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An essay by Hans Christian Andersen


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

We cast runes[A] here on the paper, and from the white ground the picture of Birger Jarl's six hundred years old city rises before thee.

[Footnote A: "To cast runes" was, in the olden time, to exercise witchcraft. When the apple, with ciphers cut in it, rolled into the maiden's lap, her heart and mind were infatuated.]

The runes roll, you see! Wood-grown rocky isles appear in the light, grey morning mist; numberless flocks of wild birds build their nests in safety here, where the fresh waters of the Maelaren rush into the salt sea. The Viking's ship comes; King Agna stands by the prow--he brings as booty the King of Finland's daughter. The oak-tree spreads its branches over their bridal chamber; at daybreak the oak-tree bears King Agna, hanged in his long golden chain: that is the bride's work, and the ship sails away again with her and the rescued Fins.

The clouds drive past--the years too.

Hunters and fishermen erect themselves huts;--it is again deserted here, where the sea-birds alone have their homes. What is it that so frightens these numberless flocks? the wild duck and sea-gull fly screaming about, there is a hammering and driving of piles. Oluf Skoetkonge has large beams bored down into the ground, and strong iron chains fastened across the stream: "Thou art caught, Oluf Haraldson,[B] caught with the ships and crews, with which thou didst devastate the royal city Sigtuna; thou canst not escape from the closed Maelar lake!"

[Footnote B: Afterwards called Saint Oluf.]

It is but the work of one night; the same night when Oluf Hakonson, with iron and with fire, burst his onward way through the stubborn ground; before the day breaks the waters of the Maelar roll there; the Norwegian prince, Oluf sailed through the royal channel he had cut in the east. The stockades, where the iron chains hang, must bear the defences; the citizens from the burnt-down Sigtuna erect themselves a bulwark here, and build their new, little town on stock-holms.[C]

[Footnote C: Stock, signifies bulks, or beams; holms, i.e. islets, or river islands; hence Stockholm.]

The clouds go, and the years go! Do you see how the gables grow? there rise towers and forts. Birger Jarl makes the town of Stockholm a fortress; the warders stand with bow and arrow on the walls, reconnoitring over lake and fjord, over Brunkaberg sand-ridge. There were the sand-ridge slopes upwards from Roerstrand's Lake they build Clara cloister, and between it and the town a street springs up: several more appear; they form an extensive city, which soon becomes the place of contest for different partisans, where Ladelaas's sons plant the banner, and where the German Albrecht's retainers burn the Swedes alive within its walls. Stockholm is, however, the heart of the kingdom: that the Danes know well; that the Swedes know too, and there is strife and bloody combating. Blood flows by the executioner's hand, Denmark's Christian the Second, Sweden's executioner, stands in the market-place.

Roll, ye runes! see over Brunkaberg sand-ridge, where the Swedish people conquered the Danish host, there they raise the May-pole: it is midsummer-eve--Gustavus Vasa makes his entry into Stockholm.

Around the May-pole there grow fruit and kitchen-gardens, houses and streets; they vanish in flames, they rise again; that gloomy fortress towards the tower is transformed into a palace, and the city stands magnificently with towers and draw-bridges. There grows a town by itself on the sand-ridge, a third springs up on the rock towards the south; the old walls fall at Gustavus Adolphus's command; the three towns are one, large and extensive, picturesquely varied with old stone houses, wooden shops, and grass-roofed huts; the sun shines on the brass balls of the towers, and a forest of masts stands in that secure harbour.

Rays of beauty shoot forth into the world from Versailles' painted divinity; they reach the Maelar's strand into Tessin's[D] palace, where art and science are invited as guests with the King, Gustavus the Third, whose effigy cast in bronze is raised on the strand before the splendid palace--it is in our times. The acacia shades the palace's high terrace on whose broad balustrades flowers send forth their perfume from Saxon porcelain; variegated silk curtains hang half-way down before the large glass windows; the floors are polished smooth as a mirror, and under the arch yonder, where the roses grow by the wall, the Endymion of Greece lives eternally in marble. As a guard of honour here, stand Fogelberg's Odin, and Sergei's Amor and Psyche.

[Footnote D: The architect Tessin.]

We now descend the broad, royal staircase, and before it, where, in by-gone times, Oluf Skoetkonge stretched the iron chains across the mouth of the Maelar Lake, there is now a splendid bridge with shops above and the Streamparterre below: there we see the little steamer 'Nocken,'[E] steering its way, filled with passengers from Diurgarden to the Streamparterre. And what is the Streamparterre? The Neapolitans would tell us: It is in miniature--quite in miniature--the Stockholmers' "Villa Reale." The Hamburgers would say: It is in miniature--quite in miniature--the Stockholmers' "Jungfernstieg."

[Footnote E: The water-sprite.]

It is a very little semi-circular island, on which the arches of the bridge rest; a garden full of flowers and trees, which we overlook from the high parapet of the bridge. Ladies and gentlemen promenade there; musicians play, families sit there in groups, and take refreshments in the vaulted halls under the bridge, and look out between the green trees over the open water, to the houses and mansions, and also to the woods and rocks: we forget that we are in the midst of the city.

