Danish Society and Its Revival

A RIDGE of hills and the sea on both sides, — that is Denmark. Both the peninsula and the islands are modelled after the same plan ; but although this plan is very simple, it involves an infinite variety of landscapes, from the sweet, almost voluptuous idyl in the wood, under the midsummer suns, to scenes of the wildest horror, when the roaring surges, towering over the sandbars, break the large, strongly-built ship like a toy, and scatter her remnants on the strand, or when the hurricane catches the sand from the banks and hurls its terrible hail-storm over the country, often burying many acres of land, many years’ labor, many men’s hopes, under a drift which no sun will ever melt. Partly from actual experience, but mainly through the works of their poets and painters, the Danes themselves have acquired a very keen sense of the true though often latent character of their land. They recognize at once the place where the great calamity lurks beneath the sungilt, serenely rolling waves, or the place where the charming idyl sleeps among the snow-covered trees. But the foreigner who travels through the country will hardly see more than the general simple and uniform configuration of the land, — the ridge of hills with the sea on both sides.

The hills are low. The highest “ mountain ” in Denmark, “ The Mountain of Heaven,” is only four hundred and eighty feet high, and it swells so gently that I doubt whether the farmer from the Catskills would notice the difference between its ascent and descent. The ridges all run from north to south. Towards the east the hills slope downward, undulating in gentle but often characteristic curves, and the land is studded all over with rich woods treading so near to the sea that with one more step they would dip their feet in the waves. Towards the west the hills are almost steep, leaving a broad margin of flat land between their walls and the sea. Near the hills the land is tillable, even fertile. Farther away it is heath, interspersed with swamps and meadows. Along the sea runs a strip of salt-marsh or a wall of sand-banks, without trees, with only a few dwarfish and sickly shrubs here and there in the swamp. The two poplars watching the place where the road through the heath makes a sudden turn, they are not trees; they are only a sort of resurrected broomsticks, and would look odious but for their modesty. The willows which guard the little orchard and garden behind the farmhouse are trees ; but they are strangers here. Generally they are low and stunted, and even when they rise into the air with some thrift and vigor, they all bend their crowns towards the east. Every bough, every twig stretches eastward, and the branches which have to face the west drop their withered leaves in the beginning of July. For here reigns the west wind.

Only one wind blows in Denmark,— the west wind. When the others try, it is a calm. The west wind blows during three hundred days of the year, and it always blows a gale. When the other winds come, they come either as weak breezes bringing rain, or as short blasts bringing frost. The west wind is the ruler of the air, and there is something kingly in him, not because he wrecks a hundred ships every year, not because he makes the trees bow under his sceptre, not because he can send, on a hot summer day, a sudden mist which makes one shiver with cold — O no ! in spite of this, there is something truly magnificent and generous in the Danish west wind. It does not sweep whistling over the ground as if it were pressed through a steam-pipe. It does not nip the skin as if it were filled with ice-needles. It blows with a volume immense like that of the ocean from which it comes. It bursts into the air with full, round notes like those of an organ. It pounces down upon the earth in broad furrows, frisking and frolicking like a swarm of children let loose over a merry gambol.

The country-people of Denmark consist of three different classes, — the nobility, the peasantry, and the tiers état, which with a sneer for both the aristocracy and the peasants, calls itself the educated people. I will speak first of the nobility, not so much from deference as because there is so very little to say about this class.

