Brand was written in the summer of 1865, at Ariccia, near Rome. Fifteen months before, Ibsen had left Christiania, a voluntary exile, eager to escape from the narrow Scandinavian world, and burning with the sense of national Denmark was in the throes of the heroic but hopeless struggle to which her northern kinsmen had sent only a handful of volunteers. He had travelled southward, almost within hearing of the Prussian guns; and among the passengers on the steamer was that venerable silver-haired mother who, as his sarcastic verses tell, believed so firmly in the safety of her soldier-son, and with such good ground, “for he was a Norwegian soldier.”1 On arriving at Rome he turned resolutely away from these rankling memories, broke all the bonds that tied him to his country, plunged into the study of the ancient world, and made preparation for that colossal drama on the Emperor Julian which eight years later saw the light.
But the genius of the North held him in too strong a grip. “Never have I seen the Home and its life so fully, so clearly, so near by,” he told the Christiania students in 1873, “as precisely from a distance and in absence.”2 Under the Italian sky, among the myrtles and aloes of the “Paradise of exiles,” there rose before him more vividly than ever the vision of the stern and rugged Norwegian landscape, the solemn twilight of the fjord, the storm-swept glacier, the peasant-folk absorbed in the desperate struggle for bread, officialdom absorbed in material progress, “intelligence” growing refined, “humane,” and somewhat effeminate; and, emerging here and there, glimpses somewhat futile and forlorn of heroic manhood. A summer tour which he had made among the western fjords in July 1862, on a commission from Government to collect popular legends, supplied a crowd of vivid local and personal reminiscences; a ruined parsonage under a precipice, a little mouldering church, a wild march across Jotunheim in storm and snow, and then the dizzy plunge down into one of those deep lowland valleys that strike up like huge rocky rifts from the fjord-head into the heart of the mountains. A few months of intense labour sufficed to organise these scattered images into a moving world of drama, penetrated through and through with Ibsen’s individuality, and clothed in rich and many-coloured poetry. He had as yet written nothing at once so original, so kindling, and so profusely strewn with the most provocative brilliances of style; nothing which, with all its fierce invective against Norway, was so profoundly and intimately Norwegian in colouring and in spirit. Upon its publication, on March 15, 1866, at Copenhagen, the whole Scandinavian world was taken by storm.
The sale was from the outset immense, and has continued, though at a diminished pace, till the present day. Four editions appeared before the close of 1866; the eleventh in 1889. Ibsen was little accustomed to such success. It is said that immediately after the publication his sister-in-law drank to the “tenth edition”; the poet confidently shook his head and declared that the profits of the tenth edition should be hers. She took him at his word, and has not repented her prophetic gift.3 Outside Scandinavia, too, the name of the author of Brand rapidly became famous. It was the beginning of his European fame. In Germany, its intellectual suggestiveness and philosophical mysticism were keenly appreciated; it was compared with Hamlet and with Faust. No less than four translations appeared there between 1872 and 1882.
Even on the stage, for which it was never meant, Brand has not been quite unknown. In Christiania the Fourth Act has repeatedly been played; but it was reserved for the Director of the New Theatre at Stockholm, L. Josephson, to undertake the bold experiment of performing the whole. On March 24, 1885, a crowded house sat through a performance which lasted from 6.30 to 1.15. It was repeated fifteen times.4
In 1893 a single performance of the Fourth Act, in the present version, was given in London.
Together with its still more splendid and various, yet completely dissimilar successor, Peer Gynt, Brand marks an epoch in Scandinavian literature. A large majority of those who know the original believe that it marks an epoch in the literature of Europe. Nothing in English literature in the least resembles a work, which is nevertheless peculiarly fitted to impress and to fascinate the English nature.5 But those who can imagine the prophetic fire of Carlyle fused with the genial verve and the intellectual athleticism of Browning, and expressed by aid of a dramatic faculty to parallel which we must go two centuries backward, may in some degree understand that fascination.
Primarily, however, Brand was addressed to Norway and to Norway alone. It was the passionate cry—at once invective and appeal—of a Norwegian, to the mother-country, of which, grievous as her failings are, he cannot bring himself to despair. The situation must be recalled. When the Danish King, in November 1863, supported by the King of Sweden, declared Slesvig an integral part of Denmark, there was much loud jubilation in Norway at the extension of “Scandinavian” rule, even among people not at all prepared to allow that the cause of Denmark and of Norway were one; while the more ardent spirits pledged themselves over flowing cups to support their “brothers” in the field. The actual invasion of Denmark by Prussia and Austria which followed (February 1864) was, in Ibsen’s eyes for his own country too, a moral crisis which could be manfully met only in one way; and when the Storthing, by virtually refusing war,6 forced the King, to his bitter shame, to leave Denmark to her fate, Ibsen’s heroic scorn broke into flame, and found its fiercest and keenest expression in the invectives of his hero, Brand.
