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SÖREN KIERKEGAARD

Author(s): David F. Swenson


Source: Scandinavian Studies and Notes, Vol. 6, No. 1 (FEBRUARY, 1920), pp. 1-41
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the Society for the Advancement of
Scandinavian Study
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SOREN KIERKEGAARD
I
The outer aspects of Kierkegaard'scareer suggestthe
placidand uneventful lifeof a studentand man of letters.
Bornin Copenhagen on the5thofMay,1813,theyoungest son
ofa merchant of means,he receivedthe humanistic discipline
ofa classicalschool,and was enrolledin theUniversity at the
of
age eighteen. The ten were
yearsfollowing spent some- in
whatdiscursivestudies,rangingover the fieldsof esthetics,
philosophy, and theology.At twenty-seven he receivedthe
degreeofMagister artiurn,and soon thereafter enteredintoan
of
engagement marriage, broken aftera year upon his own
initiative.He remainedunmarried, and from thistimeuntil
hisdeath,whichtookplace on the 11th of November, 1855,he
devotedhimself to his
unremittingly literary labors,unfolding
an extraordinary productivity.
Kierkegaard was endowedwitha sensitiveorganism,and
underthecalmsurfaceofhisoutwardlifetherestirred a tense
spiritualvitality. The traitwhichWordsworth eulogizesas
a markof spiritualelevation,"the capacityto be excitedto
significantfeelingwithoutthe applicationof grossor violent
stimulants,"washisinan extraordinary degree. Eventswhich
in thelivesofmostmenwouldhavepassedwithoutcreating a
rippleuponthesurface, stirredhissoulto itsdepths;and hence
the apparentexaggeration whichso manyof his criticshave
foundinhisinterpretation ofhimself and hisexperiences.The
manofgeniusis naturally characterized byfreshness andfulness
of feeling,and Kierkegaard's personalexperiences werecer-
tainlydeeplyfelt;so profoundly, indeed,thattheyservedto
stimulatein hima reflection ofuniversal significance.
II
Bothparentswereof peasantstock. The father,Michael
PedersenKierkegaard, cameto Copenhagen as a boyoftwelve,
and was apprenticed to an uncleengagedin trade. He even-
i

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■2

tuallyset up forhimself, achievedsuccessand retired at forty


witha competenceregardedas considerableforthe times.
This retirement frombusinesssynchronized withhis second
marriage, a yearafterthedeathofhisfirst wife. Oftheseven
children ofthissecondmarriage, SorenAabyewastheyoungest.
Thus thefatherwas alreadyfifty-seven yearsold at the time
ofSoren'sbirth,whilehismother was forty-five.
Soren'smotherhad been herhusband'shousekeeper.Of
a cheerful and domesticdisposition, she seemsto have been
but littlecapableof entering into the intellectual lifeof her
two giftedsons,and appearsto have exerteda minimum of
influenceupon Kierkegaard'sdevelopment.His journals
maintain silencewithregardto her.
The fatherwas a dominant figure,austereand precise. A
deep strain of melancholy in his disposition,nurtured by un-
happy and disquieting memories, tended in its turn to keep
thesememories alive. Fromthismelancholy he soughtrelief
in a pietisticreligiosity, and to some extent,it appears,in
philosophicalreading. To him Kierkegaardattributesthe
deepest formative influences of his life. A merchantwho
retiresat fortyfroma successful businesscareerin orderto
haveleisureto repenthissins,readWolflian metaphysics, and
bringup his children in the fearof God, cannot be set down as
an ordinary or commonplace character; and it is not surprising
thathisinfluence uponthesonshouldhavebeenprofound.
The melancholy whichwas the commonheritageof father
and soncan be described by citinga singlecharacteristic trait.
One day while herdingsheep on the bare Jutlandheath,em-
bitteredby his privationsand oppressedby loneliness,the
elderKierkegaard, who was thena boy of elevenor twelve,
had mounteda hilland assailedwithcursesthe God whohad
condemned himto so wretched an existence. In Kierkegaard's
journal for the year 1846 there is a reference to thisincident
in thefollowing terms:"The terrible fateofthemanwhohad
oncein childhoodmounteda hilland cursedGod,becausehe
was hungryand cold, and had to endureprivationswhile
herding hissheep - and whowasunableto forget it evenat the
age of eighty-two." When after Kierkegaard'sdeatk this

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passagewasshownto hissurviving elderbrother,BishopPeder


