ask whether he will beg pardon yet, and he has only shaken his head. He is hungry; for he was brought up here immediately after school. But he will not give in, for he is in the right. It is not his fault that the grown- up people cannot understand him. They do not know that what he is suffering now is nothing to what he has had to suffer. It is true that he would not go with the nurse and his little brother into the King's Gardens. But what do Father and Mother know of the ignominy of hearing all day from the other schoolboys: "Oh! so you are fetched by the nurse!" or "Here comes your nurse to fetch you!" He is overwhelmed with shame at the thought of the other boys' scorn. She is not his nurse, she is his brother's. He could find his way home well enough, but how can he explain to the other boys that his parents will not trust him with the little one yet, and so send for them both at the same time! Now there shall be an end to it; he will not go to the King's Gardens with the nurse again.
It is the housemaid, once more, come to ask if he will not beg pardon now. In vain. Everything has been tried with him, scolding, and even a box on the ear; but he has not been humbled. Now he stands here; he will not give in.
But this time his kind mother has not let the girl come empty-handed. His meal is passed through the bars and he eats it. It is so much the easier to hold out. And some hours later he is brought down and put to bed without having apologised.
Before I had so painfully become aware of the ignominy of going with the maid to the King's Gardens, I had been exceedingly fond of the place. What gardens they were for hide and seek, and puss in the corner! What splendid alleys for playing Paradise, with Heaven and Hell! To say nothing of playing at horses! A long piece of tape was passed over and under the shoulders of two playfellows, and you drove them with a tight rein and a whip in your hand. And if it were fun in the old days when I only had tape for reins, it was ever so much greater fun now that I had had a present from my father of splendid broad reins of striped wool, with bells, that you could hear from far enough when the pair came tearing down the wide avenues.
I was fond of the gardens, which were large and at that time much larger than they are now; and of the trees, which were many, at that time many more than now. And every part of the park had its own attraction. The Hercules pavilion was mysterious; Hercules with the lion, instructive and powerful. A pity that it had become such a disgrace to go there!
I had not known it before. One day, not so long ago, I had felt particularly happy there. I had been able for a long time to read correctly in my reading-book and write on my slate. But one day Mr. Voltelen had said to me: "You ought to learn to read writing." And from that moment forth my ambition was set upon reading writing, an idea which had never occurred to me before. When my tutor first showed me writing, it had looked to me much as cuneiform inscriptions and hieroglyphics would do to ordinary grown-up people, but by degrees I managed to recognize the letters I was accustomed to in this their freer, more frivolous disguise, running into one another and with their regularity broken up. In the first main avenue of the King's Gardens I had paced up and down, in my hand the thin exercise-book, folded over in the middle,—the first book of writing I had ever seen,—and had already spelt out the title, "Little Red Riding-Hood." The story was certainly not very long; still, it filled several of the narrow pages, and it was exciting to spell out the subject, for it was new to me. In triumphant delight at having conquered some difficulties and being on the verge of conquering others, I kept stopping in front of a strange nurse-girl, showed her the book, and asked: "Can you read writing?"
Twenty-three years later I paced up and down the same avenue as a young man, once more with a book of manuscript, that I was reading, in my hand. I was fixing my first lecture in my mind, and I repeated it over and over again to myself until I knew it almost by heart, only to discover, to my disquiet, a few minutes later, that I had forgotten the whole, and that was bad enough; for what I wished to say in my lecture were things that I had very much at heart.
The King's Garden continued to occupy its place in my life. Later on, for so many years, when Spring and Summer passed by and I was tied to the town, and pined for trees and the scent of flowers, I used to go to the park, cross it obliquely to the beds near the beautiful copper beeches, by the entrance from the ramparts, where there were always flowers, well cared for and sweet scented. I caressed them with my eyes, and inhaled their perfume leaning forward over the railings.
But just now I preferred to be shut up in the wood-loft to being fetched by the nurse from school to the Gardens. It was horrid, too, to be obliged to walk so slowly with the girl, even though no longer obliged to take hold of her skirt. How I envied the boys contemptuously called street boys! They could run in and out of the courtyard, shout and make as much noise as they liked, quarrel and fight out in the street, and move about freely. I knew plenty of streets. If sent into the town on an errand I should be able to find my way quite easily.
And at last I obtained permission. Happy, happy day! I flew off like an arrow. I could not possibly have walked. And I ran home again at full galop. From that day forth I always ran when I had to go out alone. Yes, and I could not understand how grown-up people and other boys could walk. I tried a few steps to see, but impatience got the better of me and off I flew. It was fine fun to run till you positively felt the hurry you were in, because you hit your back with your heels at every step.
My father, though, could run very much faster. It was impossible to compete with him on the grass. But it was astonishing how slow old people were. Some of them could not run up a hill and called it trying to climb stairs.
On the whole, the world was friendly. It chiefly depended on whether one were good or not. If not, Karoline was especially prone to complain and Father and Mother were transformed into angry powers. Father was, of course, a much more serious power than Mother, a more distant, more hard-handed power. Neither of them, in an ordinary way, inspired any terror. They were in the main protecting powers.
The terrifying power at this first stage was supplied by the bogey-man. He came rushing suddenly out of a corner with a towel in front of his face and said: "Bo!" and you jumped. If the towel were taken away there soon emerged a laughing face from behind it. That at once made the bogey-man less terrible. And perhaps that was the reason Maren's threat: "Now, if you are not good, the bogey-man will come and take you," quickly lost its effect. And yet it was out of this same bogey-man, so cold-bloodedly shaken off, that at a later stage a personality with whom there was no jesting developed, one who was not to be thrust aside in the same way, a personality for whom you felt both fear and trembling— the Devil himself.
But it was only later that he revealed himself to my ken. It was not he who succeeded first to the bogey-man. It was—the police. The police was the strange and dreadful power from which there was no refuge for a little boy. The police came and took him away from his parents, away from the nursery and the drawing-room, and put him in prison.
In the street the police wore a blue coat and had a large cane in his hand. Woe to the one who made the acquaintance of that cane!
My maternal grandfather was having his warehouse done up, a large warehouse, three stories high. Through doors at the top, just under the gable in the middle, there issued a crane, and from it hung down a tremendously thick rope at the end of which was a strong iron hook. By means of it the large barrels of sky-blue indigo, which were brought on waggons, were hoisted. Inside the warehouse the ropes passed through every storey, through holes in the floors. If you pulled from the inside at the one or the other of the ropes, the rope outside with the iron crook went up or down.
In the warehouse you found Jens; he was a big, strong, taciturn, majestic man with a red nose and a little pipe in his mouth, and his fingers were always blue from the indigo. If you had made sure of Jens' good-will, you could play in the warehouse for hours at a time, roll the empty barrels about, and—which was the greatest treat of all—pull the ropes. This last was a delight that kept all one's faculties at extreme tension. The marvellous thing about it was that you yourself stood inside the house and pulled, and yet at the same time you could watch through the open doors in the wall how the rope outside went up or down. How it came about was an enigma. But you had the refreshing consciousness of having accomplished something—saw the results of your efforts before your eyes.
