Grundtvig og Gisselfeld II


  • Jens A. Nielsen



Grundtvig and Gisselfeld II.

His Relations with his Patron, Count C. C. S. Danneskiold-Samsøe.

By Jens A. Nielsen.

While engaged in the interesting task of rearranging and cataloguing the library of the Gisselfeld Foundation for Unmarried Gentlewomen at Gisselfeld Manor in Sjælland (built in 1547-75 by the Danish statesman Peder Oxe), the author of this article came across original editions of Grundtvig’s writings from the period 18 1 1 - 2 3 on several occasions. In one of these works, the Danish translation of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, which was published in 1818- 23, there were found in the first and third volumes dedicatory poems to the then Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Foundation, Count C. C. S. Danneskiold-Samsøe ( 1774- 1823), and Countess J. H. V. Danneskiold-Samsøe ( 1776- 1843). These poems gave the impression that there was a close connection between Grundtvig and the persons to whom the book was dedicated; and, with the help of Steen Johansen’s excellent Grundtvig Bibliography and other bibliographical aids, the author was able to trace a considerable amount of material which threw light on the connection between Grundtvig and Gisselfeld—first and foremost Grundtvig’s long, unpublished biography of Count Danneskiold, “Birk paa Grev Danneskiolds Liv” (“Viewing Count Danneskiold’s Life” ) (Grundtvig Archives, fasc. 176), together with his poem-cycles “Gissel-Feld eller Grev Danneskiolds Efter-Mæle paa Rim” (“Gissel-Feld or the Memorial of Count Danneskiold in Verse” ), printed in N. F. S. Grundtvig’s “Poetiske Skrifter”, Vol. 5 ( 1883), pp. 320- 57. It was possible to supplement definitively this material by research in the private archives of the Danneskiold-Samsøe family, the Provincial Archives of Sjælland, the National Archives and the Grundtvig Archives, so that in consequence one can see that Count Danneskiold-Samsøe was Grundtvig’s sympathetic patron and supporter, probably from as early as 1808, when Grundtvig established his literary position with “Nordens Mytologi5’ (“The Mythology of the North” ) and right up to 1823, the year of the Count’s death.

The first signs of a connection between Grundtvig and Count Danneskiold date from the summer of 1 8 1 1 , when Grundtvig had just become curate to his father at Udby in Præstø county, where Count Danneskiold was a prefect. It was letters written in his official capacity which the young curate sent to Gisselfeld, and their number increased steadily during the two years ( 18 1 1 - 1 3 ), that Grundtvig was working in Udby. Among them he also wrote personal letters to the Count in connection with various matters. It was especially with the care of the poor, and the schools which had been neglected, that Grundtvig was most jealously concerned; and in the Count, who was socially conscious to an exceptional extent, he found an official willing to listen and always ready to give his help and support. Already at this period we may think of Grundtvig as a frequent guest at Gisselfeld.

About the time of the New Year, 18 13 , Grundtvig’s name came before the public in close connection with Count Danneskiold’s, because Grundtvig, out of his high respect and admiration for the Count, but without asking his permission, had dedicated to the Count his first World History (“Kort Begreb af Verdens Krønike i Sammenhæng” = “A Short Connected Chronicle of World History”, 18 12 ), which attracted much attention. By its sharp condemnation of his own age the book created a terrific stir in the literary world, and in a way it had a decisive influence on Grundtvig’s destiny: from now onwards he became a dead man in the literary circles of the capital, and during the years which followed he was systematically excluded from obtaining a living in the Danish Church. But precisely in these difficult years, 18 13 - 2 1, Count Danneskiold supported the young poet-clergyman, so that he was able to develop an extensive literary activity in order to make the Danish people conscious of their Danishness and their Christianity.

On August 12 th, 1818 , the Count and Countess celebrated Grundtvig’s wedding to Lise Blicher at Ulse-Olstrup Rectory near Gisselfeld, where Grundtvig’s brother-in-law Poul Egede Glahn ( 1778- 1846), who was married to Lise Blicher’s sister, was the parish clergyman. It seems that it was Pastor Glahn and his wife Marie Glahn ( 1783- 1862), who brought about the connection between Grundtvig and Gisselfeld and they throughout the years played an important part as a sort of “liaison” between their brother-in-law in Copenhagen and the Count and his wife at Gisselfeld. After Grundtvig had at last obtained an appointment as parish clergyman at Præstø in 1821 and from the autum of 1822 onwards as resident curate at Vor Frelsers Kirke in Copenhagen, his economic support from Gisselfeld seems to have come to an end; but there are letters which show that Grundtvig still used to come as a guets to his benefactor’s home. On June 6th, 1823, Count Danneskiold died at the early age of fortyeight, and his death affected Grundtvig so much that during the summer and autumn of 1823 he wrote a series of poems in memory of his benefactor and helper, in addition to the unpublished prose biography, “Viewing Count Danneskiold’s Life”, already mentioned.