ChristianKierkegaard,he burstinto tearsand said: "That is
the
just story ofour and
father, of hissonsas well." Elsewhere,
in Stageson theWayofLife,Kierkegaard suggeststhatthese
darkmoodsservedto linkthefather and thesonin a fellowship
ofsecretand unexpressedsympathy.
"Thereonceliveda father anda son. A sonis a mirrorinwhichthefather
seeshimself andthefather
reflected, is a mirrorinwhichthesonseeshimself
as
he willbe in thefuture.But thesetwodid notoftenlookat one anotherin
thismanner, fortheirdailyintercoursewascarried on through
themedium ofa
gayandlivelyconversation. Butsometimes it happenedthatthefather
would
pauseand turnwithsad facetowardtheson,sayingas he gazedintohiseyes:
Toorboy,youarethevictimofa silentdespair.' Thiswasall thateverpassed
between them;no explanation ofthemeaningofthesewordswas evervouch-
safed,noranydiscussion ofhowfartheymightpossiblybe true. The father
thought thathe wasresponsiblefortheboy'smelancholy, andthesonthought
thatit was he whocausedhisfatherso muchgrief - butnota wordwasever
exchanged between themon thesubject."
Thereare twootherphasesofKierkegaard's boyhood,and
of his father'sinfluence
upon the developmentof his mind,
whichI shallallowhimto describein his ownwords,quoting
thesketchgivenofJohannes Climacus,theprincipalcharacter
in De omnibusdubitandum est, an unfinished
metaphysical
essay, writtenby Kierkegaardin 1842-3,and undoubtedly
autobiographicalin character.
"His home-life offeredbutfewdiversions.He wasscarcely everpermitted
togoout,andthushebecameaccustomed, at an earlyage,toattendtohimself
andtohisownthoughts.His father wasverystrict, anddryandprosaiconthe
surface;butunderneath thiscoarseand unpretentious exteriorhe preserved
a
glowing fancy,whichnotevenhis extreme old age was able to dull. When
Johannes sometimes askedforpermission to go out,he wasmostoftenrefused;
butoccasionally, as ifto makeup forthisrefusal, thefatherproposeda walk
togetherup and downtheroom. This seemedat firsta poorsubstitute; and
yet,like his father'scoarsegraycoat, it concealedunderits plain exterior
something verydifferent fromthatwhichappearedon thesurface.The pro-
posalaccepted,it wasforJohannes himselftodecidewheretogo. Theypassed
out the gate and visiteda neighboring palace; or wentto the seashore,or
wandered aboutthestreets, all at theboy'spleasure.Forthefather's imagina-
tionwaspowerful enoughtocreatea realizing senseofanything andeverything
theboydesired.Whiletheywalkedup anddown,thefather describedthesights
alongtheway;theygreeted thepassers-by; thevehiclesrumbled anddrowned
thefather'svoice;the daintiesdisplayedby the fruit- womanon thecorner

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seemedmorealluringthan ever. When theywereon groundfamiliarto Johan-


nes,everything was givena descriptionso vividand minutethatnotthesmallest
detail was overlooked. When the way took themto scenesnew and unfamiliar,
the fatherknewhow to draw so explicita picture,and give it so vivid an intui-
tion,that afterbut half an hour of this promenadeJohanneswas as tiredand
overwhelmedby his impressionsas ifhe had beenout ofdoorsan entireday. He
soon learned how to practice his father'smagic art forhimself. A dramatic
representationsupplanted the former epic narrative; for they conversed
togetheron the way. When they walked amidst scenes with whichJohannes
was familiar,they promptedone anotherfaithfully, lest anythingshould be
overlooked;when the way was strange,Johannestrustedhis fancyto combine
theelementsofhis memoryintopictures,whilehisfather'sall-powerful imagina-
tion broughtinto being everyleast detail, utilizingeverychildishwish as an
ingredient in thedrama. To Johannesit seemedas ifhe werewitnessing, during
the course of theirconversation,a world cominginto being; it was as if his
fatherwerethe Creator,and he himselfa favorite,permittedfreelyto introduce
his own childishfanciesinto the creativeprocess. For he was neverrepressed,
and his fatherwas neverat a loss; everysuggestiontenderedwas made use of,
and always to Johannes'completesatisfaction.
"With an all-powerfulimaginationthefathercombinedan invincibledialec-
tic. And hence when at times the fatherwas engaged in argumentwith a
neighbor,Johanneswas all ears; and this so much the more,as everythingin
these discussions was arranged with ceremoniousorder and precision. His
fatherneverinterruptedthe opponent,but let him speak throughto the end;
whenhe appeared to have finished,he always cautiouslyasked himif therewas
anythingmore he wished to say, beforebeginninghis answer. Johanneshad
followedthe argumentwithconcentratedattention,and was, in his own way, a
trulyinterestedparticipant. There came a pause, and thenthe father'sreply;
all was changedin the twinklingof an eye. How it was changedwas a mystery
to the boy,but his mindwas fascinatedby the spectacle. The opponentspoke
in rebuttal,and Johanneswas still moredeeply attentive,if possible,than be-
fore; he wanted to bear everypoint in mind. The opponentapproached his
peroration,and Johannescould almost hear his own heart beat, so impatient
was he to hear theoutcomeof theargument. Then came thefather'sreply,and
in a momenteverything was changed. The thingsthathad seemedclear before,
suddenly became inexplicable; the things that had seemed certain became
doubtful,and theirveryoppositesweremade to appear evident.
"What other childrenpossessed in the enchantmentsof poetryand the
surprisesof adventure,Johanneshad in the calm of a vivid intuitionand the
swiftlychangingperspectivesof dialectics. When he became older he had no
need to cast his playthingsaside, forhe had learnedto play withthat whichwas
to be the seriousbusinessof his life; and yet it neverlost its allurement.A girl
plays with her dolls until at last the doll is transformedinto a lover, for a
woman's entirelifeis love. A similarcontinuitycharacterizedJohannes'life,
forhis entirelifewas thought."

