The Summer Cabin – Charles Lamb – Johanne Louise Heiberg – Rudolf Schmidt – Proust

Today is Tuesday, and it’s nice out there! This Sunday, i.e. day before yesterday, I had the great pleasure being invited by my old friend J.A. to join him in an outing to his summer cabin a few miles west of Greater Copenhagen.

His cabin is on a plot of land taking up more than one acre, and the house is brand new with all reasonable amenities.

We breezed out there in his sleek BMW and stayed for about five hours.

There is a small lake on the parcel, and most of the plot is surrounded by old, real tall treas. You might perhaps regard it as a very large voliere, sort of? Except there was absolutely no birds; nil! Which frankly surprised me somewhat.

However there were lots of frogs and some insects, although perhaps mostly wasps? But it again begs the question – why no birds?

After 2-3 hours of mowing the giant lawn and all, we had one or two hours of leisure.

J.A. – like most of my old friends – is an avid and gifted amateur photographer, whence it pleased us both to inspect my ‘new’ Canon 20D digital SLR, that i had just bought that Saturday for a very reasonable 75 Kr ($10), without the lens (Note 1).

The flea-market seller insisted it was working all right. But after having charged the battery at home it turned out it didn’t; although after having manipulated the wheels and buttons and controls it slowly came to life again, and is now working fine. Probably a case of a bit of dirt and other coatings on electrical contacts.

The day was a great opportunity to get lots of real fresh air down into your lungs; also I got a chance to drive a tractor mower and push another, smaller specimen of that particular race.

I missed the birds, however, and I learned I should probably never buy a summer cabin for myself. Because I’m afraid I’ll much rather sit in my dusty and cramped living room reading books than on a tractor mowing lawns?

That same night I had a lot of quite muddled and disorderly dreams, which surprised me slightly. I mean, after having absorbed all this fresh, oxygon rich air, you would expect your spirits to have become more sound and healthy than the other way around?

One short dream stood out, however. I dreamt I was helping J.A. pulling up weeds around the hut. But the weeds were trying to pull me down into the ground with them, instead.

This strange dream has made me wondering if the sinister party that torched J.A.’s old cabin half a dozen years ago (Link 1) might perhaps have cast a hex on the place – just for good measure? Also I noted that J.A. seemingly didn’t enjoy staying inside the cabin at all.

At any rate I’m not sure I should accept another invitation to visit this cabin, even from friendly and always helpful J.A.

Yesterday the books in the Dutch book sale in the HeiligGeist Church Community House are 25 Kr each ($4). I bought a handfull, among which:

1. THE MEMOIRS OF ERNEST A. FORSSGREN – PROUST’S SWEDISH VALET. Edited and annotated by William C. Carter. Yale University press – NewHaven & London, 2006. 164 p., illustrated, hardcover & dustcover. In condition like new.

From the dustcover:

‘The memoirs of Ernest Forssgren (1894-1970), the young Swede who served as Marcel Proust’s last valet, provide new insights into Proust’s life and death.

‘Previously, Forssgren’s memoir has been published only in excerpts, in French, with serious omissions and alterations.

‘To have this memoir and the ancillary materials made available is important for Porust scholarship, and of considerable interest for a general public endlessly fascinated by Proust.

‘It should also attract those interested in American immigrant history and sociology, and those who enjoy variations of the ‘upstairs-downstairs’ theme.’

Here’s a specimen quote from page 84/85. Sorry, it’s not from his Paris days with M.Proust, but from his arrival in NewYork in April 1915:

‘It was the day after landing in NewYork and time to look for a job. I had been told the best place to get work in private service was the Seeley employment agency on West 52nd Street.

‘I had the same luck there as I had when I first arrived in Paris. I was sent to interview a Mrs. V. who lived in a mansion only a few blocks away.

‘She belonged to NewYork’s top 400. By a strange coincidence she knew Prince Orloff and had been entertained in his palace in Paris.

‘She was pleased with my very excellent European references, but remarked how badly I spoke English; so she switched to French which was as bad as my English, as far as the accent was concerned.

