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he requested permission once more to travel, on the plea that he found Copenhagen too expensive, and in 1800, he quitted for the fourth time his native land. In the spring of 1802, he returned for a short time to Copenhagen, but chiefly about his pecuniary affairs, and on his return to Paris, again traversed with his old friend, Count Moltke, a great part of his beloved Germany. As there was now clear evidence that he could never settle to the commonplace duties of office, however apparently congenial to his literary tastes, he was removed from the provostship, and the directorship of the theatre, yet, with the marvellous goodness of the Government, the emoluments of these offices were continued to him in the shape of a pension of eight hundred rix-dollars a-year.
Froin this time the greater part of Baggesen's life was spent abroad, in Germany, Italy, but chiefly in Paris, where he got a French taste almost as strong as his German one had been. He did not return to Denmark till 1806, which he again left in 1807, and remained in Paris chiefly till 1811, when he was appointed Professor in Kiel. Here, however, he delivered but a very few lectures, grew tired of the office and the place, and removed to Copenhagen, where, in 1814, his office was formally given up for a pension of fifteen hundred rixdollars. But this circumstance brought the irritable poet little peace. During his abode in Paris, he had wounded grievously the national feeling by jesting in his “Poetical Epistles," over the bombardment of Copenhagen by Nelson, in 1801, and the loss of the Danish fleet. “And now," says Molbech, "he allowed his jocose humour to amuse itself with one of the bitterest national losses which had ever befallen Denmark ;” and wrote in this humour in Paris his “ Danish Seamen's Songs,” and “Knud Vidfadme's Bottle-Letter." “ But this tone was
not likely to find an echo,” says Dr. Müller, in the
Nerology” which he wrote of Baggesen, “in those who had felt the seriousness of the affair which he thus right merrily and ridiculously treated.” Afterwards, he took another turn, and in his “Sailor's Mythology,” his Viking drinking songs, and his cabin-song, we find him once more in his
element. But these vacillations did not contribute to raise his character in the eyes
of his countrymen. The latter years of Baggesen were destined to be involved in continual bitterness and strife.
“While he had been living abroad, writing German and French poetry, including a most eulogistic but indifferent 'Ode to Napoleon,' the poetic horizon at home,” says Dr. Müller, “had changed. Oehlenschläger had come forth. Not only had his earlier works announced a rising poet, but the two volumes of his Poetical Writings' were come out. Hakon Jarl' was written, and the public taste had turned from the humorous, from the poetry playing on the surface of things, to the higher and the deeper.” In a word, a mightier genius had opened up in the new romantic poetry, the great fountain of the Danish language. Transported by so much of novelty in art's new phenomenon, people in Denmark began to have a different estimate of poetic worth than that which had prevailed in the eighteenth century. Taste, which had suddenly acquired such strong and rich nourishment, took a rapid direction towards the ideal in poetry, which gave to imagination and intuition a decided preponderance over reason and observation. The serious in the poetic art had elevated itself above the prosaic horizon within which it had hitherto, for the most part, fluttered with clipped or fettered wings.
It was impossible that Baggesen should not on his return home feel this change. The petted poet of the
last quarter of a century, who had taken little pains to cultivate the public good-will, who had done many things to weaken or alienate it, and as it seemed without effect, now felt, and that deeply, that a greater spirit had arisen, and pushed him from his stool. It was not in his sensitive nature, of which praise was the breath of life, to endure it patiently. He at once set about to attack the new poet and the new school. Singularly enough, while assailing this serious school, he declared himself to be essentially a serious poet himself; that he was anything rather than a humorous poet, and would proceed to show the public what he could do in his now mature and experience-guided powers. When he ceased to laugh, and declared himself grave and didactic, the public laughed; the grotesqueness of the air that he assumed was irresistible. He gave no proofs of this didactic disposition, however, except by his “Giengangeren,” or “The Double." He assailed Oehlenschläger in both prose and verse, in the “ Dannora” and the Northern Spectator,” published by J. K. Höst. His criticisms on “Hakon Jarl,” Cor reggio,” “Hugo von Rheinberg," “ Ludlow's Cave," and
" others of Oehlenschläger's splendid dramas, are extremely witty and trenchant, but one cannot read them without a melancholy feeling, from the consciousness that they are the outburst of a spleen unworthy of the writer, and unjust towards the noble poet who was the object of them. But Oehlenschläger stood too firmly on the rock of nature and of his own genius to be harmed by these attacks, they only recoiled on the unhappy and disappointed writer. The whole of the young mind of Denmark stood zealously for Adam Oehlenschläger, and Baggesen had the mortification to see that the poetic crown of Denmark was for ever gone from him.