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In lateryearsKierkegaard was accustomed to spenddays


and weeksin practicingon himselfdifferent emotionaland
temperamental states,an exercisewhichhe describesas "a
kindofnimbledancingintheserviceofthought. " This
making
of himself an instrument forthe exploration of the passions,
by whichhe attainedan extraordinary commandof the scale
of humanfeeling,was undoubtedly to a largeextentmade
possibleby the strangetrainingof the imaginationabove
described, fantastic as it mustseemto all straightforward souls.
A finaland decisivepaternalinfluence was thatwhichhad
its sourcein the elderKierkegaard's sombrereligiosity.The
sternness of the parentaldiscipline, indeed,gave the boy a
lofty of
impression duty, for
he was trained to a strictobedience.
Not that he was in
enmeshed the web ofa multiplicity ofpetty
obligations, but with to
respect the few commands that were
laiduponhim, it was theparentalprinciple that no evasion was
to be tolerated. Kierkegaard's largeestheticsensibility thus
receiveda restraining and balancingcounterpoise in the form
of a strongsenseof the value of obedience,of authority, and
evenof an uncompromising seventy. This lefta permanent
markuponhisthought.
But it wasin connection withtheteachingoftheChristian
dogmathat the father'sinfluencewas most pregnantwith
significance.The boy heardlittleat homeabout the gentle
Christmas Child,but so muchthe moreof the suffering and
crucified Saviour. Theseimpressions werebrought so vividly
to bearuponthe boy'sinnerlifeas to do violenceto hisper-
sonalityas a child;and in conjunction withhisnativemelan-
cholytheyhelpedto robhis childhoodof its naturalheritage
of spontaneityand immediacy."I have never,"he says,
"
"enjoyedthe happinessof beinga child." This well-meant
violence"on thepartofhisfatherhe latercameto regardas a
training, unnaturalto childhoodand youth,but whichnever-
thelesslater,whenhewasmatureenoughtoprofit byit,became
hismostpreciousspiritualinheritance.But hischildhood, he
avows,was burdenedwithimpressions "too heavyto bear,
evenfortheold manwholaid themuponme." "My father's
error,however,was not to be lackingin love, but to forget

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the differencebetweena childand an old man." The mis-


understanding,indeed,servedto strengthen thebondsof filial
piety. 'To love one who makes me happy,is, viewedin
an imperfect
reflection, formof love. To love one whofrom
motivesofmalevolence makesme unhappy, is virtue. But to
love one who makesme unhappybecausehe loves me, and
hencebya misunderstanding, butnevertheless reallymakesme
unhappy,thatis a formof love whichto myknowledge has
neveryetbeen described, a formof love,nevertheless, which
whenviewedin reflection, is revealedas the normalformof
love." The religiousdiscoursesof Kierkegaard'sauthorship
wererepeatedlydedicatedin theirsuccessiveissues to "my
deceasedfather,Michael PedersenKierkegaard,formerly a
merchant ofthiscity."
Ill
WhenKierkegaardwas twenty-five, his fatherdied. At
thistime,so hedescribes his
himself, personality wasa strangely
developedpotentiality. Fortunate in the external circum-
stancesofhislife,initiatedintoall kindsofpleasures, equipped
witha superfluity of culture,giftedwithimagination and the
of
power dialectic, he was an observer and student of human
nature. His spiritwashigh-strung andproud. Thatheshould
ever be defeatedin any undertaking seemedto him incon-
ceivable,exceptthat hehad no hope ever tobe able toovercome
hismelancholy.In hishearthe entertained a livelysympathy
forall who suffered oppression and hardship;and his total
attitudetowardlife was thoroughly polemic. He had long
entertainedtheambitionto be able to helpothersto clearness
ofthought, especiallyin connection withtheChristian religion,
forwhichhehadneverlosthisrespect, although troubledindeed
in
by doubts, many instances doubts of which he had never
even read or heard. The deathof his father,however,had
caused a revivalof the religiousimpressions of childhood,
whichhe nowcameto experience in a somewhat idealizedand
lessharshform.
A passagefromthejournals,written at theage of twenty-
two, reveals the nature of his intellectual orientation.The

