Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson 1832 - 1910
Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson was a Norwegian writer who received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature "as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit", becoming the first Norwegian Nobel laureate. Bjørnson is considered to be one of The Four Greats (De Fire Store) among Norwegian writers, the others being Henrik Ibsen, Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland. Bjørnson is also celebrated for his lyrics to the Norwegian National Anthem, "Ja, vi elsker dette landet"
In 1857 Bjørnson published Synnøve Solbakken, the first of his peasant novels. In 1858 this was followed by Arne, in 1860 by En glad Gut (A Happy Boy), and in 1868 by Fiskerjentene (The Fisher Girls). These are the most important specimens of his bonde-fortellinger or peasant tales.
Bjørnson was anxious "to create a new saga in the light of the peasant," as he put it, and he thought this should be done, not merely in prose fiction, but in national dramas or folke-stykker. The earliest of these was a one-act piece set in the 12th century, Mellem Slagene (Between the Battles), written in 1855 and produced in 1857. He was especially influenced at this time by the study of Jens Immanuel Baggesen and Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger, during a visit to Copenhagen. Mellem Slagene was followed by Halte-Hulda (Lame Hulda) in 1858, and Kong Sverre (King Sverre) in 1861. His most important work to date was the poetic trilogy of Sigurd Slembe (Sigurd the Bad), which Bjørnson published in 1862
At the close of 1857 Bjørnson had been appointed director of the theatre at Bergen, a post which he held for two years, when he returned to Christiania. From 1860 to 1863 he travelled widely throughout Europe. Early in 1865 he undertook the management of the Christiania theatre, and brought out his popular comedy of De Nygifte (The Newly Married) and his romantic tragedy of Mary Stuart in Scotland. In 1870 he published Poems and Songs and the epic cycle Arnljot Gelline; the latter volume contains the ode Bergliot, one of Bjørnson's finest contributions to lyrical poetry.
Between 1864 and 1874, Bjørnson displayed a slackening of the intellectual forces very remarkable in a man of his energy; he was mainly occupied with politics and with his business as a theatrical manager. This was the period of Bjørnson's most fiery propaganda as a radical agitator. In 1871 he began to supplement his journalistic work by delivering lectures throughout Scandinavia.
From 1874 to 1876 Bjørnson was absent from Norway, and in the peace of voluntary exile he recovered his imaginative powers. His new departure as a dramatic author began with En fallit (A Bankruptcy) and Redaktøren (The Editor) in 1874, social dramas of an extremely modern and realistic cast.
Bjørnson settled on his estate of Aulestad in Gausdal. In 1877 he published another novel, Magnhild, in which his ideas on social questions were seen to be in a state of fermentation, and gave expression to his republican sentiments in the polemical play Kongen (The King). In a later edition of the play, he prefixed an essay on "Intellectual Freedom" in further explanation of his position. Kaptejn Mansana (Captain Mansana), an episode of the war of Italian independence, was written in to 1878.
Extremely anxious to obtain full success on the stage, Bjørnson concentrated his powers on a drama of social life, Leonarda (1879), which raised a violent controversy. A satirical play, Det nye System (The New System), was produced a few weeks later. Although these plays of Bjørnson's second period were greatly discussed, few were financially successful.
Bjørnson produced a social drama, En Handske (A Gauntlet), in 1883, but was unable to persuade any manager to stage it except in a modified form. In the autumn of the same year, Bjørnson published a mystical or symbolic drama Over Aevne (Beyond Powers), dealing with the abnormal features of religious excitement with extraordinary force; this was not acted until 1899, when it achieved a great success.
Bjørnson was, from the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair, a staunch supporter of Alfred Dreyfus, and, according to a contemporary, wrote "article after article in the papers and proclaimed in every manner his belief in his innocence".
Bjørnson was one of the original members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, that awards the Nobel Peace Prize, where he sat from 1901 to 1906.
In 1903 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Bjørnson had done as much as any other man to rouse Norwegian nationalistic feeling, but in 1903, on the verge of the rupture between Norway and Sweden, he preached conciliation and moderation to the Norwegians. However in 1905 he largely remained silent. An apocryphal story stated that when Norway was attempting to dissolve the forced union with Sweden, Bjørnson sent a telegram to the Norwegian Prime minister stating, "Now is the time to unite." The minister replied, "Now is the time to shut up." This was in fact a satirical illustration published in Vikingen, but the story got so popular and widespread that Bjørnson had to deny it, claiming that "Michelsen has never asked me to shut up; it would not help if he did".
He died on 26 April 1910 in Paris, where for some years he had spent his winters, and was buried at home with every mark of honour. The Norwegian coastal defence ship HNoMS Norge was sent to convey his remains back to his own land.
