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The collected works of Henrik Ibsen, Volume 1 online

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matic, critic?

As a rule, the process was as follows: After some pre-
paratory exercises in the columns of the Samfundsblad^
and after having frequently listened to the discussions
which went on in Treschow's cafe or at "Ingebret's'*
after the play, the future critic betook himself to Johan
Dahl's bookshop and ordered from Copenhagen a copy
of J. L. Heiberg's Prose Works, among which was to be
found — so he had heard it said — an essay entitled On the
VaydeviUe. This essay was in due course read, rumi-
nated on, and possibly to a certain extent understood.
From Heiberg's writings the young man, moreover,
learned of a controversy which that author had carried
on in his day with Professor Oehlenschlager and with the
Sor5 poet, Hauch. And he was simultaneously made
aware that J. L. Baggesen (the author of Letters from the
Dead) had at a still earlier period made a similar attack
on the great author who wrote both Axel and Valborg and
Hakon Jarl.

A quantity of other information useful to a critic was
to be extracted from these writings. From them one
learned, for instance, that taste obliged a good critic to
be scandalised by a hiatus. Did the young critical Jero-

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nimuses of Christiania encounter such a monstrosity in
any new verse, they were as certain as their prototype in.
Holberg to shout their "" Hoity-toity! the world wiU not
last till Easter!"

The origin of another peculiar characteristic of the
criticism then prevalent in the Norwegian capital was
long a puzzle to me. Every time a new author published
a book or had a little play acted, our critics were in the
habit of flying into an ungovernable passion and behav-
ing as if the publication of the book or the performance
of the play were a mortal insult to themselves and the
newspapers in which they wrote. As already remarked*
I puzzled long over this peculiarity. At last I got to
the bottom of the matter. Whilst reading the Danish
Monthly Journal of Literature I was struck by the fact
that old State-Councillor Molbech was invariably seized
with a fit of rage when a young author published a book
or had a play acted in Copenhagen.

Thus, or in a manner closely resembling this, had the
tribunal qualified itself, which now, in the daily press,
summoned The Feast ai Solhoug to the bar of criticism in
Christiania. It was principally composed of young men
who, as regards criticism, lived upon loans from various
quarters. Their critical thoughts had long ago been
thought and expressed by others; their opinions had
long ere now been formulated elsewhere. Their sesthetic
principles were borrowed; their critical method was bor-
rowed; the polemical tactics they employed were bor-
rowed in every particular, great and small. Their very
frame of mind was borrowed. Borrowing, borrowing,
here, there, and everywhere! The single original thing

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about them was that they invariably made a wrong and
unseasonable application of their borrowings.

It can surprise no one that this body, the members
of which, as critics, supported themselves by borrowing,
should have presupposed similar action on my part, as
author. Two, possibly more than two, of the news-
papers promptly discovered that I had borrowed this,
that, and the other thing from Henrik Hertz's play, Svend
Dyring*s House.

This is a baseless and indefensible critical assertion.
It is evidently to be ascribed to the fact that the metre
of the ancient ballads is employed in both plays. But
my tone is quite different from Hertz's; the language
of my play has a different ring; a light summer breeze
plays over the rhythm of my verse; over that of Hertz's
brood the storms of autumn.

Nor, as regards the characters, the action, and the
contents of the plays generally, is there any other or any
greater resemblance between them than that which is a
natural consequence of the derivation of the subjects of
both from the narrow circle of ideas in which the ancient
ballads move.

It might be maintained with quite as much, or even
more, reason that Hertz in his Svend Dyring's House had
borrowed, and that to no inconsiderable extent, from
Heinrich von Heist's KiUhchen von Heilbronn, a play
written at the beginning of this century. Kathchen's re-
lation to Count Wetterstrahl is in all essentials the same
as Bagnhild's to the knight, Stig Hvide. Like Ragn*
hild, Kathchen is compelled by a mysterious, inexplica-
ble power to follow the man she loves wherever he goes,

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to steal aecretlj after him, to lay herself down to deqp
near him, to come back to him, as by some innate com-
pulsion, however often she may be driven away. And
other instances of supernatural interference are to be
met with both in Kleist's and in Hertz's play.