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entirepassage is a sort of stock-taking, a reviewof his


variedinterestsand ambitions. "My misfortune, " he
says,
"is thatI am interestedin too manythings, and notdecisively
committed to any one thing,to whichI mightsubordinate
everythingelse." Along with jurisprudence, the theatre,
theology, he takesup theclaims ofnaturalscienceas a possible
prospective vocation. Distinguishingbetween the industrious
collectorof factsand the organizing intellectual
geniuswho
succeedsingaininga viewofthewhole,heexpresses hisadmira-
tionforthelatter. Nevertheless, he concludesthatit doesnot
seempossibleforhimto makenaturalsciencehischiefconcern.
Thepassagecontinues:
"It has alwaysbeenthelifeofreasonand freedom whichhas mostinter-
estedme,andithasalwaysbeenmywishthatI might solvethemystery oflife.
The forty yearsin thewilderness, beforeI couldenter, intothepromised land
ofscience,appearto me tooprecious;so muchthemore,sinceI havean idea
thatNaturemayalsobe viewedfrom another side,without requiring an insight
intothesecrets ofscience. In a particular flower I maytrainmyself to see the
wholeworld;orI maylistento themanyhintsand suggestions whichNature
offerswithrespectto humanlife.
"Theologywouldseemto be thesphereto whichmyinterest mostclearly
inclinesme,but mytheological studieshave hitherto metwiththe greatest
difficulties.WithinChristianity itselfsuchgreatcontrasts present themselves
as at leastto placeobstaclesin thewayof an impartial survey.Orthodoxy I
haveso tospeakbeenbrought up in; butas soonas I begantothinkformyself,
thehugeColossusbeganto tumble.I callit purposely a Colossus,forit hasin
themainmuchinnerconsistency; and in thecourseofcenturies theindividual
partsofit havebeenso fusedtogether thatit is hardto cometo closequarters
withthemsimplyas isolatedfeatures.Thereareindividual pointson whichI
might beabletoreachan agreement withtheorthodox butthesewould
doctrine,
thenhaveto be regarded as thegreensproutswhichmaysometimes be found
growing in thecleftofthebarrenrock. On theotherhandI mightpossibly be
abletodiscern theerrors andperversities present at otherpoints;butthefoun-
dationitselfI wouldhaveto holdfora timein dabio. If thefoundation were
tobe changed, thewholewouldofcoursehavetobe viewedin a different light;
andso myattention is drawnto Rationalism.But Rationalismseemsto me
tocuta verysorry figure.In so far,indeed,as theReasonconsistently follows
itsownimpulses andspiritin theattempt to clearup therelation between God
and theworld;and in so faras it thusconsiders manin hisdeepestand most
intimate relationship withGod,and hencealsocomesto takeChristianity into
account,fromitsownstandpoint, as thereligion whichforso manycenturies
has satisfiedman'sdeepestreligious need- inso farindeedno objection can be
urgedagainstit. But thisis notwhatRationalism proceedsto do. It takes

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its essentialcoloringfromChristianity,and hencestandson an entirelydifferent


footing;it is not a system,but a Noah's ark,whereinthe clean and the unclean
animals lie down side by side. It makes about the same impressionon me as
thecivilianguardwe formerly had herein Denmark,beside the Royal Potsdam
Guard. It seeksessentiallyto base itselfupon theScriptures,and sendsa legion
of scripturalpassages beforeit at everypoint; but the expositionand develop-
mentis not itselfsaturatedwith this consciousness. The rationalistictheolo-
gians behave like Cambyses,who in campaigningagainst Egyptsentthe sacred
fowlsand cats beforehim; but, like the Roman consul,theyare quite ready to
throwthe sacredanimalsoverboardwhentheserefuseto eat. . . .
"What I reallyneed,however,is a clear mindregardingwhat I oughtto do;
not so muchas to what I oughtto know,exceptin so faras some sortof knowl-
edge precedesall doing. I need to understandmyplace in life,and to see what
call the divinepowerhas forme; I need to discovera Truth whichis a Truth
forme; I need to findthe idea forwhichI can live and die. For what would it
profitme if I discoveredsome so-called objective truth; if I workedmy way
throughall the philosophicalsystems,and could pass them in review when
necessary;or if I wereable to pointout the inconsistencies
withineach particu-
lar schoolof thought;what would it profitme if I wereable to develop a theory
oftheState, to combinescatteredfactsgatheredfrommanysourcesintoa total-
ity,and thus construea worldin whichI did not live, but only held up to the
gaze of others;what would it profitme if I could expound the significanceof
Christianity, and explainmanyof its particularphenomena,ifit had no deeper
significanceforme and formy life? . . . What I need is the power to live a
completehumanlife,and not merelya lifeof knowledge;lest I come to base my
thoughtupon somethingso-calledobjective,in any ca(sesomethingnot myown.
I need somethingthat is connected with the deepest root of my existence,
somethingthroughwhich I am linked, so to speak, with the divine, and to
whichI couldclingevenifthewholeworld wereto fallin ruinsabout me."
It is in theseclosingaspirations ofKierke-
thatthekey-note
gaard'ssubsequent lifeand is
thought clearlystruck.