Nor could I resist the temptation of pulling the ropes when Jens was out and the warehouse empty. My little brother had whooping cough, so I could not live at home, but had to be at my grandfather's. One day Jens surprised me and pretty angry he was. "A nice little boy you are! If you pull the rope at a wrong time you will cut the expensive rope through, and it cost 90 Rigsdaler! What do you think your grandfather will say?" [Footnote: A Rigsdaler was worth about two shillings and threepence, English money. It is a coin that has been out of use about 40 years.]
It was, of course, very alarming to think that I might destroy such a valuable thing. Not that I had any definite ideas of money and numbers. I was well up in the multiplication table and was constantly wrestling with large numbers, but they did not correspond to any actual conception in my mind. When I reckoned up what one number of several digits came to multiplied by another of much about the same value, I had not the least idea whether Father or Grandfather had so many Rigsdaler, or less, or more. There was only one of the uncles who took an interest in my gift for multiplication, and that was my stout, rich uncle with the crooked mouth, of whom it was said that he owned a million, and who was always thinking of figures. He was hardly at the door of Mother's drawing-room before he called out: "If you are a sharp boy and can tell me what 27,374 times 580,208 are, you shall have four skilling;" and quickly slate and pencil appeared and the sum was finished in a moment and the four skilling pocketed. [Footnote: Four skilling would be a sum equal to 1-1/2d. English money.]
I was at home then in the world of figures, but not in that of values. All the same, it would be a terrible thing to destroy such a value as 90 Rigsdaler seemed to be. But might it not be that Jens only said so? He surely could not see from the rope whether it had been pulled or not.
So I did it again, and one day when Jens began questioning me sternly could not deny my guilt. "I saw it," said Jens; "the rope is nearly cut in two, and now you will catch it, now the policeman will come and fetch you."
For weeks after that I did not have one easy hour. Wherever I went, or whatever I did, the fear of the police followed me. I dared not speak to anyone of what I had done and of what was awaiting me. I was too much ashamed, and I noticed, too, that my parents knew nothing. But if a door opened suddenly I would look anxiously at the incomer. When I was walking with the nurse and my little brother I looked all round on every side, and frequently peeped behind me, to see whether the police were after me. Even when I lay in my bed, shut in on all four sides by its trellis-work, the dread of the police was upon me still.
There was only one person to whom I dared mention it, and that was Jens. When a few weeks had gone by I tried to get an answer out of him. Then I perceived that Jens did not even know what I was talking about. Jens had evidently forgotten all about it. Jens had been making fun of me. If my relief was immense, my indignation was no less. So much torture for nothing at all! Older people, who had noticed how the word "police" was to me an epitome of all that was terrible, sometimes made use of it as an explanation of things that they thought were above my comprehension.
When I was six years old I heard the word "war" for the first time. I did not know what it was, and asked. "It means," said one of my aunts, "that the Germans have put police in Schleswig and forbidden the Danes to go there, and that they will beat them if they stay there." That I could understand, but afterwards I heard them talking about soldiers. "Are there soldiers as well?" I asked. "Police and soldiers," was the answer. But that confused me altogether, for the two things belonged in my mind to wholly different categories. Soldiers were beautiful, gay- coloured men with shakos, who kept guard and marched in step to the sound of drums and fifes and music, till you longed to go with them. That was why soldiers were copied in tin and you got them on your birthday in boxes. But police went by themselves, without music, without beautiful colours on their uniforms, looked stern and threatening, and had a stick in their hands. Nobody dreamt of copying them in tin. I was very much annoyed to find out, as I soon did, that I had been misled by the explanation and that it was a question of soldiers only.
Not a month had passed before I began to follow eagerly, when the grown- up people read aloud from the farthing newspaper sheets about the battles at Bov, Nybboel, etc. The Danes always won. At bottom, war was a cheerful thing.
Then one day an unexpected and overwhelming thing happened. Mother was sitting with her work on the little raised platform in the drawing-room, in front of the sewing-table with its many little compartments, in which, under the loose mahogany lid, there lay so many beautiful and wonderful things—rings and lovely earrings, with pearls in them—when the door to the kitchen opened and the maid came in. "Has Madame heard? The Christian VIII. has been blown up at Eckernfoerde and the Gefion is taken."
"Can it be possible?" said Mother. And she leaned over the sewing-table and burst into tears, positively sobbed. It impressed me as nothing had ever done before. I had never seen Mother cry. Grown-up people did not cry. I did not even know that they could. And now Mother was crying till the tears streamed down her face. I did not know what either the Christian VIII. or the Gefion were, and it was only now that the maid explained to me that they were ships. But I understood that a great misfortune had happened, and soon, too, how people were blown up with gunpowder, and what a good thing it was that one of our acquaintances, an active young man who was liked by everyone and always got on well, had escaped with a whole skin, and had reached Copenhagen in civilian's dress.
About this time it dawned upon me in a measure what birth and death were. Birth was something that came quite unexpectedly, and afterwards there was one child more in the house. One day, when I was sitting on the sofa between Grandmamma and Grandpapa at their dining-table in Klareboderne, having dinner with a fairly large company, the door at the back of the room just opposite to me opened. My father stood in the doorway, and, without a good-morning, said: "You have got a little brother"—and there really was a little one in a cradle when I went home.
Death I had hitherto been chiefly acquainted with from a large, handsome painting on Grandfather's wall, the death of the King not having affected me. The picture represented a garden in which Aunt Rosette sat on a white-painted bench, while in front of her stood Uncle Edward with curly hair and a blouse on, holding out a flower to her. But Uncle Edward was dead, had died when he was a little boy, and as he had been such a very good boy, everyone was very sorry that they were not going to see him again. And now they were always talking about death. So and so many dead, so and so many wounded! And all the trouble was caused by the Enemy.
There were other inimical forces, too, besides the police and the Enemy, more uncanny and less palpable forces. When I dragged behind the nursemaid who held my younger brother by the hand, sometimes I heard a shout behind me, and if I turned round would see a grinning boy, making faces and shaking his fist at me. For a long time I took no particular notice, but as time went on I heard the shout oftener and asked the maid what it meant. "Oh, nothing!" she replied. But on my repeatedly asking she simply said: "It is a bad word."
But one day, when I had heard the shout again, I made up my mind that I would know, and when I came home asked my mother: "What does it mean?" "Jew!" said Mother. "Jews are people." "Nasty people?" "Yes," said Mother, smiling, "sometimes very ugly people, but not always." "Could I see a Jew?" "Yes, very easily," said Mother, lifting me up quickly in front of the large oval mirror above the sofa.
I uttered a shriek, so that Mother hurriedly put me down again, and my horror was such that she regretted not having prepared me. Later on she occasionally spoke about it.