But does any one doubt that it would be possible, with a
little good- or a little iU-will, to discover among still older
dramatic literature a play from which it could be main-
tained that Kleist had borrowed here and there in his
Kdihchen von HeUbronn ? I, for my part, do not doubt
it. But such suggestions of indebtedness are futile.
What makes a work of art the spiritual property of its
creator is the fact that he has imprinted on it the stamp
of his own personality. Therefore I hold that, in spite
of the above-mentioned points of resemblance, Svend
Dyring*s House is as incontestably and entirely an orig-
inal work by Henrik Hertz as Kathchen von HeUbronn
is an original work by Heinrich von Kleist.

I advance the same claim on my own behalf as re-
gards The Feast at SoUumg, and I trust that, for the
future, each of the three namesakes^ will be permitted
to keep, in its entirety, what rightfully belongs to him.

In writing of The Feast ai SoUumg in connection with
Svend Dyring*s House^ George Brandes expresses the
opinion, not that the former play is founded upon any
idea borrowed from the latter, but that it has been writ*
ten under an influence exercised by the older author
i^>on the younger. Brandes invariably criticises my
work in such a friendly spirit that I have all reason to
be obliged to him for this suggestion, as for so much else.
* Heinrich von Kleist, Henrik Hertz, Henrik Ibsen.

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Nevertheless I must maintain that he» too, is in this
instance mistaken. I have never specially admired Hen-
rik Hertz as a dramatist. Hence it is impossible for me
to believe that he should, unknown to myself, have been
able to exercise any influence on my dramatic production.

As regards this point, and the matter in general, I
might confine myself to referring those interested to the
writings of Dr. Valfrid Vasenius, lecturer on ^Esthetics at
the University of Helsingfors. In the thesis which gained
him his d^ree of Doctor of Philosophy, Henrik IbaerCs
Dramatic Poetry in its First Stage (1879), and also in
Henrik Ibsen: The Portrait of a Skald (Jos. Seligman &
Co., Stockholm, 1882), Vasenius states and supports his
views on the subject of the play at present in question,
supplementing them in the latter work by what I told
him, very briefly, when we were together at Munich three
years ago.

But, to prevent all misconception, I will now myself
give a short account of the origin of The Feast ai Solhoug.

I began this Preface with the statement that The Feast
at Solhoug was written in the summer of 1855.

In 1854 I had written Lady Inger ofOstrat. This was
a task which had obliged me to devote much attention to
the literature and history of Norway during the Middle
Ages, especially the latter part of that period. I did my
utmost to familiarise myself with the manners and cus-
toms, with the emotions, thoughts, and language, of the
men of those days.

The period, however, is not one over which the stu-
dent is tempted to linger, nor does it present much mate-
rial suitable for dramatic treatment.

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Consequently I soon deserted it for the Saga period.
But the Sagas of the Kings, and in general the more
strictly historical traditions of that far-off age, did not
attract me greatly; at that time I was unable to put the
quarrels between kings and chieftains, parties and clans,
to any dramatic purpose. This was to happen later.

In the Icelandic '' family" Sagas, on the other hand»
I found in abundance what I required in the shape of
human garb for the moods, conceptions, and thoughts
which at that time occupied me, or were, at least, more
or less distinctly present in my mind. With these Old-
Norse contributions to the personal history of our Saga
period I had had no previous acquaintance; I had hardly
so much as heard them named. But now N. M. Peter-
sen's excellent translation — excellent, at least, as far as
the style is concerned — ^fell into my hands. In the pages
of these family chronicles, with their variety of scenes
and of relations between man and man, between woman
and woman, in short, between human being and human
being, there met me a personal, eventful, really living life;
and as the result of my intercourse with all these distinctly
individual men and women, there presented themselves
to my mind's eye the first rough, indistinct outlines of
The Vikings at Helgeland.