IV
In September,1840, Kierkegaardbecame engaged to
RegineOlsen. Thisyoungwomanofseventeen had an impor-
tantinfluence his so
upon authorship; important, indeed,that
it was Kierkegaard's desire
expressed thatthe entire literature
shouldafterhisdeathbe dedicatedjointlyto his fatherand
to her. A gracefuland attractivefigure, she was a childof
joy and sunshine. So completea contrast did she presentto
the profound and
melancholy many-tongued reflectionwhich
was Kierkegaard'sowninmostself,that"it was as if Simeon

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Stylites hadsteppeddownfromhispillarto invitea younglady


of beautyand fashionto sharehis narrowpedestal."(Georg
Brandes). Kierkegaard thoughtit possibleand permissibleto
concealthesymptoms ofhisowninnerunhappiness; he believed
it his dutyto use forthispurposehis nativelivelinessof wit
and whatever acquiredvirtuosity in concealmenthe possessed,
and so make possiblethe realizationof the projectedmar-
riage. "My fatherwas themostmelancholy manI haveever
known. But he was at his ease and happythe entireday.
He neededonlyto employan hourat nightto drain,likeLoki's
wife,thecup ofhisbitterness; to makehimsound
thissufficed
again. For mypart,I do not evenrequireas muchtimeas
this. Onlya momentor twoas opportunity and all is
offers,
wellwithmeoncemore. Fromthebitterness ofmymelancholy
I distila joy,a sympathy, a tendernessoffeeling,
whichsurely
cannotembitter anyone'slife. I willnot marryin orderto
compelanotherto sharethe burdenof mymelancholy.For
me,therefore, marriage presentsa mostdifficultproblem,an
anxioustask;butit is also mydearestwish." Suchwerethe
ideas withwhichhe enteredinto the engagement.But the
moment he facedthesituationat closerange,theprinciple of
concealment beganto appear untenable,a violationof that
spirit of mutual confidenceand understanding whichhe
consideredfundamental to the marriage-relation. His frail
health,concerning whichhe obtaineda physician'sunfavorable
prognosis; his melancholy,which he looked upon as
unconquerable ; his penitencefor sins of youth- all rose
up in protestagainst him to make impossiblethe reali-
zationofhislovein marriage.Fora yearhe wrestled withthe
problem. In October,1841,he brokethe engagement.The
journalsare filledwith echoes of this experience, and the
Kierkegaardian is largelybuiltup about it, though
literature
it cannotjustlybe saidthattheappropriate imaginative trans-
formation ofthematerialis everneglected.In thejournalsof
1849,whenhisformer fianceehad beenforsomeyearshappily
married, and at a timewhenthedeathofherfatherhad given
hima newimpulseto reflect upontherelationbetweenthem,
he reviewsthe storyof the engagement in severalparallel

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IO

accounts. One ofthese,underthemotto"Infandutn mejubes,


Regina,renovare dolorem"describesthe proposal,the engage-
ment,andthesubsequent innerstrugglesbetweenhisconscience
and his love. "Inwardly,almostthe nextday, I saw that I
had madea mistake. A penitentsuchas I was,myvitaanta
acta, my melancholy, these were enough. I sufferedinde-
scribablyall the time." The yearof the engagement fallsby
thisaccountintofiveperiods,each of whichis briefly charac-
terized. In the first,he suffersfromhis melancholy and his
conscience,reproaching himselfwithhavingtornherloosefrom
hermoorings.In thesecond,"she givesherself freereinin a
boundless self-assurance.Atoncemymelancholy withrespect
to the engagement disappears, and I breathefreelyagain.
Hereis a faulton myside. I shouldhavetakenadvantageof
thisperiodto permitherto breakthe engagement; it would
thenhavebeena triumph forher. Buttheproblem ofrealizing
a marriage wastooseriousa problem forme,and besides,there
was something childishin her presumption."In the third,
"she yieldsherselfin completedevotion,and is transfigured
intothemostlovablecreature imaginable." His firstdifficulty
now returns, intensifiedby the sightof herdevotionand by
thesenseofhisownresponsibility. he comesto
In thefourth,
theconclusion thata separation is unavoidable,
and writesher
the following note,reprinted verbatimin Stageson theWay
of Life,
"Not too oftento experimentwith somethingthat must in any event be
done, and which,when it is done, will undoubtedlygive the needed strength,
let it now be done. Above all, forgethim who writesthisnote; forgeta man,
who,whatevermay be his powers,could nevermake a womanhappy.
"In the orient,the sendingof a silkennoose meansdeath fortherecipient;
in thiscase, the returnof a ringwill undoubtedlymean death forthe sender."

