1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Drachmann, Holger Henrik Herboldt

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8
Drachmann, Holger Henrik Herboldt
See also Holger Drachmann on Wikipedia; and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.

DRACHMANN, HOLGER HENRIK HERBOLDT (1846-1908), Danish poet and dramatist, son of Dr A. G. Drachmann, a physician of Copenhagen, whose family was of German extraction, was born in Copenhagen on the 9th of October 1846. Owing to the early death of his mother, who was a Dane, the child was left much to his own devices. He soon developed a fondness for semi-poetical performances, and loved to organize among his companions heroic games, in which he himself took such parts as those of Tordenskjold and Niels Juul. His studies were belated, and he did not enter the university until 1865, leaving it in 1866 to become a student in the Academy of Fine Arts. From 1866 to 1870 he was learning, under Professor Sörensen, to become a marine painter, and not without success. But about the latter date he came under the influence of Georg Brandes, and, without abandoning art, he began to give himself more and more to literature. At various periods he travelled very extensively in England, Scotland, France, Spain and Italy, and his literary career began by his sending letters about his journeys to the Danish newspapers. After returning home, he settled for some time in the island of Bornholm, painting seascapes. He now issued his earliest volume of poems, Digte (1872), and joined the group of young Radical writers who gathered under the banner of Brandes. Drachmann was unsettled, and still doubted whether his real strength lay in the pencil or in the pen. By this time he had enjoyed a surprising experience of life, especially among sailors, fishermen, students and artists, and the issues of the Franco-German War and the French Commune had persuaded him that a new and glorious era was at hand. His volume of lyrics, Daempede Melodier (“Muffled Melodies,” 1875), proved that Drachmann was a poet with a real vocation, and he began to produce books in prose and verse with great rapidity. Ungt Blod (“Young Blood,” 1876) contained three realistic stories of contemporary life. But he returned to his true field in his magnificent Sange ved Havet; Venezia (“Songs of the Sea; Venice,” 1877), and won the passionate admiration of his countrymen by his prose work, with interludes in verse, called Derovre fra Graensen (“Over the Frontier there,” 1877), a series of impressions made on Drachmann by a visit to the scenes of the war with Germany. During the succeeding years he was a great traveller, visiting most of the principal countries of the world, but particularly familiarizing himself, by protracted voyages, with the sea and with the life of man in maritime places. In 1879 he published Ranker og Roser (“Tendrils and Roses”), amatory lyrics of a very high order of melody, in which he showed a great advance in technical art. To the same period belongs Paa Sömands Tro og Love (“On the Faith and Honour of a Sailor,” 1878), a volume of short stories in prose. It was about this time that Drachmann broke with Brandes and the Radicals, and set himself at the head of a sort of “nationalist” or popular-Conservative party in Denmark. He continued to celebrate the life of the fishermen and sailors in books, whether in prose or verse, which were the most popular of their day. Paul og Virginie and Lars Kruse (both 1879); Östen for Sol og vesten for Maone (“East of the Sun and Moon,” 1880); Puppe og Sommerfugl (“Chrysalis and Butterfly,” 1882); and Strandby Folk (1883) were among these. In 1882 Drachmann published his fine translation, or paraphrase, of Byron’s Don Juan. In 1885 his romantic play called Der var en Gang (“Once upon a Time”) had a great success on the boards of the Royal theatre, Copenhagen; and his tragedies of Völund Smed (“Wayland the Smith”) and Brav-Karl (1897) made him the most popular playwright of Denmark. He published in 1894 a volume of exquisitely fantastic Melodramas in rhymed verse, a collection which contains some of Drachmann’s most perfect work. His novel Med den brede Pensel (“With a Broad Brush,” 1887) was followed in 1890 by Forskrevet, the history of a young painter, Henrik Gerhard, and his revolt against his bourgeois surroundings. With this novel is closely connected Den hellige Ild (“The Sacred Fire,” 1899), in which Drachmann speaks in his own person. There is practically no story in this autobiographical volume, which abounds in lyrical passages. In 1899 he produced his romantic play called Gurre; in 1900 a brilliant lyrical drama, Hallfred Vandraadeskjald; and in 1903, Det grönne Haab. He died in Copenhagen on the 14th of January 1908.

See an article by K. Gjellerup in Dansk Biografisk Lexikon vol. iv. (Copenhagen, 1890).

(E. G.)