How far the details of that drama then took shape» I
am no longer able to say. But I remember perfectly
that the two figures of which I first caught sight were
the two women who in course of time became Hiordis
and Dagny. There was to be a great banquet in the
play, with passion-rousing, fateful quarrels during its
course. Of other characters and passions, and situations

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produced by these» I meant to include whatever seemed
to me most typical of the life which the Sagas reveal.
In short, it was my intention to reproduce dramatically
exactly what the Saga of the Volsungs gives in epic

I made no complete, connected plan at that time; but
it was evident to me that such a drama was to be my first

Various obstacles intervened. Most of them were of
a personal nature, and these were probably the most
decisive; but it undoubtedly had its significance that I
happened just at this time to make a careful study of
Landstad's collection of Norwegian ballads, published
two years previously. My mood of the moment was
more in harmony with the literary romanticism of the
Middle Ages than with the deeds of the Sagas, with po-
etical than with prose composition, with the word-mel-
ody of the ballad than with the characterisation of the

Thus it happened that the fermenting, formless design
for the tragedy. The Vikings at Helgeland, transformed
itself temporarily into the lyric drama, Ths FeaH at SoU

The two female characters, the foster-sisters ^j^rdis
and Dft^y, of the projected tragedy, became the sisters
Margit and SignS of the completed lyric drama. The
derivation of the latter pair from the two women of the
Saga at once becomes apparent when attention is drawn
to it. The relationship is unmistakable. The tragic
hero, so far only vaguely outlined, Sigurd, the far-travelled
Viking, the welcome guest at the courts of kings, became

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the knight and minstrel, Gudmund Alfson, who has
likewise been long absent in foreign lands, and has lived
in the king's household. His attitude towards the two
sisters was changed, to bring it into accordance with the
change in time and circumstances; but the position of
both sisters to him remained practically the same as that
in the projected and afterwards completed tragedy. The
fateful banquet, the presentation of which had seemed
to me of the first importance in my original plan, became
in the drama the scene upon which its personages made
their appearance; it became the background against
which the action stood out, and communicated to the
picture as a whole the general tone at which I aimed.
The ending of the play was, undoubtedly, softened and
subdued into harmony with its character as drama, not
tragedy; but orthodox aestheticians may still, perhaps,
find it disputable whether, in this ending, a touch of
pure tragedy has not been left behind, to testify to the
origin of the drama.

Upon this subject, however, I shall not enter further
at present. My object has simply been to maintain and
prove that the play under consideration, like all my other
dramatic works, is an inevitable outcome of the tenor of
my life at a certain period. It had its origin within, and
was not the result of any outward impression or influence

This, and no other, is the true account of the genesis
of The Feast at Solhoug.

HsNBiK Ibsen.

Rome, April, 1883.

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Benot GAirrEsoN, Master of Solhaug

Margit, his wife,

SiGNE, her sister,

GuDMUND Alfson, their kinsman.

Knut Gesung, the King's sheriff.

Erik of Hegoe, his friend.

A House-carl.

Another House-carl.

The King's Envoy.

An Old Man.

A Maiden.

Guests, both Men and Ladies.

Men of Knut Gesuno's Train.

Serving-Men and Maidens at Solhouo.

The action passes at Solhoug in the Fourteenth Century.

[Pronunciation of Names: Gudmund =«Ooodmoond, The
g in "Margit" and in "Gesling** is hard, as in *'go," or, in
•'Gesling," it may be pronounced as y — ^**Ye8ling." The first
o in *' Solhoug" ought to have the sound of a very long *'oo.*']

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A daiely room^ with doors in the hack and to both sides.
Infrontj on the rights a bay window with small round
panes, set in lead, and near the window a table, on
which is a quantity of feminine ornaments. Along
the left wall, a longer table with silver goblets, beakers
and drinking-horns. The door in the back leade out
to a passage-way,^ through which can be seen a spa-
cious fiord-landscape,

Bengt Gauteson, Margit, Knut Gesling and Erik
OF Heqg^ are scaled around the table on the left. In
the background are Knut's foUov)ers, some seated,
some standing; one or two flagons of ale are handed
round among them. Far off are heard church bells,
ringing to Mass.