‘If I was satisfied to take the position at $50 per month and ‘all found’, I could start the next day, to which I agreed.

‘She rang for her butler, an Englishman, of course, and told me I was to address him by his surname J. according to English custom. I had been engaged and would he please show me my duties.

‘He was the typical English gentleman’s gentleman of impressive appearance. He was my height and yet was able to look down on me, which he did by the simple expedient of tilting his head backwards and looking down his nose.

‘The effect awed me to the point I wanted to address him ‘your majesty’ or at least your highness, but to call him plain J., I couldn’t think of it, at least I couldn’t settle for any less than Mr. J., rules or no.

‘He told me of my duties and finished by saying: ‘You speak English very badlai’, for which compliment I thanked him, but he did not catch on – what englishman could? ‘You must improve quicklai as you will be required to answer the telephoun and receive guests.’

‘He introduced me to the footman who had ushered me into the presence of the lady of the house, a pleasant appearing young man, a Scotsman, and I felt we would get along well.

‘He showed me my room which was very nice, and gave me some pointers about the rules of the house and told me I had to address the butler and ladies’ maid by their last names.

‘He showed me the help’s dining room which also served as the help’s sitting room. He introduced me to the ladies’ maid who was having a cup of tea. He had warned me I had to be especially respectful to her.

‘It seems she had been the personal maid of the ‘Duchess of Uppermost’, of London and Kent. She was frightfully upperty. I was thinking that something of the Duchess must have rubbed off on to her, a more duchessy lady I had never seen.

‘How could I call her just plain H.? I decided as for the butler and the ladies’ maid, it would have to be Mr. J. and Miss H. A more ducal pair I never saw.

‘They had their own little dining room, the three of them, Mr. j., Miss H., and Mademoiselle. They could not be expected to eat with the common servants. They were waited on by the kitchen maid the same way as the employers were waited on by the butler and footmen.’

2. THE ESSAYS OF ELIA and the LAST ESSAYS OF ELIA. & MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS & SKETCHES. (2 Vols.) By Charles Lamb. With an introduction by Robert Lynd and notes by William Macdonald. Illustrated with photogravures and drawings. London, 1929, J.M.Dent and sons. Hardcover, full cloth. The cloth bindings just a tad shabby, but inside both volumes almost like new.

Here are a few highlights from my ‘Readers Encyclopedia’:

Charles Lamb (1775-1834), Eng. essayist of the romantic period. His essays known for their humor, whimsy and faint overtones of pathos.

He was also a perceptive critic and wrote in a vivacious, ideosyncratic style.

Much loved for his personal sweetness and good humor.

Being a stammer he couldn’t qualify for a University position and worked as an accountant for the East India Co.

Here’s a specimen from vol. 2 (above), p.160 – the sketch ‘Charles Lamb’s Autobiography’:

‘Charles Lamb, born in the Inner Temple, 10th February, 1775; educated in Christ’s Hospital; afterwards a clerk in the Accountant’s Office, East India House; pensioned off from that service 1925, after thirty-three years’ service; is now a gentleman at large, can remember few specialities in his life worth noting, except that he once caught a swallow flying.

‘Below the middle stature; cast of face slightly Jewish, with no Judaic tinge in his complexional religion; stammers abominably, and is therefore more apt to discharge his occasional conversation in a quaint aphorism, or a poor quibble, than in set and edifying speeches; has consequently been libelled as a person always aiming at wit, which, as he told a dull fellow that charged him with it, is at least as good as aiming at dulness: a small eater, but not ((small)) drinker; confesses a partiality for the production of the Juniper-Berry; was a fierce smoker of tobacco, but may be resembled to a volcano burnt out, emitting only now and then a casual puff.

‘Has been guilty of obtruding upon the public a tale, in prose, called Rosamund Gray; a Dramatic sketch, named John Woodvil; a Farewell Ode to Tobacco, with sundry other Poems, and light prose matter, collected in Two slight crown Octavos, and pompously christened his Works, tho’ in fact they were his Recreations; and his true works may be found on the shelves of Leadenhall Street, filling some hundred folios.