The Danish nobility is rich in proportion to the general standard of wealth in the country. An income of twenty thousand dollars a year is not rare among them, and some have more than two hundred thousand. But they have no influence, or at least very little. They are not highly gifted by nature, and they are not well trained by education. Furthermore, they have no political or social privileges. There is no difference between the legal position of the nobleman and that of the peasant, except that in some cases the nobleman’s estate is inherited by his eldest son; while otherwise, when a man dies in Denmark his property is disposed of so that one half falls to his wife, and the other half is divided in equal parts among his children. The chief reason, however, why the Danish nobility stands somewhat isolated, without partaking in the social development proportionately to the wealth of the class, is historical. The old, genuine Danish nobility formed a powerful and enormously wealthy aristocracy. But by a singular mistake of the other classes, and by some secret intrigues of the court, this aristocracy, which contained the germ of true popular freedom, was crushed in the year 1660, when Denmark was made an absolute monarchy ; that is to say, when the government was made a completely arbitrary despotism. In the year 1661 no clock in Copenhagen dared to strike until the court clock had struck; and this little trait, communicated with much humor by Lord Molesworth, shows with sufficient clearness how matters stood. The noblemen retired to their mansions in the country, where they lived in a corner of their splendid palaces ; for the king often imposed such heavy taxes on their property — the taxation, like everything else, being perfectly arbitrary — that they sometimes had to give up their estates, leaving the king sole master. Meanwhile the king, who still feared the old nobility in its sullen and impoverished retirement, built up a new nobility consisting mostly of German vagabonds, whom he ennobled, installed in military and civil offices, and provided for in a very high-handed manner. He assumed the right to dispose of the hand of every heiress in the kingdom ; and in that way the new nobility, little by little, crept into the estates of the old that died away. But this new nobility, which was simply a court aristocracy, had no other relation to the people than a reciprocal hatred. Only two or three persons out of the whole swarm have acquired an honest name in Danish history; the rest are mercifully forgotten,—forgotten together with the court where they danced and drank and flirted and gambled. When, in 1848, the Danish people became a free people, and every citizen was called upon to partake equally in the government, the nobility suddenly sank into miserable insignificance. The whole artificial structure of the society which alone gave the noblemen any influence broke down. Their privileges were lost ; their rank was gone ; and, to make their misery complete, there was no longer any court. The king, Frederick VII., had married a milliner, who was too famous before her marriage ever to become the centre of an elegant circle ; and it must be said to the praise of the ladies of the Danish nobility, they were visited, but they were not found at home. During the twenty years, however, which followed, a change apparently took place in the position of the nobility. In their elegant retirement, the noblemen seemed to give up the German idea of a court paradise, and began to imitate the English aristocracy. They began to take the lead in many local affairs of importance, especially in agriculture. They introduced machinery and all modern improvements in the cultivation of their estates ; they instituted races, and horse and cattle shows, at which prizes were given for the best specimens of domestic animals ; and in these and many other new ways channels seem to open up for a beneficial influence from the noblemen upon the other classes.

To the second class, the educated people, Denmark is indebted for its free constitution and for the first endeavors towards making this constitution work successfully in practical life. They now form the kernel of the people. They have the influence. All great ideas originated with them, and were by them introduced in actual life. The ideas and manners of this class are the ideas and manners of the Danish people.

As this class comprises families many of which have an income of only one or two thousand dollars a year, while some have an income of more than ten thousand a year, there is a great difference between the social circumstances in which the members of this class live. Three different stages may be noticed. In the first stage a family eats with silver forks, and has a piano. It would be very hard in Denmark for a family to attain the position of belonging to the society of educated people, if it ate with iron forks and had no piano ; that is to say, if it could not afford to give its life a certain appearance of elegance, or if its life lacked some important element of a liberal education, for instance, music. An educated Dane will eat pork and beans twice a day all the year round, and think himself very well fed, if he eats it with a silver fork; but if he is compelled to eat his meat with an iron fork, he will weep over his forlorn condition. A Danish family, when utterly reduced by some misfortune, will look on with comparative indifference while the chairs and tables go to the auction-room; but when the piano is shut up and carried down stairs, a darkness will overcloud the room as if the sun were eclipsed, and a terror will seize upon the heart as in the days of the plague, when all the birds dropped dead to the earth and the woods at once grew silent. In the second stage, carpets make their appearance, and the family keeps a close carriage. Carpets are in Denmark not so generally used nor so highly appreciated as in England and America. A family, of course, finds its rooms cosier and more pleasant when in the fall the carpets are spread over the floors ; yet in the spring, when the deep gray tinge of the sky brightens into light blue, when the sunshine grows warm, and the west wind blows balmily, every member of the family, from the grandmamma to the children, is glad to get rid of the dusty carpets ; and, indeed, the bare wooden floor, often a costly mosaic, or tastefully painted, and always washed in the morning with cold water, gives the room, through the hot summer days, a very agreeable freshness and airiness. A close carriage, on the contrary, is highly appreciated, and the delight given by such an increase of a family’s comfort is almost ludicrous. For a whole year every visitor is invited to go down to the stable and see “our new landau,” and the best argument for a new dress is, “ You would not have me sit in the new landau with this old thing ! ” In the third stage, the chandelier is hung from the ceiling, and the footman keeps guard in the anteroom. The ladies of the house cannot be seen until after three o’clock, and the master has a title, which, the more barbarous it sounds, the better it is. Some of these titles are composed of one German, one French, and one Danish word; and when a man has such a lictor to bear axe and rods before his name, and ten thousand dollars a year to finish up the procession, he feels very happy. A title is a good thing ; it acts upon the mind like a good conscience. When a man is Geheime-états-raad, he may say to himself that he cannot be so very bad. But these differences of social circumstances, however great they may be, are in the most pleasant manner thrown into the background, if not wholly forgotten, on account of the community of education, of ideas, interests, and manners ; and it is quite common to find a family which never gives a dinner-party and never treats its guests with anything more than a cup of tea living in great intimacy and on a perfectly equal footing with a family whose footmen at every supper serve dainty dishes on silver plates. The community of education is always and everywhere a power stronger than old habits, stronger than in-grown prejudices, stronger even than incidental antipathies, but I doubt whether there is another place in the world where it exercises so noble and so lovely an influence as in the country life of Denmark.