[Rising at the table.] In one word, now, what answer
have you to make to my wooing on Knut Gesling's

* This no doubt means a sort of arcaded veianda running along,
the outer wall of the house.


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* Benqt.

[Olancing uneasily towards his vdfe.] Well, I — ^to me
it aeems — [As she remains sHent.] H'm, Margit, let us
first hear your thought in the matter.


[Rising.] Sir Knut Gesling, I have long known all
that Erik of Hegge has told of you. I know full well
that you come of a lordly house; you are rich in gold
and gear, and you stand in high favour with our royal


[To Knut.] In high favour — so say I too.


And doubtless my sister could choose her no doughtier
mate —


None doughtier; that is what / say too.

— if so be that you can win her to think kindly of you.


[Anxiously, and halfa^ide.] Nay — nay, my dear wife —


[Springing up.] Stands it so, Dame Margit! You
think that your sister —

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[Seeking to calm him!\ Nay, nay, Knut Gesling!
Have patience, now. You must understand us aright.


There is naught in my words to wound you. My sister
knows you only by the songs that are made about you —
and these songs sound but ill in gentle ears.

No peaceful home is your father's house.

With your lawless, reckless crew.
Day out, day in, must you hold carouse —

God help her who mates with you.
Grod help the maiden you lure or buy

With gold and with forests green —
Soon will her sore heart long to lie

Still in the grave, I ween.


Aye, aye — true enough — Knut Gesling lives not over-
peaceably. But there will soon come a change in that,
when he gets him a wife in his hall.


And this I would have you mark. Dame Margit: it
may be a week since, I was at a feast at Hegge, at Erik's
bidding* whom here you see. The ale was strong; and
as the evening wore on I vowed a vow that Signe, your
fair sister, should be my wife, and that before the year
was out. Never shall it be said of Knut Gesling that he
brake any vow. You can see, then, that you must e'en
choose me for your sister's husband — be it with your
will or against it.

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Ere that may be, I must tell you plain,

You must rid yourself of your ravening train.

You must scour no longer with yell and shout

O'er the country-side in a galloping rout;

You must still the shudder that spreads around

When Knut Gesling is to a bride-ale bound.

Courteous must your mien be when a-f easting you rid^;

Let your battle-axe hang at home at the chinmey-side —

It ever sits loose in your hand, well you know.

When the mead has gone round and your brain is aglow.

From no man his rightful gear shall you wrest,

You shall harm no harmless maiden;

You shall send to no man the shameless hest

That when his path crosses yours, he were best

Come with his grave-clothes laden.

And if you will so bear you till the year be past.

You may win my sister for your bride at last.


[With suppressed rcye.] You know how to order your
words cunningly. Dame Margit. Truly, you should have
been a priest, and not your husband's wife.

Oh, for that matter, I too could —


[Paying no heed to him.] But I would have you take
note that had a sword-bearing man spoken to me in such
wise —

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Nay, but listen, Knut Gesling — ^you must understand


[As before,] Well, briefly, he should have learnt that
the axe sits loose in my hand, as you said but now.


[Softly.] There we have it! Margit, Margit, this will
never end well.


[To Knut.] You asked for a forthright answer, and
that I have given you.


Well, well; I will not reckon too closely with you. Dame
Margit. You have more wit than all the rest of us to-
gether. Here is my hand; — it may be there was some-
what of reason in the keen-edged words you spoke to


This I like well; now are you already on the right
way to amendment. Yet one word more — to-day we
hold a feast at Solhoug.

A feast?


Yes, Knut Gesling: you must know that it is our
wedding-day; this day three years ago made me Dame
Margit's husband.

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[Impaiiently, interrupHngJ] As I said, we hold a feast
to-day. When Mass is over, and your other business
done, I would have you ride hither again, and join in the
banquet. Then you can learn to know my sister.


So be it. Dame Margit; I thank you. Yet 'twas not to
go to Mass that I rode hither this morning. Your kins-
man, Gudmund Alfson, was the cause of my coming.


[Starts.] He! My kinsman? Where would you seek


His homestead lies behind the headland, on the other
side of the fiord.


But he himself is far away.

Be not so sure; he may be nearer than you think.