She refused,
however,to let thematterrestwiththisdeci"
sion. "In myabsenceshe comesup to myroomand writes
mea desperatenote,adjuringme,'forChrist'ssake,and by the
of
memory mydeceasedfather, notto leave her." The crisis
was temporarily In
postponed. the meanwhile, Kierkegaard
attempted to make himselfobnoxious to her, "if possibleto
sustainher by a deception,and to inciteher pride." Two

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II

monthslaterhe brokethe engagement forthe secondtime,


despiteherprotestsand thoseof her father. The gossipin
CopenhagenaccusedKierkegaardof experimenting withthe
affectionsof his fiancee. He himselfwentso faras to lend
some encouragement to this opinion,thinkingit might
strengthen herself-assertion and senseof independence.His
brother, a fewdaysaftertheevent,threatened to call on the
Olsensand showthemthatKierkegaard was nota scoundrel.
"If youdo," was hisvehement reply,"I'll puta bulletthrough
your head."
This was the experience whichplacedKierkegaard almost
at a strokein the fullpossessionof his estheticand literary
powers. Thewealthoffeeling whichderivesfrom itandcenters
aboutit constitutes a richveinin theKierkegaardian literature,
and is one of its primeclaimsto distinction.The experience
had probeddeep. That he shouldhave venturedupon an
undertaking whichhe couldnot fulfill, and thathe had been
compelled to sacrificehishonorin thebreaking ofa solemnpact,
stirredhis senseof prideand self-feeling profoundly.A pas-
sage in Either- Or reflectsone of themoods inwhichhereacts
on theexperience.
"WhatI needis a voiceas penetratingas theeyeofa Lynceus,as terrifying
as thesighofa giant,as persistent
as a soundofnature,as fullofderision as
a frostygustofwind,as maliciousas Echo'sheartless mockeries, runningthe
gamutfromthedeepestbass to themostmellifluous soprano,and capableof
modulation fromthe softestwhisperto the utmostpitchof ragingenergy.
AllthisI needin orderto relievemyspiritofitsburden, and to getexpression
forwhatisonmymind,tostirthebowelsofmysympathy andwrath."
What the estheticist in Either- Or thusdesires,Kierkegaard
came to possessin the fullestmeasure;forhis unhappylove-
affairhad madehiman imaginative writerofthefirstrank.
But theexperience had,according to hisowninterpretation
ofit, also a deeperimport.It gave hislifeitsdefinite
andfinal
direction."WhenI brokewithher,"he writes,"my impres-
sionwas: eithersensualityin extremest measure,or elseabso-
lutereligiosity,
and thataccordingto a standardquitedifferent
fromtheclergyman's melange" The latteralternative was at
bottomalreadychosen,preparedforby hisfather'sdiscipline,

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12

and maturedby the verymotivesoperatingto bringon the


crisisabove described. He cameto makea beginning in two
different placesat one and thesametime,namely,as a poetic
and as a religiousnature;suchis his own epigrammatic de-
scription of the situation."Because of my previousreligious
training thefactin question[thebrokenengagement] tookhold
ofme in a fardeepermannerthanwouldotherwise have been
possible;it annihilated, to a certaindegree,in religiousim-
the
patience, 'poet' that had beenbornwithinme. The poetic
withinme therefore became somethingessentiallyforeign,
somethingthat had merelyhappenedto me; the religious
awakening, on theotherhand,thoughnotindeedproducedby
myself, nevertheless cameto possessthemostintimate relation
to myself.That is, in the'poet' I did notrecognize myself in
the deepestsense; but ratherin the religiousawakening."
However,the poeticendowment demandedexpression.The
religious side of his nature,beingthe deeperself,tookit in
charge, and made it serveits ownpurposes. All the whileit
stoodwaiting,as it were,forthe estheticproductivity to be
got through with as soon as possible. The authorship bears
themarkofthissituation, sinceit has fromthefirsta double
character- estheticand religious;and duringtheproduction of
hisestheticwritings, tells
Kierkegaard us, "the authorhimself
livedin categories thatweredecisively religious."
V
The numberof externalinfluences to whichKierkegaard
reactedwasconsiderable. An author maygaina certaindegree
oforiginalitythroughmereexclusion, buttheindividual stamp
so
and coloring highly characteristic of the Kierkegaardian
is the consequence
literature ratherof an intensiveness in the
personalreaction,and ofan energetic assimilationof thegiven
influences.Whatan authoris able to writethe day afterhis
libraryhas beenburnedhas beensuggested as a crucialtestof
hisresourcefulness.Almost every line of Kierkegaard's seems
a
to meetsuch condition, so littleis it the product ofa bookish
andso completely
erudition, is ittheexpression ofa freecreative
energy. Nevertheless, many general intellectualinfluences