Community of education must not be understood, however, to mean that all the members of the class are actually possessed of the same kind or of the same degree of education. This is not the case. Here, for instance, is a man who can neither read nor write. Thirty years ago he was a peasant-lad of somewhat disagreeable manners. He was a talker, and his success in business was so extraordinary that people were a little slow in putting confidence in him. He bought geese, lambs, calves, pigs, and fat cattle of the neighboring peasants, and transported them to Copenhagen, where he sold them. He gave a fair price, however, and paid promptly. He was always true to his word, even when it was sometimes a little rash ; and people soon understood that he was a great convenience to them. The farmer, who formerly had some trouble in finding a buyer for his lambs and calves just when he wanted, could now send for the pig-broker, as they called him, and get money at any time. Little by little people began to like and respect the man. He was money to them. Many a peasant who formerly raised only twelve geese a year and ate them all himself, now raised, without any greater outlay of money, a hundred geese, and laid away, every fall, a snug little sum of money. It was evident that cattle-feeding and raising of lambs and calves and pigs increased, nay, doubled, in every county to which the pig-broker extended his business ; and soon he was looked upon half as a blessing and half as a wonder,— the more so, as he, who could neither read nor write, and did a business of more than two hundred thousand dollars a year, was never known to make a mistake. In the mean time, the man himself grew silent, overburdened as he was with his enormous business, and the richer he grew the more modest he became. But he delighted in hearing “ learned people ” talk. He felt the pleasure of intercourse with educated people, and longed for it. The first door he knocked at was the clergyman’s of the parish, and it so happened that the parson was a man of very refined manners, of strong literary sympathies, and the centre of the high-life of the whole neighborhood ; yet he soon understood that the seat where the pigbroker sat was not empty, though the man who occupied it was very silent. The calm, gray eyes, always thoughtful, always attentive, often told more and better in a conversation than several gossiping mouths ; and people of true and genuine education soon felt that, in spite of all differences, there was, in a social respect, an essential and noble sympathy between them and him. The pig-broker was received among the educated people ; and if the difference between the members of this class is very great with regard to the degree of their education, it is still greater with regard to its quality. The Danes are by nature very apt to confine themselves to a specialty, and this national trait is, of course, most apparent among the educated portion of the people. I know one farmer who has a passion for dramatic literature. The dunghill and the stage ! the combination is certainly a little singular. His library consists of over twenty thousand volumes, and gives a fair representation of what mankind has produced in this line. It contains a great number of Indian dramas, written in Sanskrit on palm-leaves, and I suppose it contains, also, a fine edition of those English plays which bear the late Mr. Robinson’s name on their title-pages. It is unique in its kind, and its owner is unique too. He is a diamond edition of his own library, and talks drama always and everywhere, even on the dunghill. I know another farmer who has a passion for antiquities. In his hall great cases with glass doors stand along the walls, and a complete collection of all the stone weapons and utensils which the ancient Scandinavians used before they learned to work metals is arranged systematically on shelves, each article being provided with a label telling where the specimen was found, what it was originally used for, how it was probably made, etc. The great label to the whole collection is the farmer himself. Ask him how he enjoyed himself in Copenhagen, or how he likes his new coat, the answer will invariably end on some one of the shelves. A third has a passion for roses. He will travel many miles to see a new kind, and he will become feverish if he cannot come into possession of it, as he becomes feverish when he cannot ingraft his passion upon other people. But he generally succeeds. The whole county in which he lives has become famous for its roses. It is called the land of the roses, and the farmer tells with a certain complacency that in June he can smell the smoke of his hearth when eight miles distant. A fourth has a passion for meerschaum pipes, and falls in love with every pipe of uncommon size or form. A fifth has a passion for politics ; a sixth, for mesmerism ; and so on. But if any one would infer from this difference, both in the degree and in the quality of the education of the members, that there was no real community of education in the class, he would be much mistaken. In a society to which money opens the door, it is by no means necessary, in order to be admitted, that a man shall really own a certain amount of money ; it is enough if he can only spend it. And in a society to which a certain education has the key, it is by no means necessary, in order to be admitted, that a man should actually possess this education ; it is enough if he only respects it. In the class of the Danish nation called the educated people there are certain general ideas regarding the moral, intellectual, and social acquirements which make an educated man ; and every one who understands these ideas and respects them is admitted into the society of the class, — which is certainly proper, as he has truly attained the first and most essential element of the education. Of course, as it is best to do what is good and only second best to leave undone what is bad, so it is best to be an educated man ; but it is next to the best to have that veneration for education which guards one from giving offence.