It is the bridge here that unites Stockholm with Nordmalen, where the greatest part of the fashionable world live, in two long Berlin-like streets; yet amongst all the great houses we will only visit one, and that is the theatre.

We will go on the stage itself--it has an historical signification. Here, by the third side-scene from the stage-lights, to the right, as we look down towards the audience, Gustavus the Third was assassinated at a masquerade; and he was borne into that little chamber there, close by the scene, whilst all the outlets were closed, and the motley group of harlequins, polichinellos, wild men, gods and goddesses with unmasked faces, pale and terrified crept together; the dancing ballet-farce had become a real tragedy.

This theatre is Jenny Lind's childhood's home. Here she has sung in the choruses when a little girl; here she first made her appearance in public, and was cheeringly encouraged when a child; here, poor and sorrowful, she has shed tears, when her voice left her, and sent up pious prayers to her Maker. From hence the world's nightingale flew out over distant lands, and proclaimed the purity and holiness of art.

How beautiful it is to look out from the window up here, to look over the water and the Streamparterre to that great, magnificent palace, to Ladegaards land, with the large barracks, to Skipholmen and the rocks that rise straight up from the water, with Soedermalm's gardens, villas, streets, and church cupolas between the green trees: the ships lie there together, so many and so close, with their waving flags. The beautiful, that a poet's eye sees, the world may also see! Roll, ye runes!

There sketches the whole varied prospect; a rainbow extends its arch like a frame around it. Only see! it is sunset, the sky becomes cloudy over Soedermalm, the grey sky becomes darker and darker--a pitch-dark ground--and on it rests a double rainbow. The houses are illumined by so strong a sunlight that the walls seem transparent; the linden-trees in the gardens, which have lately put forth their leaves, appear like fresh, young woods; the long, narrow windows in the Gothic buildings on the island shine as if it were a festal illumination, and between the dark firs there falls a lustre from the panes behind them as of a thousand flames, as if the trees were covered with flickering--Christmas lights; the colours of the rainbow become stronger and stronger, the background darker and darker, and the white sun-lit sea-gulls fly past.

The rainbow has placed one foot high up on Soedermalm's churchyard. Where the rainbow touches the earth, there lie treasures buried, is a popular belief here. The rainbow rests on a grave up there: Stagnalius rests here, Sweden's most gifted singer, so young and so unhappy; and in the same grave lies Nicander, he who sang about King Enzio, and of "Lejonet i Oken;"[F] who sang with a bleeding heart: the fresh vine-leaf cooled the wound and killed the singer. Peace be with his dust--may his songs live for ever! We go to your grave where the rainbow points. The view from here is splendid. The houses rise terrace-like in the steep, paved streets; the foot-passengers can, however, shorten the way by going through narrow lanes, and up steps made of thick beams, and always with a prospect downwards of the water, of the rocks and green trees! It is delightful to dwell here, it is healthy to dwell here, but it is not genteel, as it is by Brunkaberg's sand-ridge, yet it will become so: Stockholm's "Strada Balbi" will one day arise on Soedermalm's rocky ground.

[Footnote F: "The Lion in the desert;" i.e. Napoleon.]

We stand up here. What other city in the world has a better prospect over the salt fjord, over the fresh lake, over towers, cupolas, heaped-up houses, and a palace, which King Enzio himself might have built, and round about the dark, gloomy forests with oaks, pines and firs, so Scandinavian, dreaming in the declining sun? It is twilight; the night comes on, the lamps are lighted in the city below, the stars are kindled in the firmament above, and the tower of Redderholm's church rises aloft towards the starry space. The stars shine through there; it is as if cut in lace, but every thread is of cast-iron and of the thickness of beams.

We go down there, and in there, in the stilly eve.--A world of spirits reigns within. See, in the vaulted isles, on carved wooden horses, sits armour, that was once borne by Magnus Ladelaas, Christian the Second, and Charles the Ninth. A thousand flags that once waved to the peal of music and the clang of arms, to the darted javelin and the cannon's roar, moulder away here: they hang in long rags from the staff, and the staves lie cast aside, where the flag has long since become dust. Almost all the Kings of Sweden slumber in silver and copper coffins within these walls. From the altar aisle we look through the open-grated door, in between piled-up drums and hanging flags: here is preserved a bloody tunic, and in the coffin are the remains of Gustavus Adolphus. Who is that dead opposite neighbour in the chapel, across there in the other side-aisle of the church? There, below a glass lid, lies a dress shot through, and on the floor stands a pair of long, thick boots--they belonged to the hero-King, the wanderer, Charles XII., whose realm is now this narrow coffin.

How sacred it is here under this vaulted roof! The mightiest men of centuries are gathered together here, perishable as these moth-eaten flags--mute and yet so eloquent. And without there is life and activity: the world goes on in its old course; generations change in the old houses; the houses change--yet Stockholm is always the heart of Sweden, Birger's city, whose features are continually renewed, continually beautified.

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