Other inimical forces in the world cropped up by degrees. When you had been put to bed early the maids often sat down at the nursery table, and talked in an undertone until far on into the evening. And then they would tell stories that were enough to make your hair stand on end. They talked of ghosts that went about dressed in white, quite noiselessly, or rattling their chains through the rooms of houses, appeared to people lying in bed, frightened guilty persons; of figures that stepped out of their picture-frames and moved across the floor; of the horror of spending a night in the dark in a church—no one dared do that; of what dreadful places churchyards were, how the dead in long grave-clothes rose up from their graves at night and frightened the life out of people, while the Devil himself ran about the churchyard in the shape of a black cat. In fact, you could never be sure, when you saw a black cat towards evening, that the Devil was not inside it. And as easily as winking the Devil could transform himself into a man and come up behind the person he had a grudge against.
It was a terrifying excitement to lie awake and listen to all this. And there was no doubt about it. Both Maren and Karoline had seen things of the sort themselves and could produce witnesses by the score. It caused a revolution in my consciousness. I learnt to know the realm of Darkness and the Prince of Darkness. For a time I hardly ventured to pass through a dark room. I dared not sit at my book with an open door behind me. Who might not step noiselessly in! And if there were a mirror on the wall in front of me I would tremble with fear lest I might see the Devil, standing with gleaming eyes at the back of my chair.
When at length the impression made upon me by all these ghost and devil stories passed away, I retained a strong repugnance to all darkness terror, and to all who take advantage of the defenceless fear of the ignorant for the powers of darkness.
The world was widening out. It was not only home and the houses of my different grandparents, and the clan of my uncles, aunts, and cousins; it grew larger.
I realized this at the homecoming of the troops. They came home twice. The impression they produced the first time was certainly a great, though not a deep one. It was purely external, and indistinctly merged together: garlands on the houses and across the streets, the dense throng of people, the flower-decked soldiers, marching in step to the music under a constant shower of flowers from every window, and looking up smiling. The second time, long afterwards, I took things in in much greater detail. The wounded, who went in front and were greeted with a sort of tenderness; the officers on horseback, saluting with their swords, on which were piled wreath over wreath; the bearded soldiers, with tiny wreaths round their bayonets, while big boys carried their rifles for them. And all the time the music of Den tapre Landsoldat, when not the turn of Danmark dejligst or Vift stolt! [Footnote: Three favourite Danish tunes: "The Brave Soldier," "Fairest Denmark," and "Proudly Wave." ]
But the second time I was not wholly absorbed by the sight, for I was tormented by remorse. My aunt had presented me the day before with three little wreaths to throw at the soldiers; the one I was to keep myself, and I was to give each of my two small brothers one of the others; I had promised faithfully to do so. And I had kept them all three, intending to throw them all myself. I knew it was wrong and deceitful; I was suffering for it, but the delight of throwing all the wreaths myself was too great. I flung them down. A soldier caught one on his bayonet; the others fell to the ground. I was thoroughly ashamed of myself, and have never forgotten my shame.
I knew that the theatre (where I had never been) was the place where Mother and Father enjoyed themselves most. They often talked of it, and were most delighted if the actors had "acted well," words which conveyed no meaning to me.
Children were not at that time debarred from the Royal Theatre, and I had no more ardent wish than to get inside. I was still a very small child when one day they took me with them in the carriage in which Father and Mother and Aunt were driving to the theatre. I had my seat with the others in the pit, and sat speechless with admiration when the curtain went up. The play was called Adventures on a Walking Tour. I could not understand anything. Men came on the stage and talked together. One crept forward under a bush and sang. I could not grasp the meaning of it, and when I asked I was only told to be quiet. But my emotion was so great that I began to feel ill, and had to be carried out. Out in the square I was sick and had to be taken home. Unfortunately for me, that was precisely what happened the second time, when, in response to my importunity, another try was made. My excitement, my delight, my attention to the unintelligible were too overwhelming. I nearly fainted, and at the close of the first act had to leave the theatre. After that, it was a very long time before I was regarded as old enough to stand the excitement.
Once, though, I was allowed to go to see a comedy. Mr. Voltelen gave me a ticket for some students' theatricals at the Court Theatre, in which he himself was going to appear. The piece was called A Spendthrift, and I saw it without suffering for it. There was a young, flighty man in it who used to throw gold coins out of the window, and there was an ugly old hag, and a young, beautiful girl as well. I sat and kept a sharp lookout for when my master should come on, but I was disappointed; there was no Mr. Voltelen to be seen.
Next day, when I thanked him for the entertainment, I added: "But you made game of me. You were not in it at all." "What? I was not in it? Did you not see the old hag? That was I. Didn't you see the girl? That was I." It was incomprehensible to me that anyone could disguise himself so. Mr. Voltelen must most certainly have "acted well." But years afterwards, I could still not understand how one judged of this. Since plays affected me exactly like real life, I was, of course, not in a position to single out the share the actors took.
The war imbued my tin soldiers with quite a new interest. It was impossible to have boxes enough of them. You could set them out in companies and battalions; they opened their ranks to attack, stormed, were wounded, and fell. Sometimes they lay down fatigued and slept on the field of battle. But a new box that came one day made the old ones lose all value for me. For the soldiers in the new box were proper soldiers, with chests and backs, round to the touch, heavy to hold. In comparison with them, the older ones, profile soldiers, so small that you could only look at them sideways, sank into utter insignificance. A step had been taken from the abstract to the concrete. It was no longer any pleasure to me to play with the smaller soldiers. I said: "They amused me last year, when I was little." There was a similar change, a similar picture of historic progress, when the hobby-horse on which I had spent so many happy hours, and on which I had ridden through rooms and passages, was put in the corner in favour of the new rocking-horse which, long coveted and desired, was carried in through the door, and stood in the room, rocking slightly, as though ready for the boldest ride, the moment its rider flung himself into the saddle.
I mounted it and oh, happiness! I began to ride, and rode on with passionate delight till I nearly went over the horse's head. "When I was a little boy the hobby-horse amused me, but it does not now." Every time I climbed a fresh rung of the ladder, no matter how low an one, the same feeling possessed me, and the same train of thought. Mother often joked about it, up to the time when I was a full grown man. If I quickly outgrew my fancies, if I had quite done with anything or anybody that had absorbed me a little while before, she would say, with a smile: "Last year, when I was a little boy, the hobby-horse amused me."
Still, progress was not always smooth. When I was small I had pretty blouses, one especially, grey, with brown worsted lace upon it, that I was fond of wearing; now I had plain, flat blouses with a leather belt round the waist. Later on, I was ambitious to have a jacket, like big boys, and when this wish had been gratified there awoke in me, as happens in life, a more lofty ambition still, that to wear a frock coat. In the fulness of time an old frock coat of my father's was altered to fit me. I looked thin and lank in it, but the dress was honourable. Then it occurred to me that everybody would see I was wearing a frock coat for the first time. I did not dare to go out into the streets with it on, but went out of my way round the ramparts for fear of meeting anyone.
