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An essay by Hans Christian Andersen


Title:     Upsala
Author: Hans Christian Andersen [More Titles by Andersen]

It is commonly said, that Memory is a young girl with light blue eyes. Most poets say so; but we cannot always agree with most poets. To us memory comes in quite different forms, all according to that land, or that town to which she belongs. Italy sends her as a charming Mignon, with black eyes and a melancholy smile, singing Bellini's soft, touching songs. From Scotland Memory's sprite appears as a powerful lad with bare knees; the plaid hangs over his shoulder, the thistle-flower is fixed on his cap; Burns's songs then fill the air like the heath-lark's song, and Scotland's wild thistle flowers beautifully fragrant as the fresh rose. But now for Memory's sprite from Sweden, from Upsala. He comes thence in the form of a student--at least, he wears the Upsala student's white cap with the black rim. To us it points out its home, as the Phrygian cap denotes Ganymede.

It was in the year 1843, that the Danish students travelled to Upsala. Young hearts met together; eyes sparkled: they laughed, they sang. Young hearts are the future--the conquering future--in the beautiful, true and good; it is so good that brothers should know and love each other. Friendship's meeting is still annually remembered in the palace-yard of Upsala, before the monument of Gustavus Vasa--by the hurra! for Denmark, in warm-hearted compliment to me.

Two summers afterwards, the visit was returned. The Swedish students came to Copenhagen, and that they might there be known amongst the multitude, the Upsala students wore a white cap with a black rim: this cap is accordingly a memorial,--the sign of friendship's bridge over that river of blood which once flowed between kindred nations. When one meets in heart and spirit, a blissful seed is then sown. Memory's sprite, come to us! we know thee by the cap from Upsala: be thou our guide, and from our more southern home, after years and days, we will make the voyage over again, quicker than if we flew in Doctor Faustus' magic cloak. We are in Stockholm: we stand on the Ridderholm where the steamers lie alongside the bulwarks: one of them sends forth clouds of thick smoke from its chimney; the deck is crowded with passengers, and the white cap with the black rim is not wanting.

We are off to Upsala; the paddles strike the waters of the Maelar, and we shoot away from the picturesque city of Stockholm. The whole voyage, direct to Upsala, is a kaleidescope on a large scale. It is true, there is nothing of the magical in the scenery, but landscape gives place to landscape, and clouds and sunshine refresh their variegated beauty. The Maelar lake curves, is compressed, and widens again: it is as if one passed from lake to lake through narrow canals and broad rivers. Sometimes it appears as if the lake ended in small rivulets between dark pines and rocks, when suddenly another large lake, surrounded by corn fields and meadows, opens itself to view: the light-green linden trees, which have just unfolded their leaves, shine forth before the dark grey rocks. Again a new lake opens before us, with islets, trees and red painted houses, and during the whole voyage there is a lively arrival and departure of passengers, in flat bottomed boats, which are nearly upset in the billowy wake of the vessel.

It appears most dangerous opposite to Sigtuna, Sweden's old royal city: the lake is broad here; the waves rise as if they were the waters of the ocean; the boats rock--it is fearful to look at! But here there must be a calm; and Sigtuna, that little interesting town where the old towers stand in ruins, like outposts along the rocks, reflects itself in the water.

We fly past! and now we are in Tyris rivulet! Part of a meadow is flooded; a herd of horses become shy from the snorting of the steamer's engine; they dash through the water in the meadow, and it spurts up all over them. It glitters there between the trees on the declivity: the Upsala students lie encamped there, and exercise themselves in the use of arms.

The rivulet forms a bay, and the high plain extends itself. We see old Upsala's hills; we see Upsala's city with its church, which, like Notre Dame, raises its stony arms towards heaven. The university rises to the view, in appearance half palace and half barracks, and there aloft, on the greensward-clothed bank, stands the old red-painted huge palace with its towers.