Apart from the mortified feelings of the so long, and in
his own province so justly, popular poet, one is quite at a loss, after reading Baggesen's epic poem in nine books, “ Thora fra Havsgaard,” to perceive why he objected to Oehlenschläger at all. “ Thora” is essentially a poem of the romantic school. It is true that it is written in classical hexameters, but it introduces supernatural powers, and all the aids and spirit of tradition. It is essentially founded on the old Scandinavian faith in trolls, runes, and necromancy. Its chief actors are of this character—they deal in talismanic rings; and the grand burden of the poem is the contest of the evil powers with the good. If there be any distinction, after all, between the classical and the romantic schools, this poem completely confounds it. Homer and Virgil, two of the greatest classical writers of antiquity, were as completely romantic in the spirit, machinery, and dramatis persona, as Oehlenschläger himself. So too were the greatest dramatists of Greece, who wrought all the superstructure of the stories of Prometheus, Orestes, Antigone, Medea, and Iphigenia, into the webs of their immortal compositions. But so far as Baggesen is concerned, he was one of those extremely nervous and egotistic mortals, who are for the moment carried in any direction by their feelings, and present in their lives the grossest inconsistencies. Baggesen at one period, hailed Oehlenschläger as “Melpomene's greatest poet.” At one period he regarded Wieland as Germany's greatest poet : and Goethe as its most intolerable one. He declared that he loathed Goethe's poetry, that his writings actually stunk in his nostrils. “ Inimicus Diderot; inimicus Goethe—sed magis inimicum falsum.”* Then Goetbe became “ the greatest of all German poets." But there is no weathercock so glib on its axis as an ambitious and resentful genius.
* Briefwechsel, 1, S. 216.
Besides his fight with Ochlenschläger, Baggesen was busily engaged in other combats. He was in the midst of what was called the “ Jew-feud,” defending the Jews against Thaarup, who had raised the disturbance, and with T. C. Bruun, who paid him back in hard blows. His declining years grew darker and more melancholy, realizing what Wordsworth, with a true insight into humanity, has so justly described as the poetic career :
“We poets in our youth begin in gladness,
And thereof comes, in the end, despondency and madness.”
In 1820 he left Denmark for the last time, and with his wife who had been an invalid for years, and his youngest son, travelled to Paris. The last years of his life were nearly one unbroken scene of sufferings and mortifications. In Paris he was thrown into the prison of St. Pelagie for debt, whence he was liberated partly by assistance from friends in Copenhagen, amongst whom were conspicuous the grateful Jewish people, and partly by the sale of a house he possessed in Marly. In 1821, he fell into a long and dangerous illness, when Prince Christian of Denmark had him brought to his own hotel in Paris, and attended with the most affectionate care. By the Prince's generosity he was enabled to visit the baths of Plombières, but was called thence by the illness of his wife, whom on his arrival in Paris, he found dead. He was now completely struck down by sorrow, and very soon after lost his youngest and favourite child. He lingered on till 1826, having been at Carlsbad and Dresden for his health. When he felt his end approaching, he was seized with a vehement desire to die in that native land which he had so much deserted in his lifetime, but he was not permitted to reach it. He died at Hamburg on the 3rd of October, 1826, and his remains were forwarded to Kiel, and buried by those of his friend Reinhold.