When I was a little boy I did not, of course, trouble much about my appearance. I did not remember that my portrait had been drawn several times. But when I was nine years old, Aunt Sarah—at that time everybody was either uncle or aunt—determined that we brothers should have our portraits taken in daguerreotype for Father's birthday. The event made a profound impression, because I had to stand perfectly still while the picture was being taken, and because the daguerreotypist, a German, whose name was Schaetzig, rolled his rs and hissed his ss. The whole affair was a great secret, which was not to be betrayed. The present was to be a surprise, and I was compelled to promise perfect silence. I kept my promise for one day. But next day, at the dinner- table, I accidentally burst out: "Now! quite shtill! as the man said." "What man?" "Ah! that was the secret!"
The visit to Schaetzig in itself I had reason to remember a long time. Some one or another had said that I had a slender neck, and that it was pretty. Just as we were going in, my aunt said: "You will catch cold inside," and in spite of my protests tied a little silk handkerchief round my neck. That handkerchief spoilt all my pleasure in being immortalised. And it is round my neck on the old picture to this day.
The tin soldiers had called all my warlike instincts into being. After the rocking-horse, more and more military appurtenances followed. A shining helmet to buckle firmly under the chin, in which one looked quite imposing; a cuirass of real metal like the Horseguards', and a short rapier in a leather scabbard, which went by the foreign name of Hirschfaenger, and was a very awe-inspiring weapon in the eyes of one's small brothers, when they were mercilessly massacred with it. Sitting on the rocking-horse, arrayed in all this splendour, wild dreams of military greatness filled the soul, dreams which grew wilder and more ambitious from year to year until between the age of 8 and 9 they received a fresh and unwholesome stimulus from Ingemann's novels. [Footnote: B.S. Ingemann (1789-1862), a Danish writer celebrated chiefly as the author of many historical novels, now only read by very young children.]
On horseback, at the head of a chosen band, fighting like the lost against unnumbered odds! Rock goes the rocking-horse, violently up and down. The enemy wavers, he begins to give way. The rocking-horse is pulled up. A sign with the Hirschfaenger to the herd of common troops. The enemy is beaten and flies, the next thing is to pursue him. The rocking-horse is set once more in furious motion. Complete victory. Procession into the capital; shouts of jubilation and wreaths of flowers, for the victor and his men.
Just about this time, when in imagination I was so great a warrior, I had good use in real life for more strength, as I was no longer taken to school by the nurse, but instead had myself to protect my brother, two years my junior. The start from home was pleasant enough. Lunch boxes of tin with the Danish greeting after meals in gold letters upon them, stood open on the table. Mother, at one end of the table, spread each child six pieces of bread and butter, which were then placed together, two and two, white bread on brown bread, a mixture which, was uncommonly nice. The box would take exactly so many. Then it was put in the school- bag with the books. And with bag on back you went to school, always the same way. But those were days when the journey was much impeded. Every minute you met boys who called you names and tried to hit the little one, and you had to fight at every street corner you turned. And those were days when, even in the school itself, despite the humanity of the age (not since attained to), terms of abuse, buffets and choice insults were one's daily bread, and I can see myself now, as I sprang up one day in a fight with a much bigger boy and bit him in the neck, till a master was obliged to get me away from him, and the other had to have his neck bathed under the pump.
I admired in others the strength that I lacked myself. There was in the class one big, stout, squarely built, inexpressibly good-natured boy, for whom no one was a match in fighting. He was from Lolland, and his name was Ludvig; he was not particularly bright, but robust and as strong as a giant. Then one day there arrived at the school a West Indian of the name of Muddie, dark of hue, with curly hair, as strong and slim as a savage, and with all the finesse and feints which he had at his command, irresistible, whether wrestling or when fighting with his fists. He beat all the strongest boys in the school. Only Ludvig and he had not challenged each other. But the boys were very anxious to see a bout between the two, and a wrestling match between them was arranged for a free quarter of an hour. For the boys, who were all judges, it was a fine sight to see two such fighters wrestle, especially when the Lollander flung himself down on the other and the West Indian struggled vainly, writhing like a very snake to twist himself out of his grasp.
One day two new boys came to school, two brothers; the elder, Adam, was small and sallow, extraordinarily withered, looking like a cripple, without, however, being one; the somewhat younger brother, Sofus, was splendidly made and amazed us in the very first lesson in which the new arrivals took part—a gymnastic class—by his unusual agility in swarming and walking up the sloping bar. He seemed to be as strong as he was dexterous, and in a little boy with a reverence for those who were strong, he naturally aroused positive enthusiasm. This was even augmented next day, when a big, malicious boy, who had scoffed at Adam for being puny, was, in a trice, so well thrashed by Sofus that he lost both his breath and his courage.
Sofus, the new arrival, and I, who had achieved fighting exploits from the rocking-horse only, were henceforth, for some time, inseparable friends. It was one of the usual friendships between little boys, in which the one admires and the other allows himself to be worshipped. The admirer in this case could only feed his feelings by presenting the other with the most cherished thing he possessed. This most cherished thing happened to be some figures cut out in gold paper, from France, representing every possible object and personage, from ships with masts and sails, to knights and ladies. I had collected them for a long time and preserved them, piece by piece, by gumming them into a book which was the pride of my existence. I gave the book, without the slightest hesitation, to Sofus, who accepted it without caring for it in the least.
And then by reason of the exaggerated admiration of which he was the object, Sofus, who hitherto had been so straightforward, began to grow capricious. It was a settled rule that he and I went home from school together. But one day a difficulty cropped up; Sofus had promised Valdemar, a horrid boy, who cheated at lessons, to go home with him. And next day something else prevented him. But when, suddenly having learnt to know all the pangs of neglect and despised affection, I met him the third day, after having waited vainly for him, crossing Our Lady's Square with Valdemar, in my anger I seized my quondam friend roughly by the arm, my face distorted with rage, and burst out: "You are a rascal!" then rushed off, and never addressed him again. It was a very ill- advised thing to do, in fact, the very most foolish thing I could have done. But I was too passionate to behave sensibly. Valdemar spread the account of my conduct all through the class, and next day, in our quarter of an hour's playtime, I heard on every side from the laughing boys: "You are a rascal! You are a rascal!"
The world was widening out. The instruction I received grew more varied. There were a great many lessons out of school. From my drawing mistress, a pleasant girl, who could draw Fingal in a helmet in charcoal, I learnt to see how things looked in comparison with one another, how they hid one another and revealed themselves, in perspective; from my music mistress, my kind aunt, to recognise the notes and keys, and to play, first short pieces, then sonatas, alone, then as duets. But alas! Neither in the arts of sight nor hearing did I ever prove myself more than mediocre. I never attained, either in drawing or piano-playing, to more than a soulless accuracy. And I hardly showed much greater aptitude when, on bright Sunday mornings, which invited not at all to the delights of dancing, with many another tiny lad and lass I was marshalled up to dance in the dancing saloon of Mr. Hoppe, the royal dancer, and learnt to take up the first to the fifth positions and swing the girls round in the polka mazurka. I became an ardent, but never a specially good, dancer.