We stop at the bulwark near the arched bridge, and so go on shore. Whither wilt thou conduct us first, thou our guide with the white-and-black student's cap? Shall we go up to the palace, or to Linnaeus's garden! or shall we go to the church-yard where the nettles grow over Geier's and Toernro's graves? No, but to the young and the living Upsala's life--the students. Thou tellest us about them; we hear the heart's pulsations, and our hearts beat in sympathy!

In the first year of the war between Denmark and the insurgents, many a brave Upsala student left his quiet, comfortable home, and entered the ranks with his Danish brothers. The Upsala students gave up their most joyous festival--the May-day festival--and the money they at other times used to contribute annually towards the celebration thereof, they sent to the Danes, after the sum had been increased by concerts which were given in Stockholm and Vesteraas. That circumstance will not be forgotten in Denmark.

Upsala student, thou art dear to us by thy disposition! thou art dear to us from thy lively jests! We will mention a trait thereof. In Upsala, it had become the fashion to be Hegelianers--that is to say, always to interweave Hegel's philosophical terms in conversation. In order to put down this practice, a few clever fellows took upon themselves the task of hammering some of the most difficult technical words into the memory of a humorous and commonly drunken country innkeeper, at whose house many a _Sexa_ was often held; and the man spoke Hegelianic in his mellow hours, and the effect was so absurd, that the employment of philosophical scraps in his speech was ridiculed, understood, and the nuisance abandoned.

Beautiful songs resound as we approach: we hear Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. The melody's varied beacon makes known to us where Upsala's students are assembled. The song proceeds from the assembly-room--from the tavern saloon, and like serenades in the silent evening, when a young friend departs, or a dear guest is honoured. Glorious melodies! ye enthral, so that we forget that the sun goes down, and the moon rises.

"Herre min Gud hvad din Manen lyser
Se, hvilken Glands ut ofver Land och Stad!"

is now sung, and we see:

"Hoegt opp i Slottet hvarenda ruta
Blixtrar some vore den en aedelsten."[O]

[Footnote O: Lord, my God, how Thy moon shines! See what lustre over land and city! High up in the palace every pane glistens as if it were a gem.]

Up thither then is our way! lead us, memory's sprite, into the palace, the courteous governor of Upland's dwelling; mild glances greet us; we see dear beings in a happy circle, and all the leading characters of Upsala. We again see him whose cunning quickened our perceptions as to the mysteries of vegetable life, so that even the toad-stool is unveiled to us as a building more artfully constructed than the labyrinths of the olden time. We see "The Flowers'" singer, he who led us to "The Island of Bliss;" we meet with him whose popular lays are borne on melodies into the world; his wife by his side. That quiet, gentle woman with those faithful eyes is the daughter of Frithiof's bard; we see noble men and women, ladies of the high nobility, with sounding and significant family names with _silver_ and _lilies_,--_stars_ and _swords_.

Hark! listen to that lively song. Gunnar Wennerberg, Gluntarra's poet and composer, sings his songs with Boronees,[P] and they acquire a dramatic life and reality.

[Footnote P: Gluntarra duets, by Gunnar Wennerberg.]

How spiritual and enjoyable! one becomes happy here, one feels proud of the age one lives in, happy in being distant from the horrible tragedies that history speaks of within these walls.

We can hear about them when the song is silent, when those friendly forms disappear, and the festal lights are extinguished: from the pages of history that tale resounds with a clang of horror. It was in those times, which the many still call poetic--the romantic middle ages--that bards sang of its most brilliant periods, and covered with the radiance of their genius the sanguinary gulf of brutality and superstition. Terror seizes us in Upsala's palace: we stand in the vaulted hall, the wax tapers burn from the walls, and King Erik the Fourteenth sits with Saul's dark despondency, with Cain's wild looks. Niels Sture occupies his thoughts, the recollection of injustice exercised against him lashes his conscience with scourges and scorpions, as deadly terrible as they are revealed to us in the page of history.