What, then, is the Danish idea of an educated man ? I will try to draw the outlines of this idea, considered, however, only from a social point of view. One condition is that the man shall be able to express his opinions, even when the conversation assumes the character of a passionate debate, in such a manner as does not hurt anybody’s feelings or make the conversation disagreeable by personal excitement. It is an intellectual duty to form opinions in perfect harmony with our individuality on all subjects which concern us ; and it is a moral duty to adhere to those opinions, to defend them to the utmost of our ability, to assert them with the whole strength of our personality. But in fulfilling this duty there may sometimes be shown an indifference to authority and politeness which in Denmark is never mistaken for true independence of opinions, and conviction of character. It is simply considered as stupidity and roughness, and he who has once or twice displayed this sort of independence will hardly have occasion to do it the third time. Another condition is that the man shall be able to make certain differences in his behavior towards other persons ; that he shall be able, so to speak, to shade his manners into perfect harmony with the circumstances. It is demanded of a man of consummate education that he shall have a different shade of manners for the prime-minister of the country and the tax-gatherer of the village, for the head of the Danish Church and the schoolmaster of Asmindrup, for H. C. Andersen and the printer’s boy who brings the proofs of his tales. Perfect education enables a man to value correctly each number in the long scale, from the eminent merits which confer great benefit on a whole nation to the drowsy drudgery which plods along towards its bread and butter; and it ought also to enable him to show this valuation honestly and gracefully. There is a levelling and equalizing plainness of manners which in Denmark is never mistaken for true manhood, but is simply considered and treated as impertinent arrogance. Persons before whose eyes all differences vanish into insignificance are, in good company in Denmark, always surrounded and generally checked by a very significant silence. A third condition is that the man shall possess a certain amount of knowledge ; that is to say, that his consciousness shall be widened so far beyond the spot of existence which denotes his own personal life, that on all sides it meets the infinite. Among educated people some have an eminently wide mental horizon, others a comparatively narrow one ; but it is always a token of perfect education when the consciousness at no point is pained or dulled by the barriers which ignorance and self-conceit raise around it. As the sailor feels at home on the vast plains of the ocean, and understands the changing expression in the face of the sea long before the passenger detects any change at all, the educated man must feel at home in the vast realms of human civilization, and understand whither the main streams come and whence they are going. Or, to go a little into details, according to the Danish idea of an educated man, he must have in his mind a picture of life in the ancient republics, under the feudalism of the Middle Ages, and in the democracy of modern times ; and this picture must, in some of its details, be painted in full, giving clear and well-defined notions of the tendencies, religious or moral, scientific or artistic, political or social, which have been acting in different periods, or are acting in the present. Or, to go still more into details, a girl who had never heard the names of Socrates and Columbus ; who had no idea of the difference between a picture of the Italian school and one of the Dutch school; who thought that Romeo and Juliet and The School for Scandal were written in France, or by the same author, or in the same century; who believed that Goethe wrote the libretto of the opera which Gounod composed, — would give pain in a Danish company, and nobody would know what to do with her. It is always supposed that the great peaks of civilization must have been visible to her from the hearth of her home, and it is always expected that she has been taught to look at them and to love them.

Where this ideal of education is generally acknowledged and striven for, life among educated people cannot fail to have both richness and sweetness. And these it has in Denmark. When on a winter evening the lamp is lit, and the ladies of the house gather round the table, one mending stockings and another mending laces, one reading the newest book and another making artificial flowers, one embroidering a smoking-cap for her brother and another making him six new shirts, the scene has a peculiar charm, like that of a breeze sweeping over a rose-bush, or that of a note struck on a well-tempered instrument. Although the same persons find each other at the same place every evening through many years, there is no monotony in their intercourse. Their intellects are conversant with a multitude of different interests, their minds stored with a multitude of different ideas. Even the smallest incident awakens a long train of new and interesting associations. The conversation is carried on with an almost French volubility of tongue; and although neither Shakespeare nor Goethe is named or thought of during the whole evening, yet they seem not to be absent. Even the slightest remarks have, like summer clouds at sunset, a golden tinge, which shows that the person has been touched and is attracted by ideas far beyond the actual reach of his own personal life. Once or twice a week this uniformity may be enlivened by the presence of company, for the Danes are exceedingly fond of social intercourse. The hall-doors are thrown open and many lamps are lit. The diamond edition opens and tells how the play, which some of the company are going to give next week at an amateur performance for the benefit of a poor widow, originated on the sunny plains of Castile as a great romantic drama, brilliant, luxurious, and overwhelming to a Northern imagination ; how it then wandered through every town in France, until, worn out and torn to pieces, it arrived at Paris, where some rags of it were dressed up as a burlesque ; how this burlesque set out on a journey through Germany, where it was patched over with sentimentality, until, at last, the Danish Mr. Robertson laid hold of it, and redressed it after his own taste. The great label explains that his collection gives ample evidence of the manner in which Scandinavia was peopled by the Gothic immigration. The parson advances another theory. Maps are unfolded, peculiarities of dialects searched, other documents examined, weighed pro and contra and the explanation of the great label is found to be correct. The pigbroker, who seems to be a great friend of the young ladies, is seated among a cluster of beauties, and gives a halfhumorous, half-awkward description of the latest fashion in the metropolis, — a woolsack on the back of the neck, and a halt-pint pitcher on the top of the skull, which description never fails to excite immense laughter. The supper is served by the young ladies, even in families where footmen are in attendance, and it is served through all the rooms. A napkin, a plate, a fork, and a glass are passed to each person wherever he happens to stand or sit, and so are the dishes, the dessert, the wine, and the punch. After supper there is singing, a little dancing, and a little smoking, until the carriages drive up before the door, and the whole company, amid preparations for the long drive through the frosty night, breaks up in the most amusing confusion. When they are wrapped up in their furs and shawls, the husband does not know his wife, and the mother can hardly recognize her children. The general cry of “ Good night, come soon and see us ! ” is every moment pierced by the still louder cry after Lise and Peter ; and while Peter is sure that he has conducted Lise safely to the carriage, Lise is strolling about through all the rooms in search of Peter.

