Henrik Ibsen's letter to Björnstjerne Björnson

ARICCIA [1], 12th September 1865
The following letter from Henrik Ibsen to Björnstjerne Björnson is reprinted from Letters of Henrik Ibsen. Trans. John Nilsen Laurvik & Mary Morison. New York: Fox, Duffield and Co., 1905.

My Dear Björnson,--

Your letter and the cheque from Hegel came when they were wanted. Thank you, my dear, good friend, for both! But, kind and loving as your letter was--nay, for that very reason--I have read it with self-reproach, because it shows me that you have been anxious and worried on my account. Thank you for this too! For all that is included in the one great thing--by far the most important to me and my fortunes that has ever happened--namely, my having met and really found you, I shall never be able to make any return except a devotion which neither my friends nor your enemies will be able to alter. I know that you understand me; you know that it is not Björnson the subscription-collector who is chiefly present to my thoughts. Well--more of this when we meet. I can talk to you now; I never could do so quite frankly before.

Things are going well with me now; and they have really been doing so the whole time, except on the one or two occasions when I have been at my wit's end, not only where to turn to for money, but with regard to my work also. It would make no progress. Then one day I strolled into St. Peter's--I had gone to Rome on an errand--and there I suddenly saw in strong and clear outlines the form for what I had to say.

I threw to the winds all that I had been unavailingly torturing myself with for a whole year, and in the middle of July began something new, which progressed as nothing has ever progressed with me before. The work is new, in the sense that I only began to write it then, but the subject and the mood have been weighing on me like a nightmare ever since the many lamentable political occurrences at home first made me examine myself and the condition of our national life, and think about things that before had passed me lightly by. It is a dramatic poem, modern in subject, serious in tone, five acts in rhymed verse (not a second Love's Comedy). The fourth act is now nearly finished, and the fifth I feel I can write in a week. I work both in the morning and the afternoon, a thing I have never been able to do before. It is delightfully peaceful here; we have no acquaintances; I read nothing but the Bible--it has vigour and power.

If I were asked to tell at this moment what has been the chief result of my stay abroad, I should say that it consisted in my having driven out of myself the æstheticism with a claim to independent existence. Æstheticism of this kind seems to me now as great a curse to poetry as theology to religion. You have never been troubled with it; you have never gone about looking at things through your hollowed hand.

Is it not an inexpressibly great gift of fortune to be able to write? But it brings with it great responsibility; and I am now sufficiently serious to realize this and to be very severe with myself. An æsthete in Copenhagen once said to me: "Christ is really the most interesting phenomenon in the world's history." The æsthete enjoyed him as the glutton does the sight of an oyster. I have always been too strong to become a creature of that type; but what the intellectual asses might have made of me if they had me all to themselves, I know not; it was you, dear Björnson, who prevented them doing as they would with me. You are clear-sighted enough both regarding yourself and me, to see that my need lies exactly in the direction of what you have given and intended to give. I seem to have no end of things to say to you. They come rushing into my mind in a disorderly manner, and if I were to write them all down, there would be more than any postage could cover--so let me come at once to business.

You say that the Storthing must grant my petition. Do you really believe it will? I have an impression that my new work will not dispose the members more charitably towards me; but hang me if I can or will, on that account, suppress a single line, no matter what these "pocket-edition" souls think of it. Let me rather be a beggar all my life! If I cannot be myself in what I write, then the whole is nothing but lies and humbug; and of these our country has enough without giving special grants to get more. I will make the attempt, however. What will be my best plan? May I send the petition through you? There is time enough yet, I suppose, but I will not delay too long.

The Trondhjem people are surely making an empty excuse in asserting that my petition arrived too late. It is dated the 26th of March. If School Superintendent Müller is on the board of management, I have reason to believe that I have an enemy there. Thank you for not letting the matter drop, and also for applying on my behalf for the appointment at the University Library. I do not know what appointment it is; but that is of no consequence.

The Ancker Scholarship funds are not likely, in present circumstances, to be given to "Scandinavians," either Norwegians or Danes, but if you will apply, I shall be grateful for your good offices in this matter also.

Will you kindly forward the enclosed letter to Attorney Sverdrup [2]. Before my departure he requested me to let him know if I were in want of money at any time during my absence. So far I have not made use of his offer; but my debt to Bravo weighs upon me [3]; and I cannot send the manuscript before the whole is finished, unless I make a copy for my own use during the writing of the rest, and that would delay me. I do not believe the Theatre can give me a performance--were I in the management myself, I should have to vote against it. But if you can make use of my new play, that is quite another matter. It is undoubtedly dramatic; but how far it is presentable in other respects is something you must decide for yourself.

We received your Maria Stuart last spring, and enjoyed it and were invigorated by it. When may we expect your comedy? What nonsense is this about a People's Theatre in Christiania? [4] Is it Krohn who is at the bottom of it? It would be just like him. Goodbye. Our love to your and yours.--

Your devoted


[1] Ariccia, a village eighteen miles south-east of Rome, Ibsen wrote Brand here. Björnson was meanwhile exerting himself in every possible way to procure pecuniary assistance for him.

[2] Johan Sverdrup, the famous Liberal political leader.

[3] Johan Bravo, a German, was first Danish, and afterwards also Norwegian and Swedish, consul in Rome.

[4] A People's Theatre actually came into existence in August 1865. Björnson's management of the Christiania Theatre was by no means satisfactory to all concerned.


Home · Theatre Links · Monologues · One Act Plays · Bookstore · © 2006 TheatreHistory.com