[Whispers.] Hold your peace!

Nearer ? What mean you ?

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Have you not heard, then, that Gudmund Alfson has
come back to Norway ? He came with the Chancellor
Audun of H^ranes, who was sent to France to bring
home our new Queen.


True enough; but in these very days the King holds
his wedding-feast in full state at Bergen, and there is
Gudmund Alfson a guest.


And there could we too have been guests had my wife
so willed it.


[Aside to Knut.] Then Dame Margit knows not


[Aside.] So it would seem; but keep your counsel.
[Aloitd.] Well, well. Dame Margit, I must go my way
none the less, and see what may betide. At nightfall I
will be here again.


And then you must show whether you have power to
bridle your unruly spirit.

Aye, mark you that.


You must lay no hand on your axe — ^hear you, Knut
Gesling ?

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Neither on your axe, nor on your knife, nor on any
other weapon whatsoever.

For then can you never hope to be one of our kindred!

Nay, that is our firm resolve.

[To Mabgit.] Have no fear.

And what we have firmly resolved stands fast.


That I like well, Sir Bengt Gauteson. I, too, say the
same; and I have pledged myself at the feast-board to
wed your kinswoman. You may be sure that my pledge,
too, will stand fast. — God's peace till to-night!

[He and Erik, with their meriy go out at the hack.
[Bengt accompanies them to the door. The eound of
the bells has in the meantime ceased.


[Returning.] Methought he seemed to threaten us as
he departed.

[Absently.] Aye, so it seemed.

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Kniit Gesling is an ill man to fall out with. And,
when I bethink me, we gave him overmany hard words.
But come, let us not brood over that. To-day we must
be merry, Margit! — as I trow we have both good reason
to be.


[With a weary smile,] Aye, surely, surely.


*Tis true I was no mere stripling when I courted you.
But well I wot I was the richest man for many and many
a mile. You were a fair maiden, and nobly bom; but
your dowry would have tempted no wooer.

[To herself.] Yet was I then so rich.

What said you, my wife ?


Oh, nothing, nothing. [Crosses to the right.] I will
deck me with pearls and rings. Is not to-night a time
of rejoicing for me ?


I am fain to hear you say it. Let me see that you
deck you in your best attire, that our guests may say**
Happy she who mated with Bengt Gauteson. — But now
must I to the larder; there are many things to-day that
must not be overlooked. [He goes out to the left

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Sinks down on a chair by the table on the right.

*Twas well he departed. While here he remains
Meseems the blood freezes within my veins;
Meseems that a crushing might and cold
My heart in its clutches doth still enfold.

[With tears she cannot repress.
H e is my husband! I am h i s wife!
How long, how long lasts a woman's life ?
Sixty years, mayhap — God pity me
Who am not yet full twenty-three!

[More calmly, after a short silence.
Hard, so long in a gilded cage to pine;
Hard a hopeless prisoner's lot — and mine.

[Absently fingering the ornaments on the table, and
beginning to put them on.
With rings, and with jewels, and all of my best
By his order myself I am decking —
But oh, if to-day were my burial-feast,
'Twere little that I'd be recking. [Breaking off.

But if thus I brood I must needs despair;
I know a song that can lighten care. [She sings.

The Hill-King to the sea did ride;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —
To woo a maiden to be his bride.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

The Hill-King rode to Sir H&kon's hold;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —
Little Kirsten sat combing her locks of gold.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

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The Hill-King wedded the maiden fair;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary — •
A silvern girdle she ever must wear.

— ^I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

The Hill-King wedded the lily-wand,

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —
With fifteen gold rings on either hand.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

Three summers passed, and there passed full five;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —
In the hill little Kirsten was buried alive.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

Five summers passed, and there passed full nine;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —
Little Kirsten ne'er saw the glad sunshine.

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

In the dale there are flowers and the birds' blithe song;

— Oh, sad are my days and dreary —
In the hill there is gold and the night is long

— I am waiting for thee, I am weary. —

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Online LibraryEdmund GosseThe collected works of Henrik Ibsen, Volume 1 → online text (page 10 of 21)