The Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen, Volume I
Translation by C. H. Hereford
_Koerlighedens Komedie_ was published at Christiania in 1862. The
polite world - so far as such a thing existed at the time in the
Northern capital - received it with an outburst of indignation
now entirely easy to understand. It has indeed faults enough.
The character-drawing is often crude, the action, though full of
effective by-play, extremely slight, and the sensational climax
has little relation to human nature as exhibited in Norway, or
out of it, at that or any other time. But the sting lay in the
unflattering veracity of the piece as a whole; in the merciless
portrayal of the trivialities of persons, or classes, high in their
own esteem; in the unexampled effrontery of bringing a clergyman
upon the stage. All these have long since passed in Scandinavia,
into the category of the things which people take with their Ibsen
as a matter of course, and the play is welcomed with delight by
every Scandinavian audience. But in 1862 the matter was serious,
and Ibsen meant it to be so.
For they were years of ferment - those six or seven which intervened
between his return to Christiania from Bergen in 1857, and his
departure for Italy in 1864. As director of the newly founded
"Norwegian Theatre," Ibsen was a prominent member of the little
knot of brilliant young writers who led the nationalist revolt
against Danish literary tradition, then still dominant in
well-to-do, and especially in official Christiania. Well-to-do
and official Christiania met the revolt with contempt. Under such
conditions, the specific literary battle of the Norwegian with
the Dane easily developed into the eternal warfare of youthful
idealism with "respectability" and convention. Ibsen had already
started work upon the greatest of his Norse Histories - _The
Pretenders_. But history was for him little more than material
for the illustration of modern problems; and he turned with zest
from the task of breathing his own spirit into the stubborn mould
of the thirteenth century, to hold up the satiric mirror to the
suburban drawing-rooms of Christiania, and to the varied phenomena
current there, - and in suburban drawing-rooms elsewhere, - under
the name of Love.
Yet _Love's Comedy_ is much more than a satire, and its exuberant
humour has a bitter core; the laughter that rings through it is
the harsh, implacable laughter of Carlyle. His criticism of
commonplace love-making is at first sight harmless and ordinary
enough. The ceremonial formalities of the continental _Verlobung_,
the shrill raptures of aunts and cousins over the engaged pair,
the satisfied smile of enterprising mater-familias as she reckons
up the tale of daughters or of nieces safely married off under her
auspices; or, again, the embarrassments incident to a prolonged
_Brautstand_ following a hasty wooing, the deadly effect of
familiarity upon a shallow affection, and the anxious efforts to
save the appearance of romance when its zest has departed - all
these things had yielded such "comedy" as they possess to many
others before Ibsen, and an Ibsen was not needed to evoke it.
But if we ask what, then, is the right way from which these "cosmic"
personages in their several fashions diverge; what is the condition
which will secure courtship from ridicule, and marriage from
disillusion, Ibsen abruptly parts company with all his predecessors.
"'Of course,' reply the rest in chorus, 'a deep and sincere love'; -
'together,' add some, 'with prudent good sense.'" The prudent
good sense Ibsen allows; but he couples with it the startling
paradox that the first condition of a happy marriage is the absence
of love, and the first condition of an enduring love is the absence
The student of the latter-day Ibsen is naturally somewhat taken
aback to find the grim poet of Doubt, whose task it seems to be
to apply a corrosive criticism to modern institutions in general
and to marriage in particular, gravely defending the "marriage of
convenience." And his amazement is not diminished by the sense
that the author of this plea for the loveless marriage, which
poets have at all times scorned and derided, was himself beyond
question happily, married. The truth is that there are two men
in Ibsen - an idealist, exalted to the verge of sentimentality, and
a critic, hard, inexorable, remorseless, to the verge of cynicism.
What we call his "social philosophy" is a _modus vivendi_ arrived
at between them. Both agree in repudiating "marriage for love";
but the idealist repudiates it in the name of love, the critic in
the name of marriage. Love, for the idealist Ibsen, is a passion
which loses its virtue when it reaches its goal, which inspires
only while it aspires, and flags bewildered when it attains.