The world was widening out. Father brought from Paris a marvellous game, called Fortuna, with bells over pockets in the wood, and balls which were pushed with cues. Father had travelled from Paris with it five days and six nights. It was inexpressibly fascinating; no one else in Copenhagen had a game like it. And next year, when Father came home from Paris again, he brought a large, flat, polished box, in which there were a dozen different games, French games with balls, and battledores and shuttlecocks, games which grown-up people liked playing, too; and there were carriages which went round and round by clockwork, and a tumbler who turned somersaults backwards down a flight of steps as soon as he was placed on the top step. Those were things that the people in France could do.
The world was widening out more and more. Relations often came over from Goeteborg. They spoke Swedish, but if you paid great attention you could understand quite well what they said. They spoke the language of Frithiof's Saga, but pronounced it differently from Mr. Voltelen. And there came a young French count whose relations my father's brother had known; he had come as a sailor on a French man-o'-war, and he came and stayed to dinner and sang the Marseillaise. It was from him that I heard the song for the first time. He was only fifteen, and very good- looking, and dressed like an ordinary sailor, although he was a count.
And then there were my two uncles, Uncle Jacob and Uncle Julius—my mother's brother Jacob and my father's brother Julius, who had both become Frenchmen long ago and lived in Paris. Uncle Jacob often came for a few weeks or more at a time. He was small and broad-shouldered and good-looking. Everybody was fond of Uncle Jacob; all the ladies wanted to be asked to the house when Uncle Jacob came. He had a wife and four children in Paris. But I had pieced together from the conversation of the grown-up people that Aunt Victorine was his wife and yet not his wife. Grandmother would have nothing to do with her. And Uncle Jacob had gone all the way to the Pope in Rome and asked for her to remain his wife. But the Pope had said No. Why? Because Aunt Victorine had had another husband before, who had been cruel to her and beaten her, and the man came sometimes, when Uncle was away, and took her furniture away from her. It was incomprehensible that he should be allowed to, and that the Pope would do nothing to prevent it, for after all she was a Catholic.
Uncle Jacob had a peculiar expression about his mouth when he smiled. There was a certain charm about everything he said and did, but his smile was sad. He had acted thoughtlessly, they said, and was not happy. One morning, while he was visiting Father and Mother and was lying asleep in the big room, there was a great commotion in the house; a messenger was sent for the doctor and the word morphia was spoken. He was ill, but was very soon well again. When he asked his sister next day: "What has become of my case of pistols?" she replied with a grave face: "I have taken it and I shall keep it."
I had not thought as a boy that I should ever see Uncle Jacob's wife and children. And yet it so happened that I did. Many years afterwards, when I was a young man and went to Paris, after my uncle's death, I sought out Victorine and her children. I wished to bring her personally the monthly allowance that her relatives used to send her from Denmark. I found her prematurely old, humbled by poverty, worn out by privation. How was it possible that she should be so badly off? Did she not receive the help that was sent from Copenhagen every month to uncle's best friend, M. Fontane, in the Rue Vivienne? Alas, no! M. Fontane gave her a little assistance once in a while, and at other times sent her and her children away with hard words.
It turned out that M. Fontane had swindled her, and had himself kept the money that had been sent for years to the widow of his best friend. He was a tall, handsome man, with a large business. No one would have believed that a scoundrel could have looked as he did. He was eventually compelled to make the money good. And when the cousin from Denmark rang after that at his French relatives' door, he was immediately hung round, like a Christmas tree, with little boys and one small girl, who jumped up and wound their arms round his neck, and would not let him go.
Our House—Its Inmates—My Paternal Grandfather—My Maternal Grandfather—School and Home—Farum—My Instructors—A Foretaste of Life —Contempt for the Masters—My Mother—The Mystery of Life—My First Glimpse of Beauty—The Head Master—Religion—My Standing in School— Self-esteem—An Instinct for Literature—Private Reading—Heine's Buch der Lieder—A Broken Friendship.
The house belonged to my father's father, and had been in his possession some twenty years. My parents lived on the second floor. It was situated in the busy part of the town, right in the heart of Copenhagen. On the first floor lived a West Indian gentleman who spoke Danish with a foreign accent; sometimes there came to see him a Danish man of French descent, Mr. Lafontaine, who, it was said, was so strong that he could take two rifles and bayonets and hold them out horizontally without bending his arm. I never saw Mr. Lafontaine, much less his marvellous feat of strength, but when I went down the stairs I used to stare hard at the door behind which these wonderful doings went on.
In the basement lived Niels, manservant to the family, who, besides his domestic occupations, found time to develop a talent for business. In all secrecy he carried on a commerce, very considerable under the circumstances, in common watches and in mead, two kinds of wares that in sooth had no connection with each other. The watches had no particular attraction for a little boy, but the mead, which was kept in jars, on a shelf, appealed to me doubly. It was the beverage the old Northmen had loved so much that the dead drank it in Valhalla. It was astonishing that it could still be had. How nice it must be! I was allowed to taste it and it surpassed all my expectations. Sweeter than sugar! More delicious than anything else on earth that I had tasted! But if you drank more than a very small glass of it, you felt sick.
And I profoundly admired the dead warriors for having been able to toss off mead from large drinking-horns and eat fat pork with it. What a choice! And they never had stomach-ache!
On the ground floor was the shop, which occupied the entire breadth and nearly the entire depth of the house, a silk and cloth business, large, according to the ideas of the time, which was managed by my father and grandfather together until my eleventh year, when Father began to deal wholesale on his own account. It was nice in the shop, because when you went down the assistants would take you round the waist and lift you over to the other side of the semi-circular counter which divided them from the customers. The assistants were pleasant, dignified gentlemen, of fine appearance and behaviour, friendly without wounding condescension.
Between my fifth and sixth years some alterations were done at the shop, which was consequently closed to me for a long time. When it was once more accessible I stood amazed at the change. A long, glass-covered gallery had been added, in which the wares lay stored on new shelves. The extension of the premises was by no means inconsiderable, and simultaneously an extension had been made in the staff. Among the new arrivals was an apprentice named Gerhard, who was as tall as a grown man, but must have been very young, for he talked to me, a six-year-old child, like a companion. He was very nice-looking, and knew it. "You don't want harness when you have good hips," he would say, pointing to his mightily projecting loins. This remark made a great impression upon me, because it was the first time I had heard anyone praise his own appearance. I knew that one ought not to praise one's self and that self-praise was no recommendation. So I was astonished to find that self-praise in Gerhard's mouth was not objectionable; in fact, it actually suited him. Gerhard often talked of what a pleasure it was to go out in the evenings and enjoy one's self—what the devil did it matter what old people said?—and listen to women singing—amusements which his hearer could not manage to picture very clearly to himself.
It soon began to be said that Gerhard was not turning out well. The manner in which he procured the money for his pleasures resulted, as I learnt long afterwards, in his sudden dismissal. But he had made some slight impression on my boyish fancy—given me a vague idea of a heedless life of enjoyment, and of youthful defiance.