King Erik the Fourteenth, whose gloomy distrust often amounted to insanity, thought that the nobility aimed at his life. His favourite, Goran Persson, found it to his advantage to strengthen him in this belief. He hated most the popularly favoured race of the Stures, and of them, the light-haired Niels Sture in particular; for Erik thought that he had read in the stars that a man with light hair should hurl him from the throne; and as the Swedish General after the lost battle of Svarteaa, laid the blame on Niels Sture, Erik directly believed it, yet dared not to act as he desired, but even gave Niels Sture royal presents. Yet because he was again accused by one single person of having checked the advance of the Swedish army at Baehues, Erik invited him to his palace at Svartsjoe, gave him an honourable place at his royal table, and let him depart in apparent good faith for Stockholm, where, on his arrival, the heralds were ordered to proclaim in the streets: "Niels Sture is a traitor to his country!"

There Goran Persson and the German retainers seized him, and sat him by force on the executioner's most miserable hack; struck him in the face so that the blood streamed down, placed a tarred straw crown on his head, and fastened a paper with derisive words, on the saddle before him. They then let a row of hired beggar-boys and old fish-wives go in couples before, and to the tail of the horse they bound two fir-trees, the roots of which dragged on the ground and swept the street after the traitor. Niels Sture exclaimed that he had not deserved this treatment from his King and he begged the groom, who went by his side, and had served him in the field of battle, to attest the truth like an honest man; when they all shouted aloud, that he suffered innocently, and had acted like a true Swede. But the procession was driven forward through the streets without stopping, and at night Niels Sture was conducted to prison.

King Erik sits in his royal palace: he orders the torches and candles to be lighted, but they are of no avail--his thoughts' scorpions sting his soul.

"I have again liberated Niels Sture," he mutters; "I have had placards put up at every street-corner, and let the heralds proclaim that no one shall dare to speak otherwise than well of Niels Sture! I have sent him on an honourable mission to a foreign court, in order to sue for me in marriage! He has had reparation enough made to him; but never will he, nor his mighty race, forget the derision and shame I have made him suffer. They will all betray me--kill me!"

And King Erik commands that all Sture's kindred shall be made prisoners.

King Erik sits in his royal palace: the sun shines, but not into the King's heart. Niels Sture enters the chamber with an answer of consent from the royal bride, and the King shakes him by the hand, making fair promises--and the following evening Niels Sture is a prisoner in Upsala Palace.

King Erik's gloomy mind is disturbed; he has no rest; he has no peace, between fear and distrust. He hurries away to Upsala Palace; he will make all straight and just again by marrying Niels Sture's sister. Kneeling, he begs her imprisoned father's consent, and obtains it; but in the very moment, the spirit of distrust is again upon him, and he cries in his insanity:

"But you will not forgive me the shame I brought on Niels!"

At the same time, Goran Persson announced that King Erik's brother, John, had escaped from his prison, and that a revolt was breaking out. And Erik ran, with a sharp dagger into Niels Sture's prison.

"Art thou there, traitor to thy country!" he shouted, and thrust the dagger into Shire's arm; and Sture drew it out again, wiped off the blood, kissed the hilt, and returned the weapon to the King, saying:

"Be lenient with me, Sire; I have not deserved your disfavour."

Erik laughed aloud.

"Ho! ho! do but hear the villain! how he can pray for himself!"

And the King's halberdier stuck his lance through Niels Sture's eye, and thus gave him his death. Sture's blood cleaves to Upsala Palace--to King Erik always and everlastingly. No church masses can absolve his soul from that base crime.

Let us now go to the church.

A little flight of stairs in the side aisle leads us up to a vaulted chamber, where kings' crowns and sceptres, taken from the coffins of the dead, are deposited in wooden closets. Here, in the corner, hangs Niels Sture's blood-covered clothes and knight's hat, on the outside of which a small silk glove is fastened. It was his betrothed one's dainty glove--that which he, knight-like, always bore.