This long manuscript (Grundtvig Archives, fasc. 176), which has not previously been discussed in the literature dealing with Grundtvig, includes in all (after it was found possible to identify fasc. 66, number 17 , as the “missing link” in the manuscript) seventy-five quarto pages, fully covered with writing, and composed by seven different drafts. Both internal and external criteria show that the greater part of the manuscript came into existence in the autumn of 1823 at the principal contribution to a projected book in memory of Count Danneskiold, which, however, came to nothing. Even if Grundtvig’s manuscript thus remained uncompleted (though it does not lack much to make it complete), it gives in its present form a very full description of Count Danneskiold’s life and work. But it was not Grundtvig’s intention to write a regular biography of his benefactor. As the title itself shows, he wished to consider the Count’s life from several different aspects. He wishes in a way to depict the Count as “the last Danish nobleman”. In this way he was able in his “Viewing” to introduce his own ideas about nobility and citizenry, about nationally (“folkelighed”), about domestic life and the life of the State, but especially about an education in the national spirit (“en folkelig opdragelse” ), which Count Danneskiold had received in his childhood at Gisselfeld, and which in Grundtvig’s opinion was a prerequisite for his becoming the Danish nobleman of true national spirit that Grundtvig saw him to be. In the main part of the manuscript (numbers 5 & 6) we find early evidence of such central Grundtvigian ideas as the living word contrasted with the dead word of books, the idea of a special Danish University in Sorø in contrast to the existing University in Copenhagen, a forerunner of the educational programme in his High-School writings from the eighteen-thirties and the eighteen-forties.

The long memorial poem about the Count, “Gissel-Feld eller Grev Danneskiolds Efter-Mæle paa Rim”, which is to be found in draft form in the Grundtvig Archives, fasc. 388, number 94 (printed in “Poetiske Skrifter”, Vol. 5 ( 1883), pp. 320- 57—with a number of inaccuracies), presumably dates from the summer and autum of 1824. Its beginning must date from the period before the completion of “Nyaarsmorgen” (“New Year’s Morning” ), Grundtvig’s central poem of personal confession, and the memorial poem to some extent supplements “Nyaarsmorgen”, since it carries farther and deepens various central ideas in the poem. The date of the conclusion of the memorial poem can be assigned to the autumn or winter of 1824. It is partly a memorial poem about Count Danneskiold, partly a poetic confession of personal faith, which gives expression to Grundtvig’s conception of himself as Denmark’s special poet (“Skjald” ), who possesses the power to prophesy of Denmark’s salvation (a conception already set forth in the poem “Høstgildet” (“Harvest Festival” ), in 1815 , to which Grundtvig refers in the memorial poem). The memorial poem is a cycle of no less than 17 sections of which the principal parts are, first, the ong introduction and the three memorial poems proper, based on the myth of Balder’s death, and then the two long prophecies of the mermaid, which furnish the occasion for Grundtvig’s own observations on his calling as a Danish prophetic poet. In the second of the three memorial poems Grundtvig approaches the subject of what Count Danneskiold’s death has meant for him existentially: it has solved the mystery of his connection with Gisselfeld, for through losing the Count he has had his eyes really opened to the nature of love, the mutual love which at that very period—the autumn and winter of 1823- 24—became a decisive reality in Grundtvig’s mental world. The long poem concludes with an apotheosis of Samsø in ancient Scandinavian poetry, because Samsø belonged to Count Danneskiold and because Count Danneskiold’s death is an event which may be compared in significance to those in the ancient Scandinavian myth which has Samsø as its scene. The Count’s death is for Grundtvig, quite genuinely, Balder’s death.

The article refers in conclusion to the last piece of evidence about Grundtvig’s connection with Gisselfeld, his bridal song for the wedding of his benefactor’s youngest daughter at Gisselfeld on Oct. 14th, 1837. Whether Grundtvig was a guest at the old castle on other occasions after Count Danneskiold’s death in 1823 we do not know, but it is probable. In 1851 the ageing Grundtvig recalled Gisselfeld and Count Danneskiold in his retrospective poem, “Syd-Sjælland”.


Jens A. Nielsen





Nielsen, J. A. (1962). Grundtvig og Gisselfeld II. Grundtvig-Studier, 15(1), 7–52.