During the summer people do not visit each other much at their homes. They meet in the groves, where large and elegant pavilions are built for the purpose. Here the supper is served under boughs hung with colored lamps, while a tolerably good orchestra is playing. In places, however, where no pavilion has been built, the scene is always more pleasant and more romantic. Where the forest opens on the sea, a great fire is made close by the strand,— a huge beacon, whose long flames leap high in the air, painting the waves with gold and the trees with bronze, and sending up towards the sky a column of gilded smoke. Here the families spread their suppers around the beacon, with the waves for orchestra and the sky for a pavilion, and soon the whole air rings with songs and laughter.

This ideal of education and these manners of life, which, as above mentioned, have here been sketched from a social point of view only, are open to much criticism, as the Danes themselves know very well. During the last thirty years changes have taken place, both in the position of the Danes as a nation and in their organization as a state, which demand corresponding changes in their ideal of education. During the last generation the German people, with Prussia and Austria at its head, has pounced upon them twice, and bloody wars have ensued. The true cause of these wars was the necessity that the German princes should supply a temporary vent for the democratic fermentation in the German people ; but the reasons given publicly were so subtle that foreign diplomatists hardly understood them, and so insignificant that foreign nations could hardly be expected to take any great interest in them. From these wars the Danes learned that, in order to vindicate themselves as a nation, they must be prepared to transform their whole land at any minute from a home into a camping-ground, and that, for many years to come, every man must sleep with his weapons under his pillow, — an idea which was very foreign to the ruling education. During the same time they became a free people, andthis also led them to understand that their ideal of education was, in many respects, incomplete, and its realization, in some points, absolutely wrong. The more frequent and more intimate intercourse between the different classes of the people, especially between the peasantry and the educated class, which the free constitution brought about, made it natural that this class should exercise a great influence on the peasants. But this influence proved to be bad. That which the peasants needed was not possessed by the educated class, and what they took from it was its faults, not to say its vices. The first peasants who, under the freer constitution, entered into public life generally made a very unfavorable, even offensive impression. They were stubborn, overbearing, and seemingly insensible to arguments. They were radical as far as their egotism reached, but beyond that they were very aristocratic. They irritated by their behavior, and when the irritation subsided they were laughed at. It is stupidity, was generally said. But it was not stupidity. It was half imitation, half revenge. The educated people had not succeeded in moulding their own manners to the circumstances. They had started from a wrong basis. They were submissive to those above them, and arrogant to those beneath them ; and the peasant, who now addressed them in an overbearing, almost slighting manner, simply imitated them ; while at the same time he probably vented an old ill-feeling. It was evident to a close observer that that by which the peasant gave offence was just that which he had learned from the educated class ; and it could be said with truth that the peasants held before the eyes of the educated class a mirror in which its vices, its faults, and its failures were mimicked in the most hideous manner.