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13

revealthemselves in his work,and enterdeeplyintoits form


and structure.
As a truesonofhisnativeland,hisinheritance includedthe
fullwealthof Danish cultureas expressedin its literature.
But ofall Danishwriters, he appearsto owe mostto Holberg,
the great pioneerof Danish comedy. Holberg'shumoris
something whichKierkegaardmay almostbe said to have
absorbedin succumet sanguinem.The Holbergcomedies
servedhimfora veritablelanguage;and the moretechnical
philosophicaltreatisesare repletewith references to Hol-
bergian characters and situations,givingsubstanceand massto
thedelicatecomedyoftheirfine-spun polemic.
Kierkegaard offersmanypointsof contactwithromanti-
cism. The styleoftheestheticpseudonyms has an emotional
and a
intensity abandon, lyricaleffervescence, at timesan
of
extravagance feeling and statement vergingclose uponthe
limitsof the rational. By way of contrast, the religiousdis-
coursesare writtenin a style noticeablysober,even, and
restrained.Theinvolvedliterary ofthepseudonyms,
structure
withone authorinsideanotherlike the compartments of a
Chinesebox,has also been citedas a romantictrait. More
significant, however,is the strongattractionwhichKierke-
in
gaardfelt, common withmostromanticists, fortheprimitive
in folk-lore,balladsand sagas. He madesystematic studiesof
thegreatrepresentative figuresthatstandout so strongly for
themedievalimagination: a Don Juan,a Faust,The Wander-
ing Jew,a Robin Hood. And he shareswiththe German
romanticists an unboundedadmiration forShakespeare.Of
therichShakespearian insighthe makesliberaluse forhisown
delineation of thepassions. Thoughhe maybe said to have
hada sympathetic appreciation oftheGermanromantic move-
ment,his dissertation, On theConcept Irony,revealshimas a
severecriticofits aberrations.His attitudewas on thewhole
too objectiveand analyticforhimto be classified as a roman-
ticist.
Kierkegaard's relationto Hegelwas thatof a studentsuf-
ficiently docile to absorbthe master'steaching,but whose
maturedcriticism just on that accountbecameall the more

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14

dangerously destructive.To Hegel he oweshis masteryof a


preciseand finishedphilosophical terminology, and Hegel's
influencemayperhapsalso be tracedin thefrequent reversion
to an algebraicallyabstractstyle,clashingsomewhat strangely
with expressions vividlypoetic in theirconcreteness.But
undoubtedly the mostimportant and the mostintimatein-
fluenceleavingitsmarkuponKierkegaard's workand thought,
wasthepersonality ofSocrates. His dissertation
wasan inter-
pretation of Socrates from the point of view of the Socratic
irony. This study revealsa sympathetic appreciation of the
Atheniansage, and became the point of departurefor an
increasingly deeperunderstanding, culminating in the sense
ofan intimate kinship. Kierkegaard
spiritual recognized in his
ownlife-work thefulfilmentofan ethicaland intellectualtask
analogous to that which Socrates
performed forancient Greece.
This thoughtreceivedits firstexpression in the journalsim-
mediately after thepublicationof -
Either Or.
'Thereoncewas a youngman,happilygiftedas an Alcibiades.He went
astrayin theworld,andinhisdistress
lookedabouthimfora Socrates;buthe
couldnotfindoneamonghiscontemporaries. Thenhe askedthegodsto trans-
form himintoa Socrates.Andbehold,theyoungmanwhohad beenso proud
wasso shamedand humbled
ofbeingan Alcibiades, bythegracethegodshad
bestowed uponhim,thatwhenhe had receiveda giftofwhichhe mightwell
beproud,hefelthimselfthehumblest
ofall."

Twelveyearslater,whileengagedin theagitationwhichstirred
Denmarkso profoundly, he expressed the same thoughtmore
into
reading
emphatically, it a stilldeeperimport.
"ThepointofviewwhichI havetorepresent andexpoundis so absolutely
unique,thatin theeighteen hundred yearsofthehistory ofChristendom there
is, quiteliterally,nothinganalogousor corresponding to whichI mightlink
myself.In thissensealso- overagainsttheeighteen hundredyears - I stand
alone.
"The onlyanalogyI haveis Socrates.My taskis a Socratictask- torevise
theconception ofwhatitmeanstobe a Christian.I do notcallmyself a Chris-
tian(keepingtheidealfree)butI can revealthefactthattheothersare still
lessentitledtothenamethanI am.
"O noble,simplesageofantiquity, theonlyhumanbeingwhomI admiringly
acknowledge as a thinker:thereis butlittlewhichtradition
has handeddown
concerning you,trueandonlymartyr oftheintellect,
equallygreatas character
and as thinker; butthatlittle,howinfinitely much! How haveI notlonged,