Marriage, for the critic Ibsen, is an institution beset with
pitfalls into which those are surest to step who enter it blinded
with love. In the latter dramas the tragedy of married life is
commonly generated by other forms of blindness - the childish
innocence of Nora, the maidenly ignorance of Helena Alving, neither
of whom married precisely "for love"; here it is blind Love alone
who, to the jealous eye of the critic, plays the part of the Serpent
in the Edens of wedded bliss. There is, it is clear, an element
of unsolved contradiction in Ibsen's thought; - Love is at once so
precious and so deadly, a possession so glorious that all other
things in life are of less worth, and yet capable of producing
only disastrously illusive effects upon those who have entered
into the relations to which it prompts. But with Ibsen - and it
is a grave intellectual defect - there is an absolute antagonism
between spirit and form. An institution is always with him, a
shackle for the free life of souls, not an organ through which
they attain expression; and since the institution of marriage
cannot but be, there remains as the only logical solution that
which he enjoins - to keep the soul's life out of it. To "those
about to marry," Ibsen therefore says in effect, "Be sure you
are not in love!" And to those who are in love he says, "Part!"
It is easy to understand the irony with which a man who thought
thus of love contemplated the business of "love-making," and the
ceremonial discipline of Continental courtship. The whole
unnumbered tribe of wooing and plighted lovers were for him
unconscious actors in a world-comedy of Love's contriving - naive
fools of fancy, passionately weaving the cords that are to strangle
passion. Comedy like this cannot be altogether gay; and as each
fresh romance decays into routine, and each aspiring passion goes
out under the spell of a vulgar environment, or submits to the
bitter salvation of a final parting, the ringing laughter grows
harsh and hollow, and notes of ineffable sadness escape from the
poet's Stoic self-restraint.
Ibsen had grown up in a school which cultivated the romantic,
piquant, picturesque in style; which ran riot in wit, in vivacious
and brilliant imagery, in resonant rhythms and telling double
rhymes. It must be owned that this was not the happiest school
for a dramatist, nor can _Love's Comedy_ be regarded, in the
matter of style, as other than a risky experiment which nothing
but the sheer dramatic force of an Ibsen could have carried through.
As it is, there are palpable fluctuations, discrepancies of manner;
the realism of treatment often provokes a realism of style out of
keeping with the lyric afflatus of the verse; and we pass with
little warning from the barest colloquial prose to the strains
of high-wrought poetic fancy. Nevertheless, the style, with all
its inequalities, becomes in Ibsen's hands a singularly plastic
medium of dramatic expression. The marble is too richly veined
for ideal sculpture, but it takes the print of life. The wit,
exuberant as it is, does not coruscate indiscriminately upon all
lips; and it has many shades and varieties - caustic, ironical,
imaginative, playful, passionate - which take their temper from
the speaker's mood.
The present version of the play retains the metres of the original,
and follows it in general line for line. For a long passage,
occupying substantially the first twenty pages, the translator is
indebted to the editor of the present work; and two other passages -
Falk's tirades on pp.58 and 100 - result from a fusion of versions
made independently by us both.
C. H. H.
*Copyright, 1907, by Charles Scribner's Sons.
PERSONS OF THE COMEDY
MRS. HALM, widow of a government official.
SVANHILD AND ANNA, her daughters.
FALK, a young author, and LIND, a divinity student, her boarders.
GULDSTAD, a wholesale merchant.
STIVER, a law-clerk.
MISS JAY, his fiancee.
STRAWMAN, a country clergyman.
MRS. STRAWMAN, his wife.
STUDENTS, GUESTS, MARRIED AND PLIGHTED PAIRS.
THE STRAWMANS' EIGHT LITTLE GIRLS.
FOUR AUNTS, A PORTER, DOMESTIC SERVANTS.
SCENE - Mrs. Halm's Villa on the Drammensvejen at Christiania.
PLAY IN THREE ACTS
The SCENE represents a pretty garden irregularly but tastefully
laid out; in the background are seen the fjord and the
islands. To the left is the house, with a verandah and an open
dormer window above; to the right in the foreground an open
summer-house with a table and benches. The landscape lies in
bright afternoon sunshine. It is early summer; the fruit-trees
are in flower.
When the Curtain rises, MRS. HALM, ANNA, and MISS JAY are sitting
on the verandah, the first two engaged in embroidery, the last
with a book. In the summer-house are seen FALK, LIND, GULDSTAD,
and STIVER: a punch-bowl and glasses are on the table. SVANHILD
sits alone in the background by the water.
