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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789–1862)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
INGEMANN was born in his father’s parsonage on the little island of Falster, Denmark, the 28th of May, 1789. He was the youngest of nine children, an impressionable, sensitive child, craving and needing the love lavished on him in his home. A happy childhood, passed in beautiful country surroundings in close touch with nature, developed in him a winning sympathetic temperament, a sometimes almost womanly tenderness. Harshness or misunderstanding wounded him deeply, and left, as he himself said, “a shadow which even the most radiant light of love and joy have found it difficult to efface.” The intensity of the child’s feelings showed itself in his love for every living thing. When he was given a present of a bird he “trembled with excitement; as he put out his hands for it he screamed with joy; when he held the bird in his hand he dreamt of his happiness; and his first thought when he awoke in the morning was the happy certainty, ‘I have my bird!’ He never found another expression which more truly and strongly painted his joy at having consciously awakened to the highest happiness of his life than the childish words, ‘I have my bird.’”  1
  With a temperament like this, and growing into manhood at a time when romanticism found its first and full expression in Oehlenschläger’s tragedies, in the poetry of Heiberg, Hauch, and Hertz, it is no wonder that Ingemann found it impossible to finish his law course, and gave himself up unreservedly to his literary work. His father had died when the boy was about ten years old, his mother died before his University course was finished, he himself was not strong in his early youth: his first collection of poems, published 1811, is touched with the consequent depression, which found voice in dreamy love and religious devotion. About this time he became engaged to his future wife, Lucie Marie Mandix. In 1813 he published ‘Procne,’ in 1814 ‘The Black Knights,’ and in 1815 the tragedy ‘Blanca,’ which took all sensitive hearts by storm. Heiberg, who had a strong sense of humor, found the sentiment of ‘Blanca’ dangerously near sentimentality, and made many a good joke over it.  2
  In 1818 the government granted Ingemann a traveling stipend; and during the year he spent abroad he seems to have awakened to a fresher, fuller life and a more healthily balanced state of mind, through which his warm heart suffered no loss, for he wrote home in an outburst of enthusiasm: “God be praised that there is so much I love.” A collection of ‘Stories and Fairy Tales’ (1820) showed great intellectual development in him, and a decided talent as story-teller; ‘Magnetism in the Barber Shop’ (1821), a comedy after the manner of Holberg, is among his best works.  3
  He was made lecturer on the Danish language and literature at the Academy of Sorö in 1822, and married that same year after an eleven-years’ engagement. In the quiet little academic town, with its many historic memories of the past when Denmark was in the flush of its power, Ingemann’s impressionable temperament found its right material. During the next twelve years he worked incessantly on his historic poems and novels, the latter of which have given him his importance in Danish literature. ‘Waldemar the Victorious’ (1826), ‘Erik Menved’s Childhood’ (1828), ‘King Erik and the Outlaws’ (1833), ‘Prince Otto of Denmark and his Time’ (1835), are strong books.  4
  Some of the historians shook their heads at this manner of turning history into romance, but to Ingemann it was no product of the imagination; he wished them taken in full earnest, and he wrote them in a natural, easy style, giving himself up altogether to what he considered undoubtedly the life of the person he was depicting. While he was planning one of these novels he wrote, “I wish I were head over ears in the writing of it; only so am I happy.” To him his room stood full of knights and noble ladies who wished to speak with him, and he gives himself fully to them, living with them, loving them, hating them, absorbed in the smallest details of their lives. And the fact that behind the mighty armors of his brave knights, and the sumptuous court gowns of his beautiful ladies, we always recognize the author’s own childlike smile, makes them perhaps all the more sympathetic and dear to us. In much the same spirit he wrote his ‘Evening and Morning Songs,’ most of them embodied in the Danish collection of church hymns. They were the simple, natural expression of the thoughts that might come to any child in the early morning and evening hours, and there is hardly a Danish child in city or country to whom they are not among the earliest ineffaceable memories.  5
  After the death of Oehlenschläger (1850) Ingemann was decidedly the favorite of the people, although none was more conscious than he that the place of the great departed could not be filled. In 1852 he published ‘The Village Children,’ a novel in four parts. During the last ten years of his life he wrote almost exclusively religious poetry.  6
  Those that made a pilgrimage to Sorö to see him generally found him in his study, a large room on the ground floor opening directly out into the garden; among the portraits on the wall were De la Motte Fouqué (to whom he bore a strong intellectual resemblance), Hoffmann, Schiller, etc. The host himself was of average height; a cheerful genial man with a humorous twinkle in his eye, generally puffing his study-pipe with evident enjoyment.  7
  Ingemann is of course repeatedly called “the Danish Walter Scott”; but unlike Scott, he always laid the weight on the leading historic character of his novels. If Ingemann’s novels should be weighed in the scales of history and literature and found too light, they will nevertheless always possess great importance as landmarks in the progress of Danish culture.  8
 
 
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