O, barbarous era! highly vaunted as you are in song, retreat, like the storm-cloud, and be poetically beautiful to all who do not see thee in thy true light.

We descend from the little chamber, from the gold and silver of the dead, and wander in the church's aisles. The cold marble tombs, with shields of arms and names, awaken other, milder thoughts.

The walls shine brightly, and with varied hues, in the great chapel behind the high altar. The fresco paintings present to us the most eventful circumstances of Gustavus Vasa's life. Here his clay moulders, with that of his three consorts. Yonder, a work in marble, by Sargel, solicits our attention: it adorns the burial-chapel of the De Geers; and here, in the centre aisle, under that flat stone, rests Linnaeus. In the side chapel, is his monument, erected by _amici_ and _discipuli_: a sufficient sum was quickly raised for its erection, and the King, Gustavus the Third, himself brought his royal gift. The projector of the subscription then explained to him, that the purposed inscription was, that the monument was erected only by friends and disciples, and King Gustavus answered: "And am not I also one of Linnaeus's disciples?"

The monument was raised, and a hall built in the botanical garden, under splendid trees. There stands his bust; but the remembrance of himself, his home, his own little garden--where is it most vivid? Lead us thither.

On yonder side of Fyri's rivulet, where the street forms a declivity, where red-painted, wooden houses boast their living grass roofs, as fresh as if they were planted terraces, lies Linnaeus's garden. We stand within it. How solitary! how overgrown! Tall nettles shoot up between the old, untrimmed, rank hedges. No water-plants appear more in that little, dried-up basin; the hedges that were formerly clipped, put forth fresh leaves without being checked by the gardener's shears.

It was between these hedges that Linnaeus at times saw his own double--that optical illusion which presents the express image of a second self--from the hat to the boots.

Where a great man has lived and worked, the place itself becomes, as it were, a part and parcel of him: the whole, as well as a part, has mirrored itself in his eye; it has entered into his soul, and become linked with it and the whole world.

We enter the orangeries: they are now transformed into assembly-rooms; the blooming winter-garden has disappeared; but the walls yet show a sort of herbarium. They are hung round with the portraits of learned Swedes--herbarium from the garden of science and knowledge. Unknown faces--and, to the stranger, the greatest part are unknown names--meet us here.

One portrait amongst the many attracts our attention: it looks singular; it is the half-length figure of an old man in a shirt, lying in his bed. It is that of the learned theologian, Oedmann, who after he had been compelled to keep his bed by a fever, found himself so comfortable in it, that he continued to lie there during the remainder of his long life, and was not to be induced to get up. Even when the next house was burning, they were obliged to carry him out in his bed into the street. Death and cold were his two bugbears. The cold would kill him, was his opinion; and so, when the students came with their essays and treatises, the manuscripts were warmed at the stove before he read them. The windows of his room were never opened, so that there was a suffocating and impure air in his dwelling. He had a writing-desk on the bed; books and manuscripts lay in confusion round about; dishes, plates, and pots stood here or there, as the convenience of the moment dictated, and his only companion was a deaf and dumb laughter.

She sat still in a corner by the window, wrapped up in herself, and staring before her, as if she were a figure that had flown out of the frame around the dark, mouldy canvas, which had once shown a picture on the wall.

Here, in the room, in this impure atmosphere, the old man lived happily, and reached his seventieth year, occupied with the translation of travels in Africa. This tainted atmosphere, in which he lay, became, to his conceit, the dromedary's high back, which lifted him aloft in the burning sun; the long, hanging-down cobwebs were the palm-trees' waving banners, and the caravan went over rivers to the wild bushmen. Old Oedmann was with the hunters, chasing the elephants in the midst of the thick reeds; the agile tiger-cat sprang past, and the serpents shone like garlands around the boughs of the trees: there was excitement, there was danger--and yet he lay so comfortably in his good and beloved bed in Upsala.