FALK [rises, lifts his glass, and sings].
Sun-glad day in garden shady
Was but made for thy delight:
What though promises of May-day
Be annulled by Autumn's blight?
Apple-blossom white and splendid
Drapes thee in its glowing tent, -
Let it, then, when day is ended,
Strew the closes storm-besprent.
CHORUS OF GENTLEMEN.
Let it, then, when day is ended, etc.
Wherefore seek the harvest's guerdon
While the tree is yet in bloom?
Wherefore drudge beneath the burden
Of an unaccomplished doom?
Wherefore let the scarecrow clatter
Day and night upon the tree?
Brothers mine, the sparrows' chatter
Has a cheerier melody.
Brothers mine, the sparrow's chatter, etc.
Happy songster! Wherefore scare him
From our blossom-laden bower?
Rather for his music spare him
All our future, flower by flower;
Trust me, 'twill be cheaply buying
Present song with future fruit;
List the proverb, "Time is flying; - "
Soon our garden music's mute.
List the proverb, etc.
I will live in song and gladness, -
Then, when every bloom is shed,
Sweep together, scarce in sadness,
All that glory, wan and dead:
Fling the gates wide! Bruise and batter,
Tear and trample, hoof and tusk;
I have plucked the flower, what matter
Who devours the withered husk!
I have plucked the flower, etc.
[They clink and empty their glasses.
FALK [to the ladies].
There - that's the song you asked me for; but pray
Be lenient to it - I can't think to-day.
Oh, never mind the sense - the sound's the thing.
MISS JAY [looking round].
But Svanhild, who was eagerest to hear - ?
When Falk began, she suddenly took wing
And vanished -
ANNA [pointing towards the back].
No, for there she sits - I see her.
MRS. HALM [sighing].
That child! Heaven knows, she's past my comprehending!
But, Mr. Falk, I thought the lyric's ending
Was not so rich in - well, in poetry,
As others of the stanzas seemed to be.
Why yes, and I am sure it could not tax
Your powers to get a little more inserted -
FALK [clinking glasses with him].
You cram it in, like putty into cracks,
Till lean is into streaky fat converted.
Yes, nothing easier - I, too, in my day
Could do the trick.
Dear me! Were you a poet?
My Stiver! Yes!
Oh, in a humble way.
MISS JAY [to the ladies].
His nature is romantic.
Yes, we know it.
Not now; it's ages since I turned a rhyme.
Yes varnish and romance go off with time.
But in the old days - ?
Well, you see, 'twas when
I was in love.
Is that time over, then?
Have you slept off the sweet intoxication?
I'm now engaged - I hold official station -
That's better than in love, I apprehend!
Quite so! You're in the right my good old friend.
The worst is past - _vous voila bien avance_ -
Promoted from mere lover to _fiance_.
STIVER [with a smile of complacent recollection].
It's strange to think of it - upon my word,
I half suspect my memory of lying -
[Turns to FALK.
But seven years ago - it sounds absurd! -
I wasted office hours in versifying.
What! Office hours - !
Yes, such were my transgressions.
GULDSTAD [ringing on his glass].
Silence for our solicitor's confessions!
But chiefly after five, when I was free,
I'd rattle off whole reams of poetry -
Ten - fifteen folios ere I went to bed -
I see - you gave your Pegasus his head,
And off he tore -
On stamped or unstamped paper -
'Twas all the same to him - he'd prance and caper -
The spring of poetry flowed no less flush?
But how, pray, did you teach it first to gush?
By aid of love's divining-rod, my friend!
Miss Jay it was that taught me where to bore,
My _fiancee_ - she became so in the end -
For then she was -
Your love and nothing more.
'Twas a strange time; I could not read a bit;
I tuned my pen instead of pointing it;
And when along the foolscap sheet it raced,
It twangled music to the words I traced; -
At last by letter I declared my flame
To her - to her -
Whose _fiancee_ you became.
In course of post her answer came to hand -
The motion granted - judgment in my favour!
And you felt bigger, as you wrote, and braver,
To find you'd brought your venture safe to land!
And you bade the Muse farewell?