Brand was no doubt originally intended to be simply an embodiment of Ibsen’s own heroic ideal of character. He is represented as a priest of modern Norway. But Ibsen has himself declared that this was not at all essential for his purpose. “I could have applied the whole syllogism just as well,” he told Georg Brandes, “to a sculptor, or a politician, as to a priest. I could quite as well have worked out the impulse which drove me to write, by taking Galileo, for instance, as my hero—assuming, of course, that Galileo should stand firm and never concede the fixity of the earth;—or you yourself in your struggle with the Danish reactionaries.”7 The gist of the whole is therefore ethical, in spite of its theological clothing, and in spite of the theological phraseology in which Ibsen’s own ethical conceptions were as yet habitually entangled. The faith which inspires it is the faith in the spirit of man—“the one eternal thing,” as Brand declares in a splendid outburst, that of which churches and creeds are only passing moods, and which, now dispersed and disintegrated among the torsos of humanity, shall one day gather once more into a whole.
Brand was to be the ideal antitype of the Norwegian xiipeople. But Ibsen’s own complexity of nature, and perhaps also his keen dramatic instinct interfered with this simple scheme. The ideal type grew human and individual; the Titan going forth with drawn sword against the world became a struggling and agonised soul, swayed by doubts and entangled by illusion; the vices he denounces are represented by men, drawn mostly with a genial and humorous, and, in the case of the “humane” old Doctor, with a kindly and sympathetic hand. The beautiful creation of Agnes serves the purpose of satire admirably in the Second Act, where her heroism is set off against the “faintheartedness” of the Peasants and Einar; but in the Third and Fourth Acts she has passed into the domain of tragedy; her heroism is no longer an example hurled at the cringing patriots of 1864, but a pathetic sacrifice to the idol which holds her husband in its spell. Thus the tragedy of Brand, the man, struggling in the grip of his formula, disengages itself from the “satire” of Brand, the Titan, subduing the world to his creed.
Brand is written throughout in one or other of two varieties of four-beat verse. “I wanted a metre in which I could career where I would, as on horseback,” Ibsen said to the present translator in 1893. And in his hands the metre develops a versatility of tone, rhythm and rhyme arrangement for which Browning’s Christmas Eve and Easter Day is the only proximate English parallel. But the two varieties—iambic and trochaic, instead of being deftly mingled, as in L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, are kept strictly apart and used with felicitous effect to heighten the distinction between two classes of scene. The iambic is the measure of the more familiar and pedestrian scenes, where the tone is colloquial, argumentative, satirical, or, again, bustling and lively. The swifter and more sensitive trochaic, on the other hand, is used in scenes of passion and poetry, of poignant emotion, of mystic vision, of solitary thought. Thus all the great revealing crises of the action, the points at which the informing fire breaks through—the monologues of Brand, the visions of Agnes (Acts II. V.), and the scenes in which they successively “stand at the crossway” to choose (end of Acts II. III. IV.)—are conveyed in the more lyrical metre, while the more conversational clothes the intervening tracts of common life.8
The present translation retains the metres of the original, and follows the text, in general, line for line. But no attempt has been made at exact correspondence in points, such as the use of single or double rhymes, and the sequence and arrangement of rhymes, where the original itself is completely arbitrary.
- The poem Troens grund. It is translated by Mr. Wicksteed, Lect., p. 24. This admirable little volume is indispensable to the English student of Ibsen’s poetry.
- Speech to the students, printed in full in Halvorsen, Norsk Forfatter-lexikon, art. “Ibsen.”
- Halvorsen, Forfatter-lexikon, u.s.
- The Stockholm Ny ill. Tidning, 1885, Nos. 14, 15, gives an interesting account of the performance, with several illustrations. Brand was played by E. Hillberg. Ibsen congratulated the Director in a letter printed by Halvorsen, u.s.
- Mr. Gosse has, however, pointed out that it has points of likeness, striking rather than important, to Dobell’s dramatic poem Balder (1854).
- They accepted the King’s demand that the army should be placed absolutely in his hands, but coupled the condition that he was to make war only in alliance with England or France.
- First published by Brandes in his Gjennembrudtsmænd, partially quoted by Jæger, H. Ibsen (Eng. Tr. p. 155).
- In Spain, conversely, the trochaic was the normal metre, the iambic a comparatively rare variation in situations of exceptional dignity.