It was for several years a serious question how to educate the peasants. They were a drowsy, sluggish race, and utterly unintelligent. “We will have rain to-morrow,” the peasant would say, “the sun sets big and red.” This might be all right; but if you had tried to explain to him that the sun looked bigger and redder than usual because it was seen through a dense mist, and that it was this mist which would probably gather into a cloud and give rain the next day, he would merely have looked at you with the void glance of a dog, not knowing whether you were trying to fool him or whether you really explained the mystery. Nevertheless, he gave ample evidence that he was not dull by nature, he only lacked education. He was stupid as he trudged along behind the plough ; but he often showed himself a shrewd observer both of natural phenomena and of human character, and in the small business he had to transact he always exhibited considerable tact. Many of the greatest Danish merchants of this century were either peasants or the descendants by one generation from peasant stock. The pig-broker is by no means the only one among them who has shown a high degree of mercantile talent. In all sorts of exercise and games they were awkward and clumsy, and singularly afraid of trying anything new ; yet they make excellent soldiers, quick in their movements, undaunted, cool, and resolute before the mouths of the cannon. They were phlegmatic almost to stupidity, nothing seemed to make any vivid impression upon them ; and yet they had a very strong sympathy for animals, and for old and sick persons. I knew one who whipped his wife — literally whipped her — at least once a week ; but when she was ill, he nursed her with a patience and kindness not to be surpassed ; and when she fell very sick, and he was told that she must die, the cold sweat sprang from his forehead, and with many tears he asked her if there were anything he could do for her before they were separated, “ for I have loved thee truly all my life through.” The worst, however, was that they had no sense of honor and no self-control. When a man stole, they gave him a nickname, — for instance, Theft-Lars ; and they called him so, not only when they spoke about him, but also when they addressed him, and he was none the worse for that. Nevertheless, even in these respects it seemed as if the world, and not nature, had made them so. As a rule, they were very honest, and, when trusted, perfectly reliable. Only when a vice — for instance, drunkenness — took hold of them, they were lost. They did not drink till they were tipsy, but they drank till they were dead. A peasant once made a bet that he could waltz for twenty-four hours, and it was necessary to send for the police in order to prevent him from waltzing into his grave ; and peasants often made the bet of drinking twenty-four “ snapses ” in twenty-four seconds, standing on one leg. There was generally a wildness and impetuosity in their faults and vices which showed that there was a latent energy concealed behind their drowsiness. The important question was, how to awaken this energy and direct it into a proper channel. It was generally hoped that life, under a free constitution, in connection with a better school - education, would do this work. But both failed utterly. A compendium of Danish history, of the geography of Europe, ancl of some of the most striking features of the history and philosophy of nature were introduced into the schools. But,generally, the schoolmasters did not understand how to work with the new materials, and even where they did, even where seed was actually sown and planted, there came forth no fruit. How the free constitution influenced the peasants I have hinted. It seemed at the start merely to let loose what every man wished to see tied up as securely as possible. The situation grew worse instead of better. Efforts were made to influence them through their homes, but without success. A peasant’s home in Denmark, twenty years ago, was very poor. His house consisted of four thatched buildings, united in a square, enclosing “ the farmer’s goldmine,” where the hogs dug out the treasures, and which made neither the most wholesome nor the most agreeable neighborhood. Behind the house was a garden with one or two fruit-trees, which grew wild, and one or two flowers, which nobody saw until he had trodden upon them. The dwelling itself consisted of three rooms, — the kitchen, the room, and the farther-room. The last was very seldom used ; it was furnished with at least one feather-bed, sometimes three or four, which could be reached only by help of a ladder, and were hung with immense blue cotton curtains, which made each bed a separate room. Under the windows stood immense chests with brass handles, and between the windows were two or three seats. That was all. In “ the room ” the parents and children, and servants of both sexes lived, together with the poultry, the sick lamb, and the pet pig. In this room one generation ate, drank, and amused itself, while another was born, and a third died ; and, to make the picture more impressive, I will add that the window-sashes were nailed to the frames, so that the windows could never be opened. In this home the peasant rested after the day’s drudgery, and with this home his amusements corresponded. A burial was one of his best pleasures. When a man died the whole neighborhood gathered together in the house of mourning early in the morning on the day of the burial, men and women eating, drinking, and feasting round the corpse : I have seen them play cards on the top of the coffin ! Of course, it was not difficult for the clergy to make such roughnesses vanish ; but though in the course of a few years the male servants were moved to a room in another building, though a separate sleeping-room was built for the parents, though the floor was laid with wood instead of clay, and though the windows were sometimes opened, yet the change which took place in the peasant’s home-life was really only a change from roughness to vanity. The prospect was sad, nay, it was even dangerous ; for the peasantry formed the most numerous class of the people, and, consequently, within a short time they would constitute the majority in the legislation.

Then came the revival, — that astonishing change which, in less than a year, made the slow, sullen peasant-lad a quick, enterprising man, communicative, eager to learn, and acting from the most liberal and generous impulses; that powerful change which within two or three generations will make the peasantry the kernel of the Danish people, and will alter the whole ideal of education by placing it on a much broader basis ; that blessed change which will produce the future of Denmark, if any future she has, by showing to the world — what the world at present is somewhat liable to forget — that small nations may have a right to live because civilization may find offices for them which the great nations are unable to fill. That final perfection which art has never attained since the days of Greece, whence did it come? It came from the uniformity of the public which art addressed, from the happy circumstance that, in the Greek societies, all citizens stood on the same basis of education, with no other difference than that of degree and specialty. It was the popular unity in all essential ideas upon which life was based which gave their art its wonderful ripeness and consistency. In societies where there are forced together such discrepancies as the monk torturing himself in his cell and the knight gluttonizing in his hall, art will never reach far beyond the sickly affectation of a coterie. And not only art, but science and business, and every sphere in which human life develops, demand a certain uniformity among the different classes in society. But at present this uniformity is attainable by small nations only; and for this reason I hope that the Danes still have a future before them.