On the landing which led from the shop to the stockroom behind, my grandfather took up his position. He looked very handsome up there, with his curly white hair. Thence, like a general, he looked down on everything—on the customers, the assistants, the apprentices, both before and behind him. If some specially esteemed lady customer came into the shop, he hurriedly left his exalted position to give advice. If the shopman's explanations failed to satisfy her, he put things right. He was at the zenith of his strength, vigour, and apparently of his glory.
The glory vanished, because from the start he had worked his way up without capital. The Hamburg firm that financed the business lent money at too high a rate of interest and on too hard conditions for it to continue to support two families.
But when later on my grandfather had his time at his own disposal, he took up the intellectual interests which in his working years he had had to repress. In his old age, for instance, he taught himself Italian, and his visitors would find him, with Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata in front of him, looking out in a dictionary every word that presented any difficulty to him, and of such there were many.
The old man was an ardent Buonapartist, and, strangely enough, an even more ardent admirer of the Third Napoleon than of the First, because he regarded him as shrewder, and was convinced that he would bequeath the Empire to his son. But he and I came into collision on this point from the time I was fourteen years of age. For I was of course a Republican, and detested Napoleon III. for his breach of the Constitution, and used to write secretly in impossible French, and in a still more impossible metre (which was intended to represent hexameters and pentameters) verses against the tyrant. An ode to the French language began:
"Ah! quelle langue magnifique, si belle, si riche, si sonore, Langue qu'un despote cruel met aux liens et aux fers!"
On the subject of Napoleon III. grandfather and grandson could not possibly agree. But this was the only subject on which we ever had any dispute.
My maternal grandfather was quite different, entirely devoid of impetuosity, even-tempered, amiable, very handsome. He too had worked his way up from straightened circumstances; in fact, it was only when he was getting on for twenty that he had taught himself to read and write, well-informed though he was at the time I write of. He had once been apprentice to the widow of Moeller the dyer, when Oehlenschlaeger and the Oersteds used to dine at the house. After the patriarchal fashion of the day, he had sat daily at the same table as these great, much-admired men, and he often told how he had clapped his hands till they almost bled at Oehlenschlaeger's plays, in the years when, by reason of Baggesen's attack, opinions about them at the theatre were divided.
My great-grandfather, the father of my mother's stepmother, who wore high boots with a little tassel in front, belonged to an even older generation. He used to say: "If I could only live to see a Danish man- o'-war close with an English ship and sink it, I should be happy; the English are the most disgraceful pack of robbers in the world." He was so old that he had still a vivid recollection of the battle in the roadstead and of the bombardment of Copenhagen.
School and Home were two different worlds, and it often struck me that I led a double life. Six hours a day I lived under school discipline in active intercourse with people none of whom were known to those at home, and the other hours of the twenty-four I spent at home, or with relatives of the people at home, none of whom were known to anybody at school.
On Oct. 1st, 1849, I was taken to school, led in through the sober- looking doorway, and up into a classroom, where I was received by a kindly man, the arithmetic master, who made me feel at my ease. I noticed at once that when the master asked a boy anything which another knew, this other had a right to publish his knowledge by holding up a finger—a right of which I myself made an excessive use in the first lessons, until I perceived the sense of not trying, in season and out of season, to attract attention to my knowledge or superiority, and kept my hands on the table in front of me.
Suddenly, with surprising vividness, a little incident of my childhood rises up before me. I was ten years old. I had been ill in the Winter and my parents had boarded me out in the country for the Summer holidays; all the love of adventure in me surged up. At the Straw Market a fat, greasy, grinning peasant promised to take me in his cart as far as the little town of Farum, where I was to stay with the schoolmaster. He charged two dalers, and got them. Any sum, of course, was the same to me. I was allowed to drive the brown horses, that is to say, to hold the reins, and I was in high glee. Where Farum was, I did not know and did not care, but it was a new world. Until now I, who was a town child, had seen nothing of the country except my nurse's house and land at Glostrup,—but what lay in front of me was a village, a schoolhouse, a large farm, in short an adventure in grand style.
I had my shirts and blouses and stockings in a portmanteau, and amongst them a magnificent garment, never yet worn, a blue cloth jacket, and a white waistcoat belonging to it, with gold buttons, which my mother had given me permission to wear on Sundays. For days, I always wore blouses, so the jacket implied a great step forward. I was eager to wear it, and regretted profoundly that it was still only Monday.
Half-way there, the peasant pulled up. He explained to me that he could not very well drive me any farther, so must put me down; he was not going to Farum himself at all. But a peat cart was coming along the road yonder, the driver of which was going to Farum, and he transferred me, poor defenceless child as I was, to the other conveyance. He had had my money; I had nothing to give the second man, and sadly I exchanged the quick trot of the brown horses for the walking pace of the jades in the peat-cart.
My first experience of man's perfidy.
At last I was there. On a high, wide hill—high and wide as it seemed to me then—towered the huge schoolhouse, a miniature Christiansborg Castle, with the schoolmaster's apartments on the right and the schoolroom on the left. And the schoolmaster came out smiling, holding a pipe which was a good deal taller than I, held out his hand, and asked me to come in, gave me coffee at once, and expressed the profoundest contempt for the peasant who had charged two rigsdaler for such a trifle, and then left me in the road. I asked at once for pen and paper, and wrote in cipher to a comrade, with whom I had concocted this mysterious means of communication, asking him to tell my parents that I had been most kindly received. I felt a kind of shyness at the schoolmaster seeing what I wrote home from his house. I gave him the sheet, and begged him to fold it up, as I could not do it myself. There were no envelopes in those days. But what was my surprise to hear him, without further ado, read aloud with a smile, from my manufactured cipher: "I have been most kindly received," etc. I had never thought such keen-wittedness possible. And my respect for him and his long pipe rose.
Just then there was a light knock at the door. In walked two girls, one tall and one short, the former of whom positively bewildered me. She was fair, her sister as dark as a negro. They were ten and eight years old respectively, were named Henrietta and Nina K., came from Brazil, where their home was, and were to spend a few years in Denmark; came as a rule every day, but had now arrived specially to inspect the strange boy. After gazing for two minutes at the lovely Henrietta's fair hair and wonderful grey eyes, I disappeared from the room, and five minutes afterwards reappeared again, clothed in the dark-blue jacket and the white waistcoat with gold buttons, which I had been strictly forbidden to wear except on Sundays. And from that time forth, sinner that I was, I wore my Sunday clothes every blessed day,—but with what qualms of conscience!
I can still see lovely fields, rich in corn, along the sides of which we played; we chased beautiful, gaudy butterflies, which we caught in our hats and cruelly stuck on pins, and the little girls threw oats at my new clothes, and if the oats stuck fast it meant something, sweethearts, I believe. Sweethearts—and I!
