1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Baggesen, Jens Immanuel

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BAGGESEN, JENS IMMANUEL (1764-1826), Danish poet, was born on the 15th of February 1764 at Korsör. His parents were very poor, and before he was twelve he was sent to copy documents at the office of the clerk of the district. He was a melancholy, feeble child, and before this he had attempted suicide more than once. By dint of indomitable perseverance, he managed to gain an education, and in 1782 entered the university of Copenhagen. His success as a writer was coeval with his earliest publication; his Comical Tales in verse, poems that recall the Broad Grins that Colman the younger brought out a decade later, took the town by storm, and the struggling young poet found himself a popular favourite at twenty-one. He then tried serious lyrical writing, and his tact, elegance of manner and versatility, gained him a place in the best society. This sudden success received a blow in 1789, when a very poor opera, Holge Danske, which he had produced, was received with mockery and a reaction against him set in. He left Denmark in a rage and spent the next years in Germany, France and Switzerland. He married at Berne in 1790, began to write in German and published in that language his next poem, Alpenlied. In the winter of the same year he returned to his mother-country, bringing with him as a peace-offering his fine descriptive poem, the Labyrinth, in Danish, and was received with unbounded homage. The next twenty years were spent in incessant restless wanderings over the north of Europe, Paris latterly becoming his nominal home. He continued to publish volumes alternately in Danish and German. Of the latter the most important was the idyllic epos in hexameters called Parthenais (1803). In 1806 he returned to Copenhagen to find the young Öhlenschläger installed as the great poet of the day, and he himself beginning to lose his previously unbounded popularity. Until 1820 he resided in Copenhagen, in almost unceasing literary feud with some one or other, abusing and being abused, the most important feature of the whole being Baggesen's determination not to allow Öhlenschläger to be considered a greater poet than himself. He then left Denmark for the last time and went back to his beloved Paris, where he lost his second wife and youngest child in 1822, and after the miseries of an imprisonment for debt, fell at last into a state of hopeless melancholy madness. In 1826, having slightly recovered, he wished to see Denmark once more, but died in the freemasons' hospital at Hamburg on his way, on the 3rd of October, and was buried at Kiel. His many-sided talents achieved success in all forms of writing, but his domestic, philosophical and critical works have long ceased to occupy attention. A little more power of restraining his egotism and passion would have made him one of the wittiest and keenest of modern satirists, and his comic poems are deathless. The Danish literature owes Baggesen a great debt for the firmness, polish and form which he introduced into it—his style being always finished and elegant. With all his faults he stands as the greatest figure between Holberg and Öhlenschläger. Of all his poems, however, the loveliest and best is a little simple song, There was a time when I was very little, which every Dane, high or low, knows by heart, and which is matchless in its simplicity and pathos. It has outlived all his epics. (E. G.)