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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Holger Drachmann (1846–1908)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
HOLGER DRACHMANN, born in Copenhagen October 9th, 1846, belongs to the writers characterized by Georg Brandes as “the men of the new era.”  1
  Danish literature had stood high during the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1850 Oehlenschläger died. In 1870 there was practically no Danish literature. The reason for this may have been that after the new political life of 1848–9 and the granting of the Danish Constitution, politics absorbed all young talent, and men of literary tastes put themselves at the service of the daily press.  2
  In 1872 Georg Brandes gave his lectures on ‘Main Currents in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century’ at the University of Copenhagen. That same year Drachmann published his first collection of ‘Poems,’ and so began his extraordinary productivity of poems, dramas, and novels. Of these, his lyric poems are undoubtedly of the greatest value. His is a distinctly lyric temperament. The new school had chosen for its guide Brandes’s teaching that “Literature, to be of significance, should discuss problems.” In view of this fact it is somewhat hard to understand why Drachmann should be called a man of the new era. He never discusses problems. He always gives himself up unreservedly to the subject which at that special moment claims his sympathy. Taken as a whole, therefore, his writings present a certain inconsistency. He has shown himself alternately as socialist and royalist, realist and romanticist, freethinker and believer, cosmopolitan and national, according to the lyric enthusiasm of the moment. Independent of these changes, the one thing to be admired and enjoyed is his lyric feeling and the often exquisite form in which he presents it. His larger compositions, novels, and dramas do not show the same power over his subject.  3
  If Drachmann discusses any problem, it is the problem Drachmann. He does this sometimes with what Brandes calls “a light and joking self-irony,” in a most sympathetic way. Brandes quotes one of Drachmann’s early stories, where it is said of the hero:—“His name was really Palnatoke Olsen; a continually repeated discord of two tones, as he used to say.” Olsen is one of the most commonplace Danish names. Palnatoke is the name of one of the fiercest warriors of heathen antiquity, who, like a veritable Valhalla god, dared to oppose the terrible Danish king Harald Blaatand. When Olsen’s parents gave him this name they unwittingly described their son, “forever drawn by two poles: one the plain Olsen, the other the hot-headed fiery Viking.” With this in mind, and considering Drachmann’s literary works as a whole, one is irresistibly reminded of his friend and contemporary in Norway, Björnsterne Björnson. There is this difference between them, however, that if the irony of Palnatoke Olsen may be applied to both, one might for Drachmann use the abbreviation P. Olsen and for Björnson undoubtedly Palnatoke O.  4
  It might be said of Drachmann, as Sauer said of the Italian poet Monti:—“Like a master in the art of appreciation, he knew how to give himself up to great time-stirring ideas; somewhat as a gifted actor throws himself into his part, with the full strength of his art, with an enthusiasm carrying all before it, and in the most expressive way; then when the part is played, lays it quietly aside and takes hold of something else.”  5
  When a young man, Drachmann studied at the Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, and met with considerable success as a marine painter. His love for the Northern seas shows itself in his poetry and prose, and his descriptions of the sea and the life of the sailor and fisherman are of the truest and best yielded by his pen. He is the author of no less than forty-six volumes of poems, dramas, novels, short stories, and sketches, and of two unpublished dramas. His most important work is ‘Forskrevet’ (Condemned), which is largely autobiographical; his most attractive though not his strongest production is the opera ‘Der Var Engang’ (Once Upon a Time), founded on Andersen’s ‘The Swineherd,’ with music by Sange Müller; his best poems and tales are those dealing with the sea. Among his later works are ‘Den hellige Ild’ (The Sacred Fire) (1899), an autobiographical volume in which he speaks in his own person, ‘Halfred Vandraadskjald’ (1900), a lyrical drama, and ‘Det grönne Haab’ (1903).  6
  He made his home in Hamburg, where on October 10th, 1896, he celebrated his fiftieth birthday and his twenty-fifth “Author-Jubilee,” as the Danes call it. Among the features of the celebration were the sending of an enormous number of telegrams from Drachmann’s admirers in Europe and America, and the performance of two of his plays,—one at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, the other at the Stadt Theatre in Altona. Drachmann died in Copenhagen, January 14th, 1908.  7
 
 
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