I've felt no lyric impulse, truth to tell,
From that day forth. My vein appeared to peter
Entirely out; and now, if I essay
To turn a verse or two for New Year's Day,
I make the veriest hash of rhyme and metre,
And - I've no notion what the cause can be -
It turns to law and not to poetry.
GULDSTAD [clinks glasses with him].
And trust me, you're no whit the worse for that!
You think the stream of life is flowing solely
To bear you to the goal you're aiming at -
But here I lodge a protest energetic,
Say what you will, against its wretched moral.
A masterly economy and new
To let the birds play havoc at their pleasure
Among your fruit-trees, fruitless now for you,
And suffer flocks and herds to trample through
Your garden, and lay waste its springtide treasure!
A pretty prospect, truly, for next year!
Oh, next, next, next! The thought I loathe and fear
That these four letters timidly express -
It beggars millionaires in happiness!
If I could be the autocrat of speech
But for one hour, that hateful word I'd banish;
I'd send it packing out of mortal reach,
As B and G from Knudsen's Grammar vanish.
Why should the word of hope enrage you thus?
Because it darkens God's fair earth for us.
"Next year," "next love," "next life," - my soul is vext
To see this world in thraldom to "the next."
'Tis this dull forethought, bent on future prizes,
That millionaires in gladness pauperises.
Far as the eye can reach, it blurs the age;
All rapture of the moment it destroys;
No one dares taste in peace life's simplest joys
Until he's struggled on another stage -
And there arriving, can he there repose?
No - to a new "next" off he flies again;
On, on, unresting to the grave he goes;
And God knows if there's any resting then.
Fie, Mr. Falk, such sentiments are shocking.
Oh, I can understand the feeling quite;
I am sure at bottom Mr. Falk is right.
MISS JAY [perturbed].
My Stiver mustn't listen to his mocking.
He's rather too eccentric even now. -
My dear, I want you.
STIVER [occupied in cleaning his pipe].
Presently, my dear.
GULDSTAD [to FALK].
One thing at least to me is very clear; -
And this is that you cannot but allow
Some forethought indispensable. For see,
Suppose that you to-day should write a sonnet,
And, scorning forethought, you should lavish on it
Your last reserve, your all, of poetry,
So that, to-morrow, when you set about
Your next song, you should find yourself cleaned out,
Heavens! how your friends the critics then would crow!
D'you think they'd notice I was bankrupt? No!
Once beggared of ideas, I and they
Would saunter arm in arm the selfsame way -
But Lind! why, what's the matter with you, pray?
You sit there dumb and dreaming - I suspect you're
Deep in the mysteries of architecture.
LIND [collecting himself].
I? What should make you think so?
Your eyes are glued to the verandah yonder -
You're studying, mayhap, its arches' curve,
Or can it be its pillars' strength you ponder,
The door perhaps, with hammered iron hinges?
From something there your glances never wander.
No, you are wrong - I'm just absorbed in being -
Drunk with the hour - naught craving, naught foreseeing.
I feel as though I stood, my life complete,
With all earth's riches scattered at my feet.
Thanks for your song of happiness and spring -
From out my inmost heart it seemed to spring.
[Lifts his glass and exchanges a glance, unobserved,
Here's to the blossom in its fragrant pride!
What reck we of the fruit of autumn-tide?
[Empties his glass.
FALK [looks at him with surprise and emotion,
but assumes a light tone].
Behold, fair ladies! though you scorn me quite,
Here I have made an easy proselyte.
His hymn-book yesterday was all he cared for -
To-day e'en dithyrambics he's prepared for!
We poets must be born, cries every judge;
But prose-folks, now and then, like Strasburg geese,
Gorge themselves so inhumanly obese
On rhyming balderdash and rhythmic fudge,
That, when cleaned out, their very souls are thick
With lyric lard and greasy rhetoric.
Your praise, however, I shall not forget;
We'll sweep the lyre henceforward in duet.
You, Mr. Falk, are hard at work, no doubt,
Here in these rural solitudes delightful,
Where at your own sweet will you roam about -
MRS. HALM [smiling].
Oh, no, his laziness is something frightful.
What! here at Mrs. Halm's! that's most surprising -
Surely it's just the place for poetising -
[Pointing to the right.