This revolution, or rather revival, is due to one man, Nicolas Frederik Severin Grundtvig. He was a bishop, and was about ninety years old when he died, a few months ago ; but although drooping, with a feeble gait and weak eyes, he still rendered the impression of a mighty personality, even upon strangers who could not see the halo which his grand life and many men’s hopes have set round his head. His life was one continual battle ; but not so much against external adversaries ; for, although every second line in his writings is polemical, his polemics are not especially noteworthy. His genius had no power of destruction. The ground on which he built was cleared and prepared by History herself, not by him. But he had to struggle against the impetuosity and turbulence of his own mind. As early as 1805 he wrote out and published the ideas of popular education which, half a century after, when put in practice, brought a new bloom upon the country. But on their first appearance these ideas were very little heeded, not only because the soil was not yet prepared for them, but also because they were obscure in themselves. And so were all his ideas when they first appeared. His obscurity is not that which characterizes Tauler and Jacob Böhme. They retreated into obscurity, into the obscurity of the infinite ; their minds found rest in the romantic twilight of a pious mysticism ; he struggled out from obscurity, from the obscurity of a passionate, effervescent mind, towards the simple clearness of practical life, and he succeeded. His old age was an unclouded, majestic sunset. In the earlier days of his life the variety of his gifts seems to have distracted and impeded him not a little, though later on this many-sidedness proved to be the very condition for fulfilling the mission which was given him. He was a great linguist, a scholar not only in Latin and Greek, but also in Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon. His edition of Bjoeoulf’s Drapa has made his name celebrated among English scholars. He is a great historian. In spite of a number of whimsical ideas which they propound, his two great works, — the Myths of the North, and the World’s Chronicle — rank among the first in Danish literature on account of the broad and elevated views they contain. His judgments of characters and tendencies and his prophecies as to the practical consequences of certain incidents, were very much laughed at when his World’s Chronicle first appeared ; but they proved true. He was a great poet. He wrote a grand drama giving a picture of the struggle between Christianity and the Scandinavian heathenism. It was written at that period when Goethe’s Faust and Tieck’s dramas had loosened and almost dissolved the dramatic form. It lacks unity and concentration ; but it has one quality in common with the greatest poetry, — it grows upon the reader, and becomes more and more interesting after every perusal. Besides this drama, he wrote a great number of ballads and hymns ; and, as a poet, he is best known to his countrymen by these minor poems. They are very different in character, though they are equally excellent. His ballads breathe a passionate patriotism, and in some of them, for instance, in one called Niels Ebbeson, in which he mastered the Danish language as seldom had a language been mastered before, the passion is heightened to an almost overwhelming degree of excitement. His hymns, on the contrary, give the sweetest expressions of a mind’s repose, of a soul’s rest in faith and hope ; and they show that, through the long and hard struggle of his life, one thing, at least, was always settled and sure.

It was, however, neither as a linguist, nor as an historian, nor as a poet that Grundtvig became the reformer of the Danish civilization. It was as a theologian and as a clergyman. Of course it could not be otherwise ; no power but religion can straighten a soul distorted by vicious passions ; no power but religion can awaken a soul dulled by thraldom. The rule is the same for nations as for individuals. Nothing but religion can save a nation when bad habits and bad passions have brought it to ruin ; nothing but religion can lift a nation when it begins to sink by its dead weight to the bottom of civilization. Good schools and a free constitution are great influences in the life of a people, if they work on a foundation of religious feeling ; if not, they are null and void. They can make a man swell, but they cannot make him grow.

In Denmark two different forms or conceptions of Christianity—the rational and the speculative—followed one after the other in this century, both originating from a similar movement in the German philosophy, and both equally barren and useless in practical life. They both agree in considering the Bible, not only as the regula fidei, but as the only source of true Christian knowledge ; but while the former interprets the contents of the Bible till it becomes consonant with human reason, the latter mythifies the contents of the modern consciousness till it becomes consonant with the Bible. But in both cases religious life is made an intellectual process entirely indifferent to the wants of the volition, — a discussion between science and revelation entirely indifferent to the demands of practical life. What did the peasant care whether reason found a natural explanation of the miracles of Christ, or whether a higher speculation saw fit to dispense with the laws of nature? He slept, and was about to lose his soul in the heavy dreams of his sleep. Then came Grundtvig. His first thesis is that the Bible is a book like all other books, — infinitely better because it teaches us how to save our souls, but still a book only, which, like all other books, demands to be read in and with a certain spirit, in order to be understood. His second thesis is that the way into Christianity is, consequently, not through the Bible, which demands that you shall be a Christian before you can read it, but through baptism. In baptism you make a contract with God ; you promise to believe in the creed in which you are baptized, and to act up to your faith ; and God promises that he will save your soul for the kingdom of his glory if you redeem your words. I cannot here undertake either to explain to the reader the great consequences involved in these theses, or to give any idea of the immense learning, Iinguistical, historical, and philosophical, which Grundtvig and his disciples have brought to bear on the argumentation of them. But I hope that one thing is evident, namely, that Christianity by these theses is transformed from an intellectual process into an act of the will, from a discussion into actual life ; and this transformation was all that was needed. Its effects were wonderful.