Then we were invited to the manor, a big, stately house, a veritable castle. There lived an old, and exceedingly handsome, white-haired Chamberlain, called the General, who frequently dined with Frederik VII, and invariably brought us children goodies from dessert, lovely large pieces of barley sugar in papers with gay pictures on the outside of shepherd lovers, and crackers with long paper fringes. His youngest son, who owned a collection of insects and many other fine things, became my sworn friend, which means that I was his, for he did not care in the least about me; but I did not notice that, and I was happy and proud of his friendship and sailed with him and lots of other boys and girls on the pretty Farum lake, and every day was more convinced that I was quite a man. It was a century since I had worn blouses.
Every morning I took all the newspapers to Dr. Doerr, the German tutor at the castle, and every morning I accidentally met Henrietta, and after that we were hardly separated all day. I had no name for the admiration that attached me to her. I knew she was lovely, that was all. We were anxious to read something together, and so read the whole of a translation of Don Quixote, sitting cheek against cheek in the summer-house. Of course, we did not understand one-half of it, and I remember that we tried in vain to get an explanation of the frequently recurring word "doxy"; but we laughed till we cried at what we did understand. And after all, it is this first reading of Don Quixote which has dominated all my subsequent attempts to understand the book.
But Henrietta had ways that I did not understand in the least; she used to amuse herself by little machinations, was inventive and intriguing. One day she demanded that I should play the school children, small, white-haired boys and girls, all of whom we had long learnt to know, a downright trick. I was to write a real love-letter to a nine-year-old little girl named Ingeborg, from an eleven or twelve-year-old boy called Per, and then Henrietta would sew a fragrant little wreath of flowers round it. The letter was completed and delivered. But the only result of it was that next day, as I was walking along the high road with Henrietta, Per separated himself from his companions, called me a dandy from Copenhagen, and asked me if I would fight. There was, of course, no question of drawing back, but I remember very plainly that I was a little aghast, for he was much taller and broader than I, and I had, into the bargain, a very bad cause to defend. But we had hardly exchanged the first tentative blows before I felt overwhelmingly superior. The poor cub! He had not the slightest notion how to fight. From my everyday school life in Copenhagen, I knew hundreds of tricks and feints that he had never learnt, and as soon as I perceived this I flung him into the ditch like a glove. He sprang up again, but, with lofty indifference, I threw him a second time, till his head buzzed. That satisfied me that I had not been shamed before Henrietta, who, for that matter, took my exploit very coolly and did not fling me so much as a word for it. However, she asked me if I would meet her the same evening under the old May-tree. When we met, she had two long straps with her, and at once asked me, somewhat mockingly and dryly, whether I had the courage to let myself be bound. Of course I said I had, whereupon, very carefully and thoroughly, she fastened my hands together with the one strap. Could I move my arms? No. Then, with eager haste, she swung the other strap and let it fall on my back. Again and again.
My first smart jacket was a well-thrashed one. She thoroughly enjoyed exerting her strength. Naturally, my boyish ideas of honour would not permit me to scream or complain; I merely stared at her with the profoundest astonishment. She gave me no explanation, released my hands, we each went our own way, and I avoided her the rest of my stay.
This was my first experience of woman's perfidy.
Still, I did not bear a grudge long, and the evening before I left we met once again, at her request, and then she gave me the first and only kiss, neither of us saying anything but the one word, "Good-bye."
I have never seen her since. I heard that she died twenty years ago in Brazil. But two years after this, when I was feeling my first schoolboy affection for an eleven-year-old girl, she silenced me at a children's ball with the scoffing remark: "Ah! it was you who let Henrietta K. thrash you under the May-tree at Farum." Yes, it was I. So cruel had my fair lady been that she had not even denied herself the pleasure of telling her friends of the ignominious treatment to which she had subjected a comrade who, from pure feeling of honour, had not struck back.
This was my first real experience of feminine nature.
For nearly ten years I went to one and the same school. I came to know the way there and back, to and from the three different places, all near together, where my parents lived during the time, as I knew no other. In that part of the town, all about the Round Tower, I knew, not only every house, but every archway, every door, every window, every Paving-stone. It all gradually imprinted itself so deeply upon me that in after years, when gazing on foreign sights and foreign towns, even after I had been living for a long time in the same place, I had a curious feeling that, however beautiful and fascinating it all might be, or perhaps for that very reason, it was dreamland, unreality, which would one day elude me and vanish; reality was the Round Tower in Copenhagen and all that lay about it. It was ugly, and altogether unattractive, but it was reality. That you always found again.
Similarly, though in a somewhat different sense, the wooded landscape in the neighbourhood of Copenhagen, to be exact, the view over the Hermitage Meadows down to the Sound, as it appears from the bench opposite the Slesvig Stone, the first and dearest type of landscape beauty with which I became acquainted, was endowed to me with an imprint of actuality which no other landscape since, be it never so lovely or never so imposing, has ever been able to acquire.
The instruction at school was out of date, inasmuch as, in every branch, it lacked intelligibility. The masters were also necessarily, in some instances, anything but perfect, even when not lacking in knowledge of their subject. Nevertheless, the instruction as a whole, especially when one bears in mind how cheap it was, must be termed good, careful and comprehensive; as a rule it was given conscientiously. When as a grown up man I have cast my thoughts back, what has surprised me most is the variety of subjects that were instilled into a boy in ten years. There certainly were teachers so lacking in understanding of the proper way to communicate knowledge that the instruction they gave was altogether wasted. For instance, I learnt geometry for four or five years without grasping the simplest elements of the science. The principles of it remained so foreign to me that I did not even recognise a right-angled triangle, if the right angle were uppermost. It so happened that the year before I had to sit for my examinations, a young University student in his first year, who had been only one class in front of the rest of us, offered us afternoon instruction in trigonometry and spherical geometry gratis, and all who appreciated the help that was being offered to them streamed to his lessons. This young student, later Pastor Joergen Lund, had a remarkable gift for mathematics, and gave his instruction with a lucidity, a fire, and a swing that carried his hearers with him. I, who had never before been able to understand a word of the subject, became keenly interested in it, and before many lessons were over was very well up in it. As Joergen Lund taught mathematics, so all the other subjects ought to have been taught. We were obliged to be content with less.
Lessons might have been a pleasure. They never were, or rather, only the Danish ones. But in childhood's years, and during the first years of boyhood they were fertilising. As a boy they hung over me like a dread compulsion; yet the compulsion was beneficial. It was only when I was almost fourteen that I began inwardly to rebel against the time which was wasted, that the stupidest and laziest of the boys might be enabled to keep up with the industrious and intelligent. There was too much consideration shown towards those who would not work or could not understand. And from the time I was sixteen, school was my despair. I had done with it all, was beyond it all, was too matured to submit to the routine of lessons; my intellectual pulses no longer beat within the limits of school. What absorbed my interest was the endeavour to become master of the Danish language in prose and verse, and musings over the mystery of existence. In school I most often threw up the sponge entirely, and laid my head on my arms that I might neither see nor hear what was going on around me.