That summer-house, for instance, in the wood
Sequestered, name me any place that could
Be more conducive to poetic mood -
Let blindness veil the sunlight from mine eyes,
I'll chant the splendour of the sunlit skies!
Just for a season let me beg or borrow
A great, a crushing, a stupendous sorrow,
And soon you'll hear my hymns of gladness rise!
But best, Miss Jay, to nerve my wings for flight,
Find me a maid to be my life, my light -
For that incitement long to heaven I've pleaded;
But hitherto, worse luck, it hasn't heeded.
Yes, most irreverent!
Pray don't imagine it was my intent
To live with her on bread and cheese and kisses.
No! just upon the threshold of our blisses,
Kind Heaven must snatch away the gift it lent.
I need a little spiritual gymnastic;
The dose in that form surely would be drastic.
[Has during the talk approached; she stands close to
the table, and says in a determined but whimsical tone:
I'll pray that such may be your destiny.
But, when it finds you - bear it like a man.
FALK [turning round in surprise].
Miss Svanhild! - well, I'll do the best I can.
But think you I may trust implicitly
To finding your petitions efficacious?
Heaven as you know, to faith alone is gracious -
And though you've doubtless will enough for two
To make me bid my peace of mind adieu,
Have you the faith to carry matters through?
That is the question.
SVANHILD [half in jest].
Wait till sorrow comes,
And all your being's springtide chills and numbs,
Wait till it gnaws and rends you, soon and late,
Then tell me if my faith is adequate.
[She goes across to the ladies.
MRS. HALM [aside to her].
Can you two never be at peace? you've made
Poor Mr. Falk quite angry, I'm afraid.
[Continues reprovingly in a low voice. MISS JAY joins in
the conversation. SVANHILD remains cold and silent.
FALK [after a pause of reflection goes over to the summer-house,
then to himself].
With fullest confidence her glances lightened.
Shall I believe, as she does so securely,
That Heaven intends -
No, hang it; don't be frightened!
The powers above would be demented surely
To give effect to orders such as these.
No, my good sir - the cure for your disease
Is exercise for muscle, nerve, and sinew.
Don't lie there wasting all the grit that's in you
In idle dreams; cut wood, if that were all;
And then I'll say the devil's in't indeed
If one brief fortnight does not find you freed
From all your whimsies high-fantastical.
Fetter'd by choice, like Burnell's ass, I ponder -
The flesh on this side, and the spirit yonder.
Which were it wiser I should go for first?
GULDSTAD [filling the glasses].
First have some punch - that quenches ire and thirst.
MRS. HALM [looking at her watch].
Ha! Eight o'clock! my watch is either fast, or
It's just the time we may expect the Pastor.
[Rises, and puts things in order on the verandah.
What! have we parsons coming?
Don't you know?
I told you, just a little while ago -
No, mother - Mr. Falk had not yet come.
Why no, that's true; but pray don't look so glum.
Trust me, you'll be enchanted with his visit.
A clerical enchanter; pray who is it?
Why, Pastor Strawman, not unknown to fame.
Indeed! Oh, yes, I think I've heard his name,
And read that in the legislative game
He comes to take a hand, with voice and vote.
He speaks superbly.
When he's cleared his throat.
He's coming with his wife -
And all their blessings -
To give them three or four days' treat, poor dears -
Soon he'll be buried over head and ears
In Swedish muddles and official messings -
MRS. HALM [to FALK].
Now there's a man for you, in truth!
They say he was a rogue, though, in his youth.
MISS JAY [offended].
There, Mr. Guldstad, I must break a lance!
I've heard as long as I can recollect,
Most worthy people speak with great respect
Of Pastor Strawman and his life's romance.
Romance! I call a match romantic
At which mere worldly wisdom looks askance.
You make my curiosity gigantic.
MISS JAY [continuing].
But certain people always grow splenetic -
Why, goodness knows - at everything pathetic,
And scoff it down. We all know how, of late,
An unfledged, upstart undergraduate
Presumed, with brazen insolence, to declare
That "William Russell"(1)was a poor affair!
But what has this to do with Strawman, pray?
Is he a poem, or a Christian play?
MISS JAY [with tears of emotion].
No, Falk, - a man, with heart as large as day.
But when a - so to speak - mere lifeless thing
Can put such venom into envy's sting,
And stir up evil passions fierce and fell