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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Henrik Hertz (1798–1870)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE LITERARY activity of Henrik Hertz falls within the golden age of Danish literature. The opening years of the nineteenth century brought Oehlenschläger’s first great poem, followed by his ‘Poetical Writings’ and tragedies. A little later, Hauch began writing his lyrics and romances in verse; Heiberg was taking his position as critic and as creator of the Danish vaudeville; Heiberg’s mother, the Baroness Gyllembourg, was writing her popular novels, shielding her identity by signing them “By the Author of ‘An Every-Day Story’” (her first successful novel); and finally, Hans Christian Andersen joined the ranks with his famous ‘Fairy Tales.’ On the threshold of the century stood Baggesen, who in spite of his sincere admiration for the rising school of romanticism had remained the representative of the classic school, and had fought a brave battle for form, when Oehlenschläger in the enthusiasm of a wider vision began to neglect it.  1
  Continuing the line of Denmark’s literary men of the first rank came Hertz, whose career at the outset had—temporarily—a direct connection with Baggesen. As distinguished among the greater Danish lyrical poets and the writers of his own time, he may be called the poet of passion, while Oehlenschläger stands as the poet of dignity, and Heiberg as the poet of form. Born of Jewish parents in Copenhagen, on August 25th, 1798, the boy was early orphaned, and brought up by a relative, an editor of a leading newspaper. A literary atmosphere thus became his natural element early in life; and it is not remarkable that he showed his preference for authorship and his gifts for it rather than for the bar, to which he was nevertheless called in 1825. He began his literary activity with three or four plays, including ‘Buchardt and his Family’ (1827), ‘Love and Policy,’ and ‘Cupid’s Strokes of Genius’ (1830). But in the last-mentioned year, when Baggesen had been dead some four years, Copenhagen was startled by the publication of a satirical literary criticism, purporting to be the great poet’s message and commentary from another world, under the title of ‘Letters of a Ghost.’ It exhibited Baggesen’s ironical humor, critical insight, and finish of style; but all was blended with a wider sympathy and a broader tolerance than Baggesen had shown during his later years. The volume was by Henrik Hertz, who however did not acknowledge the authorship till later, though the book met with enormous success and was the talk of the town for a season. It may be noted in passing that the ‘Letters’ contained a cutting criticism of Hans Christian Andersen’s earlier writings, severe enough to cause that sensitive author many an hour of depression; and that when Andersen met Hertz some years later in Rome, he had not yet conquered his dread of the critic. They became excellent friends; and when Andersen found his true field and held it, with his fairy tales, Hertz became one of his warmest admirers.  2
  Continuing to devote himself to the stage, Hertz wrote ‘The Savings Bank,’ a comedy which had a great success, and still holds the stage to-day. In 1838 he advanced into the romantic drama in verse, ‘Svend Dyring’s House.’ The subject of this piece he took from the old Danish folk-songs, and kept throughout their tone of simplicity and tenderness. We find in this drama the knightly lover cutting runes in an apple, that he may by their help win the love of the gentle Regisse. We have the wicked stepmother who tries to win the knight for her own unlovable daughter, cruelly neglecting Regisse and her little sisters. We have the ghost of the dead mother, who comes at night to give her own little children the motherly care they so sadly need. Finally, after much sorrow, the lovers are happily united. All is framed in the most exquisite verse, and presented with great literary charm and dramatic power. The subject was so essentially Danish, however, that it did not spread Hertz’s fame outside of his own country.  3
  To the foreign world, in fact, Henrik Hertz is principally known by one work, ‘King René’s Daughter,’ a charming romantic drama, dated as late as 1845. It was read and acted with immediate and immense success in Denmark, where it is still in every repertory, and thence passed into the standard library of the cultivated world. In 1848 followed the author’s tragedy of ‘Ninon,’ a high proof of his artistic and dramatic power; but ‘Ninon’ is not universally known like its charming predecessor. ‘King René’s Daughter,’ the scene of which is laid in Provence, is of most simple texture. It is more like a pretty folk-tale than a drama, although its half-dozen personages include historical ones, and even its heroine, the gentle Iolanthe, is an idealized Princess Yolande, daughter of the real King René. It is full of the charm of innocence, pure love, and chivalric romance, and a certain idyllic freshness exhales from every page and situation of it, like the perfume from the roses in the blind Iolanthe’s garden. Sweet, almost pastoral and yet moving to a romantic climax, it is in touch with such things as Shakespeare’s ‘Winter’s Tale,’ or some of those Provençal legends that the poets of Southern France have set in verse. The diction is beautiful, and rarely has so happy a balance between the play to read and the play to act been maintained. It has passed into translations everywhere; and, a distinctively Southern subject treated by a Northern poet, it stands for a kind of graft of palm on pine.  4
  Hertz’s life was his literary work; and the record of that is its most interesting element to the world. He died in Copenhagen, February 25th, 1870.  5
 
 
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