During his long life Grundtvig made a great number of disciples. Indeed, to make disciples able to propagate and develop his ideas was the proper work of his own personal life. Many of these were theologians, and rose, little by little, to the highest dignities in the Danish Church and at the Danish University. Others occupied very different positions in society. The queen and the old maids in the hospital where he was chaplain, some merchants, some noblemen, some peasants, and a considerable number of mechanics gathered every Sunday in his church. In spite of their very different social circumstances and very different education, all these people looked very much alike. A strong hue of religion and as strong a hue of nationalism characterized their every word and action. They danced, went to the theatres, played cards, drank wine, and enjoyed life as freely as other people; but the manner in which they did all these things was new. They carried religion with them everywhere, not in the form of a prayerbook, but in the form of a certain innocence and frankness which ennobled the amusement, and which was heightened in effect by the unflinching indignation with which they assailed all frivolity. In their speech and writing; they laid much stress on the purity of the language. Words of genuine Danish stock, which had been supplanted by foreign importation and were now living only in the dialects of the peasantry, were drawn forth, and often gave their utterances a peculiar pith and raciness. Even the most quiet and unpretentious among them were very different from other people ; and as a great mental agility and great eagerness for practical enterprise characterized most of them, it was no wonder that they very soon made a sensation. It was thought, however, that the movement would be confined within comparatively narrow limits and soon die away; and thus it excited a general surprise, when all at once the party arose and took the lead in nearly every field of civilization.

Most wonderful and most beneficial was the effect on the peasantry. Winter schools were established, where the young peasants, male and female, spent the winters, when there was very little to do at home on the farm. Here they learned to love their Bible and their hymn-book; their native tongue, its verses and its tales ; their fatherland, its liberty and its history ; and here they learned why a big and red sun indicates rain, what to do to get animals and trees to grow, how to live in order to live long and in good health. It is impossible to tell in detail what they learn and how they learn it; for there is no system either as to the materials or as to the method of instruction. This, indeed, is the invariable objection of all old fogies in Denmark against these schools, — that they have no system. But the objection is utterly unfounded. Men work either by inspiration or by system. When the inspiration is used up, the system must follow ; but as long as the former is still alive, there is no need of the latter. And inspired these young teachers are who, with a full heart and two empty hands, go out in the country, hire a farther-room in a farm, and open the school. Their deeds speak for them.

It was an evening in July when I came home, after the absence of nearly a year. The village in which I was born is situated on the west side of the hills, and as I drew near the broad plain lay basking in the warm sunset. On the top of the hills the church stood, all in one blaze of splendor. The panes of the large windows in the steeple caught the beams of the setting sun, and reflected them as if a new sun was lit within the choir. Half an hour later, when the sun sank deeper, the panes of the farmhouses were illumined, and a golden belt seemed to gird the hills. On Sunday, at this hour, the peasants, male and female, used to gather around the village pond, amusing themselves as best they could. But generally the chief amusement was the arrival of the cake-pedler with his basket; for while he sold cakes to the women, he sold spiced rum and other “sweet drinks” to the men; and in the evening the place around the pond often rang with indecent talk, with brawls and uproar. The sun sank below the horizon just as I reached my birthplace. The night was perfectly still, and the great bell in the steeple lifted up its solemn booming, telling over hill and valley that night was come. There were many people assembled at the pond, but there was no noise. They stood in groups under the old willow-trees, and when the last boom of the bell died away in the night, they all burst out in a beautiful hymn. I stopped amazed. When the hymn was over, they shook hands, and bade each other “good by,” and family after family walked away, each towards its home. For a little while some children’s laughter was heard, then the echo of some footsteps afar off, then the shutting of a window, and then nothing. I walked over to the pond. There were seats around the old willow-trunks, and the seats were painted. The pond was set with cut stones, and behind it was erected a shooting-gallery. I was still more surprised. What did it mean ? Was there to be a feast ? No, the change was not for the sake of one day. The houses were whitewashed. The doors hung straight on their hinges. Trees were planted behind every house, and a smell of roses floated in the air. I sat down and looked around, dimly feeling that this change foreshadowed the future of my fatherland.

Clemens Petersen.