The man whose story is here to be told was the wealthiest and most influential person in his parish; his name was Thord Överaas. He appeared in the priest's study one day, tall and earnest.
"I have gotten a son," said he, "and I wish to present him for baptism."
"What shall his name be?"
"Finn, after my father."
"And the sponsors?"
They were mentioned, and proved to be the best men and women of Thord's relations in the parish.
"Is there anything else ?" inquired the priest, and looked up.
The peasant hesitated a little.
"I should like very much to have him baptized by himself," said he, finally.
"That is to say on a week-day ?"
"Next Saturday, at twelve o'clock noon."
"Is there anything else ?" inquired the priest,
"There is nothing else;" and the peasant twirled his cap, as though he were about to go.
Then the priest rose. "There is yet this, however." said he, and walking toward Thord, he took him by the hand and looked gravely into his eyes: "God grant that the child may become a blessing to you !"
One day sixteen years later, Thord stood once more in the priest's study.
"Really, you carry your age astonishingly well, Thord," said the priest; for he saw no change whatever in the man.
"That is because I have no troubles," replied Thord.
To this the priest said nothing, but after a while he asked:
"What is your pleasure this evening ?"
"I have come this evening about that son of mine who is to be confirmed tomorrow."
"He is a bright boy."
"I did not wish to pay the priest until I heard what number the boy would have when he takes his place in the church tomorrow."
"He will stand number one."
"So I have heard; and here are ten dollars for the priest."
"Is there anything else I can do for you ?" inquired the priest, fixing his eyes on Thord.
"There is nothing else."
Thord went out.
Eight years more rolled by, and then one day a noise was heard outside of the priest's study, for many men were approaching, and at their head was Thord, who entered first.
The priest looked up and recognized him.
"You come well attended this evening, Thord," said he.
"I am here to request that the banns may be published for my son: he is about to marry Karen Storliden, daughter of Gudmund, who stands here beside me."
"Why, that is the richest girl in the parish."
"So they say," replied the peasant, stroking back his hair with one hand.
The priest sat a while as if in deep thought, then entered the names in his book, without making any comments, and the men wrote their signatures underneath. Thord laid three dollars on the table.
"One is all I am to have," said the priest.
"I know that very well; but he is my only child; I want to do it handsomely."
The priest took the money.
"This is now the third time, Thord, that you have come here on your son's account."
"But now I am through with him," said Thord, and folding up his pocket-book he said farewell and walked away.
The men slowly followed him.
A fortnight later, the father and son were rowing across the lake, one calm, still day, to Storliden to make arrangements for the wedding.
"This thwart is not secure," said the son, and stood up to straighten the seat on which he was sitting.
At the same moment the board he was standing on slipped from under him; he threw out his arms, uttered a shriek, and fell overboard.
"Take hold of the oar !" shouted the father, springing to his feet, and holding out the oar.
But when the son had made a couple of efforts he grew stiff.
"Wait a moment!" cried the father, and began to row toward his son.
Then the son rolled over on his back, gave his father one long look, and sank.
Thord could scarcely believe it; he held the boat still, and stared at the spot where his son had gone down, as though he must surely come to the surface again. There rose some bubbles, then some more, and finally one large one that burst; and the lake lay there as smooth and bright as a mirror again.
For three days and three nights people saw the father rowing round and round the spot, without taking either food or sleep; he was dragging the lake for the body of his son. And toward morning of the third day he found it, and carried it in his arms up over the hills to his gard.
It might have been about a year from that day, when the priest, late one autumn evening, heard some one in the passage outside of the door, carefully trying to find the latch. The priest opened the door, and in walked a tall, thin man, with bowed form and white hair. The priest looked long at him before he recognized him. It was Thord.
"Are you out walking so late ?" said the priest, and stood still in front of him.
"Ah, yes ! it is late," said Thord, and took a seat.
The priest sat down also, as though waiting. A long, long silence followed. At last Thord said:
"I have something with me that I should like to give to the poor; I want it to be invested as a legacy in my son's name."
He rose, laid some money on the table, and sat down again. The priest counted it.
"It is a great deal of money," said he.
"It is half the price of my gard. I sold it today."
The priest sat long in silence. At last he asked, but gently:
"What do you propose to do now, Thord ?"
They sat there for a while, Thord with downcast eyes, the priest with his eyes fixed on Thord.
Presently the priest said, slowly and softly:
"I think your son has at last brought you a true blessing."
"Yes, I think so myself," said Thord, looking up, while two big tears coursed slowly down his cheeks.
This story was written in 1860. Translated from the Norwegian by Professor Rasmus B. Anderson.
Painting by Johannes Larsen Museet (danish)