There was another reason, besides my weariness of it all, which at this latter period made my school-going a torture to me. I was by now sufficiently schooled for my sensible mother to think it would be good for me to make, if it were but a small beginning, towards earning my own living. Or rather, she wanted me to earn enough to pay for my amusements myself. So I tried, with success, to find pupils, and gave them lessons chiefly on Sunday mornings; but in order to secure them I had called myself Studiosus. Now it was an ever present terror with me lest I should meet any of my pupils as I went to school in the morning, or back at midday, with my books in a strap under my arm. Not to betray myself, I used to stuff these books in the most extraordinary places, inside the breast of my coat till it bulged, and in all my pockets till they burst.
School is a foretaste of life. A boy in a large Copenhagen school would become acquainted, as it were in miniature, with Society in its entirety and with every description of human character. I encountered among my comrades the most varied human traits, from frankness to reserve, from goodness, uprightness and kindness, to brutality and baseness.
In our quarter of an hour's playtime it was easy to see how cowardice and meanness met with their reward in the boy commonwealth. There was a Jewish boy of repulsive appearance, very easy to cow, with a positively slavish disposition. Every single playtime his schoolfellows would make him stand up against a wall and jump about with his feet close together till playtime was over, while the others stood in front of him and laughed at him. He became later a highly respected Conservative journalist.
In lesson time it was easy to see that the equality under one discipline, under the hierarchy of merit, which was expressed in the boys' places on the forms, from highest to lowest, was not maintained when opposed to the very different hierarchy of Society. On the lowest form sat a boy whose gifts were exceedingly mediocre, and who was ignorant, moreover, from sheer laziness; to him were permitted things forbidden to all the others: he was the heir of a large feudal barony. He always came late to school, and even at that rode in followed by a groom on a second horse. He wore a silk hat and, when he came into the schoolroom, did not hang it up on the peg that belonged to him, where he was afraid it might be interfered with, but in the school cupboard, in which only the master was supposed to keep his things; and the tall hat crowning so noble a head impressed the masters to such an extent that not one of them asked for it to be removed. And they acquiesced like lambs in the young lord's departure half-way through the last lesson, if the groom happened to be there with his horse to fetch him.
It seemed impossible to drive knowledge of any sort into the head of this young peer, and he was taken from school early. To what an extent he must have worked later to make up for lost time was proved by results. For he became nothing less than a Minister.
The reverence with which the boys, as youngsters, had looked up to the masters, disappeared with striking rapidity. The few teachers in whose lessons you could do what you liked were despised. The masters who knew how to make themselves respected, only in exceptional cases inspired affection. The love of mockery soon broke out. Children had not been at school long before the only opinion they allowed scope to was that the masters were the natural enemies of the boys. There was war between them, and every stratagem was permissible. They were fooled, misled, and plagued in every conceivable manner. Or they were feared and we flattered them.
A little boy with a natural inclination to reverence and respect and who brought both industry and good-will to his work, felt confused by all the derogatory things he was constantly hearing about the masters, and, long before he was half grown up, formed as one result of it the fixed determination that, whatever he might be when he grew up, there was one thing he would never, under any circumstances be, and that was—master in a school.
From twelve years of age upwards, contempt for the masters was the keynote of all conversation about them. The Latin master, a little, insignificant-looking man, but a very good teacher, was said to be so disgracefully enfeebled by debauchery that an active boy could throw him without the least difficulty. The Natural History master, a clever, outspoken young man, who would call out gaily: "Silence there, or you'll get a dusting on the teapot that will make the spout fly off!" sank deeply in our estimation when one of the boys told us that he spent his evenings at music-halls. One morning there spread like wildfire through the class the report that the reason the Natural History master had not come that day was because he had got mixed up the night before in a fight outside a music-pavilion. The contempt and the ridicule that were heaped upon him in the conversation of the boys were immeasurable. When he came next morning with a black, extravasated eye, which he bathed at intervals with a rag, he was regarded by most of us as absolute scum. The German master, a tall, good-looking man, was treated as utterly incompetent because, when he asked a question in grammar or syntax, he walked up and down with the book in front of him, and quite plainly compared the answer with the book. We boys thought that anyone could be a master, with a book in his hand. History and Geography were taught by an old man, overflowing with good-humour, loquacious, but self- confident, liked for his amiability, but despised for what was deemed unmanliness in him. The boys pulled faces at him, and imitated his expressions and mannerisms.
The Danish master, Professor H.P. Holst, was not liked. He evidently took no interest in his scholastic labours, and did not like the boys. His coolness was returned. And yet, that which was the sole aim and object of his instruction he understood to perfection, and drilled into us well. The unfortunate part of it was that there was hardly more than one boy in the class who enjoyed learning anything about just that particular thing. Instruction in Danish was, for Holst, instruction in the metrical art. He explained every metre and taught the boys to pick out the feet of which the verses were composed. When we made fun of him in our playtime, it was for remarks which we had invented and placed in his mouth ourselves; for instance: "Scan my immortal poem, The Dying Gladiator." The reason of this was simply that, in elucidation of the composition of the antique distich, he made use of his own poem of the above name, which he had included in a Danish reading-book edited by himself. As soon as he took up his position in the desk, he began:
"Hark ye the—storm of ap—plause from the—theatre's—echoing circle! Go on, Moeller!"
How could he find it in his heart, his own poem!
The French master knew how to command respect; there was never a sound during his lessons. He was altogether absorbed in his subject, was absolutely and wholly a Frenchman; he did not even talk Danish with the same accentuation as others, and he had the impetuous French disposition of which the boys had heard. If a boy made a mess of his pronunciation, he would bawl, from the depths of his full brown beard, which he was fond of stroking: "You speak French comme un paysan d'Amac." When he swore, he swore like a true Frenchman: "Sacrebleu-Mops-Carot-ten- Rapee!" [Footnote: Needless to say, this is impossible French, composed chiefly of distorted Danish words. (Trans.)] If he got angry, and he very often did, he would unhesitatingly pick up the full glass of water that always stood in front of him on the desk, and in Gallic exasperation fling it on the floor, when the glass would be smashed to atoms and the water run about, whereupon he would quietly, with his Grand seigneur air, take his purse out of his pocket and lay the money for the glass on the desk.
For a time I based my ideas of the French mind and manner upon this master, although my uncle Jacob, who had lived almost all his life in Paris, was a very different sort of Frenchman. It was only later that I became acquainted with a word and an idea which it was well I did not know, as far as the master's capacity for making an impression was concerned—the word affected.
At last, one fine day, a little event occurred which was not without its effect on the master's prestige, and yet aroused my compassion almost as much as my surprise. The parents of one of my best friends were expecting a French business friend for the evening. As they knew themselves to be very weak in the language, they gave their son a polite note to the French master, asking him to do them the honour of spending the next evening at their house, on the occasion of this visit, which rendered conversational support desirable. The master took the note, which we two boys had handed to him, grew—superior though he usually was—rather red and embarrassed, and promised a written reply. To our astonishment we learnt that this reply was to the effect that he must unfortunately decline the honour, as he had never been in France, had never heard anyone speak French, and was not proficient in the language. Thus this tiger of a savage Frenchman suddenly cast his tiger's skin and revealed himself in his native wool.