One winter's day, it happened that a Dalecarlian peasant mistook the house, and came into Oedmann's chamber in his snow-covered skin cloak, and with his beard full of ice. Oedmann shouted to him to go his way, but the peasant was deaf, and therefore stepped quite close up to the bed. He was the personification of Winter himself, and Oedmann fell ill from this visit: it was his only sickness during the many years he lay here as a polypus, grown fast, and where he was painted, as we see his portrait in the assembly-room.

From the hall of learning we will go to its burial-place--that is to say, its open burial-place--the great library. We wander from hall to hall, up stairs and down stairs. Along the shelves, behind them and round about, stand books, those petrifactions of the mind, which might again be vivified by spirit. Here lives a kind-hearted and mild old man, the librarian, Professor Schroeder. He smiles and nods as he hears how memory's sprite takes his place here as guide, and tells of and shows, as we see, Tegner's copy and translation of Ochlenschloeger's "Hakon Jarl and Palnatoke." We see Vadstene cloister's library, in thick hog's leather bindings, and think of the fair hands of the nuns that have borne them, the pious, mild eyes that conjured the spirit out of the dead letters. Here is the celebrated Codex Argentius, the translation of the "Four Evangelists."[Q] Gold and silver letters glisten from the red parchment leaves. We see ancient Icelandic manuscripts, from de la Gardie's refined French saloon, and Thauberg's Japanese manuscripts. By merely looking at these books, their bindings and names, one at last becomes, as it were, quite worm-eaten in spirit, and longs to be out in the free air--and we are there; by Upsala's ancient hills. Thither do thou lead us, remembrance's elf, out of the city, out on the far extended plain, where Denmark's church stands--the church that was erected from the booty which the Swedes gained in the war against the Danes. We follow the broad high road: it leads us close past Upsala's old hills--Odin's, Thor's and Freia's graves, as they are called.

[Footnote Q: A Gothic translation of the Four Evangelists, and ascribed to the Moesogothic Archbishop Ulphilas.]

There once stood ancient Upsala, here now are but a few peasants' farms. The low church, built of granite blocks, dates from a very remote age; it stands on the remains of the heathen temple. Each of the hills is a little mountain, yet each was raised by human hands. Letters an ell long, and whole names, are cut deep in the thin greensward, which the new sprouting grass gradually fills up. The old housewife, from the peasant's cot close by the hill, brings the silver-bound horn, a gift of Charles John XIV., filled with mead. The wanderer empties the horn to the memory of the olden time, for Sweden, and for the heart's constant thoughts--young love!

Yes, thy toast is drunk here, and many a beauteous rose has been remembered here with a heartfelt hurra! and years after, when the same wanderer again stood here, she, the blooming rose, had been laid in the earth; the spring roses had strown their leaves over her coffined clay; the sweet music of her lips sounded but in memory; the smile in her eyes and around her mouth, was gone like the sunbeams, which then shone on Upsala's hills. Her name in the greensward is grown over; she herself is in the earth, and it is closed above her; but the hill here, closed for a thousand years, is open.

Through the passage which is dug deep into the hills, we come to the funereal urns which contain the bones of youthful kindred; the dust of kings, the gods of the earth.

The old housewife, from the peasant's cot, has lighted half a hundred wax candles and placed them in rows in the otherwise pitchy-dark, stone-paved passage. It shines so festally in here over the bones of the olden time's mighty ones, bones that are now charred and burnt to ashes. And whose were they? Thou world's power and glory, thou world's posthumous fame--dust, dust like beauty's rose, laid in the dark earth, where no light shines; thy memorials are but a name, the name but a sound. Away hence, and up on the hill where the wind blows, the sun shines, and the eye looks over the green plain, to the sunlit, dear Upsala, the student's city.

[The end]
Hans Christian Andersen's essay: Upsala