‘He is also the true Elia, whose Essays are extant in a little volume, published a year or two since; and rather better known from that name without a meaning, than from anything he has done, or can hope to do, in his own.

‘He also was the first to draw the Public attention to the old English Dramatists, in a work called ‘Specimens of English Dramatic Writers who lived about the Time of Shakspeare’, published about fifteen years since. In short, all his merits and demerits to set forth would take to the end of Mr. Upcott’s book, and then not be told truly….’
(Charles Lamb, 10th Aprilo, 1827)

Finally yet another 75 cent book from the previous sale in the HeiligGeist Church House, this summer.

3. HAANDTEGNINGER. Af Rudolf Schmidt. 1881, København, 431 p. Bound in plain half-cloth.

For me it’s not the 11 novels in this small volume that’s interesting. It’s the authors incription on the titel page: ‘Til Fru J.L.Heiberg’.

And although hardly anyone nowadays has ever read or just heard of the author, Rudolf Schmidt (1836-99) many, or even most Danes will still know Mrs. Johanne Louise Heiberg (1812-90) by her name and profession – the famous actress. Here are a few highlights from her biografy in my Dansk Biografisk Haandleksikon (from the Danish):

Born i Copenhagen in a home of small means, that suffered much during the English bombardment of Copenhagen a few years before she was born.

Her father was reportedly rather weak, whence her vigorous mother took over; she even held open an inn during the summer season in the amusement park on Dyrehavs Bakkerne North of Copenhagen.

Not yet 11 years of age Johanne performed for the first time on the National Theatre in Copenhagen in 1823, and the following year as solo dancer.

In 1829 she was appointed Royal Actress at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and especially in the 1840s and 1850s she became the driving spirit of the Danish National scene.

Only certain women figures by Holberg and in particular Oehlenschläger’s Nordic lasses she did not master, reportedly.

From 1867 she jobbed as instructor but from 1874 she retired altogether from the scene, after having served it with an excellence as nobody before her.

She also was a giftet writer, particularly her letters and memoirs are noteworthy.

Among her less admirable qualities was her difficulty accepting anyones right to be hinting her not being the greatest. Nevertheless she was regarded as one of the greatest Danish women through the ages.

In 1831 She married the equally famous Danish author Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791-1860).

I wonder how many books from her personal library are still extant?

Here a few highlights from Dansk Biografisk Haandleksikon’s biography of Rudolf Schmidt:

Born in Copenhagen as the son of a poor cobbler family. He was supported by friendly mentors, f.i. the redoubtable literary critic from the newspaper ‘Fædrelandet’, Clemens Petersen.

In the academic battles of the 1860s about the relation betw. faith and knowledge, idea and reality he advocated the philosophy of Rasmus Nielsen against theology (Scharling) and freethinkers (G.Brandes) in a suite of spirited and cleverly written articles.

He was one of the editors of the journal ‘For Idé og Virkelighed´(1869-73) and he here wrote another suite of valuable pieces.

He also wrote poems, stories and plays. While travelling in Europe in 1880 he began writing novels, the first volume of which was HAANDTEGNINGER (above).

As translator he introduced Walt Whitman into Denmark. Finally he wrote valuable articles of literary critique.

He appeared concurrently with Georg Brandes but ended up in bitter opposition to this great Danish critic, who eventually overshadowed him.

I’ve tried reading a couple of the novels in HANDTEGNINGER, and no doubt Mr. Schmidt had a supreme command of the Danish language. But I have to once more admit that fiction is simply not my cup of tea, whence I see no reason giving my opinion of one of more of the novels.

Note 1.
The Canon Eos 20D was introduced in 2004 as a medium priced option. Costing almost $2000 (in Denmark) it sported still useful 8MP but only a 1,8″ display (that’s almost useless in bright light outdoors). It’s a rather heavy camera but like all Canon digital cameras I’ve ever tried or heard of – old or new – it makes beautiful colours.

Link 1.
Småting og bagateller (2)


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