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livingin themidstofthesebattalions ofthinkers thatChristendom bringsout


intothefieldas Christian thinkers
(forotherwise, in thecourseofthecenturies,
therehavelivedin Christendom a fewindividualthinkers of significance)
,
howhaveI notlongedforoneshorthourofconverse withyou!
"Christendom has beensunkintoa veritable abyssofsophistry, farworse
thanthatwhichprevailed whenthesophists flourishedinGreece.Theselegions
ofpreachers and Christian docentsare all sophists, earningtheirlivelihood -
hereis theancientmarkofthesophist - by filling withdelusions themindsof
thosewhounderstand nothing,and thenmakingthismass,thisnumber, this
humanmajority, thetestandstandardofChristianity andtruth.
"But I do notcallmyself a Christian.Thatthisis veryembarassing tothe
sophists,I understandverywell;andI understand, too,thattheywouldmuch
preferthatI shouldloudlyproclaim myself theonlytrueChristian, andI know
verywellthattheattempt hasbeenmade,untruthfully, to representmyagita-
tionin thislight. ButI willnotallowmyself to be madea foolof. ... I do
notcall myself a Christian.
"O Socrates!If youhad onlyloudlyproclaimed yourself thewisestmanin
Greece,thesophistswouldsoonhavebeenable to finish it offwithyou! No,
no,youmadeyourself ignorant;but at thesametimeyouhad themalicious
characteristicthatyoucouldexposethefact(precisely as beingignorant) that
theothershad stilllessknowledge thanyou,theywhodidnotevenknowthat
theywereignorant."
An estimateof Kierkegaard'stotal significance in these
termsitwouldrequirea morecomprehensive anddetailedstudy
of his entirecareerto motivate. But it may be of interest
simplyto namea numberofindividualtraitsin hispersonality
and hisworkwhichhave a strongSocraticcoloring.Suchfor
exampleis his talentforconversation, and forestablishing a
pointof contactwithall sortsand conditions of men. Such
also is hislivingenthusiasm, wrappedin an objectifying reflec-
tion. We note,too,a concentration of interestuponmorals,
witha corresponding depreciationofthesignificance ofnatural
scienceandcosmological speculation; a devotion
to themaieutic
method and greatskillinitsexercise; anda tendency to ironical
self-isolation. The instrumental subordination of the con-
ceptualapparatusof thoughtto the ends of the personality,
and a consequenthighcontemptforobjectiveand external
results,is alsoa Socratictrait. Andfinally, wehavein Kierke-
gaard a concretely polemicattitudetowardthe currentsof
contemporary life,expressedin intimatepersonalcontact,and
withtheassumption ofsomedegreeofpersonalriskand peril.

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VI
in
Kierkegaard unique thedegreeto whichhisenormous
was
energyof reflection was directedback upon himself.Sub-
sequent criticismhas uncovered veryfewpointsofviewforhis
interpretation alreadysuggestedeitherin the literature
not
itself,or in the wealthof comment whichthejournalsafford.
In the Unscientific his
Postscript, pseudonym, Johannes Clima-
cus,reviewstheesthetic and
literature, assigns to each work its
place in relationto his owncentralthesis. Someyearslater,
afterthebulkofthereligious literaturehad appeared,Kierke-
gaardwrotea literary autobiography to serveforan interpre-
tation of the whole. The latter work,however,was not
publishedduringhislifetime, onlya briefabstractofit appear-
ingin pamphlet form.
It was Kierkegaard's purpose,so he tellsus in the course
ofthisself-criticism,to formulate ofwhatit means
a definition
to live,and to makethisformulation fruitful and suggestive
forlife,stirring the readerto a degreeof self-activity that
mighthelp him to findhimself.He believedthat the age
suffered froman over-abundance ofknowledge.Lifewasbeing
made increasingly unreal,sincelivingwas beingconfused with
knowledge about life. In thissituationit would be superfluous
and even harmful merelyto increasethe storeof knowledge
alreadyexisting, ifit werepossibleto attaina considerable
even
improvement uponcurrentconceptions; thiswouldonlytend
to promotethe diseaseit was intendedto cure. Kierkegaard
therefore resolvedsystematically to eschewthe abstract,ob-
jective,didactic,systematic, scientificform,and to choose
insteadthesubjectiveand incidentalformcharacteristic of a
knowledgecompletely assimilated to the personality. In
otherwords,he presentsknowledge-in-use, as distinctfrom
knowledge in theformofpotentiality-for-use.
To delineatedifferent standpoints and idealsof lifein this
way is to presentpersonalities "existingin theirthoughts,"
and thusrevealingthroughself-expression the personalsig-
nificance ofthestandpoints theyoccupy.Asa consequence, the
estheticliteratureis pseudonymous and polyonymous; the
different authorsare Kierkegaard's but"theirwords,
creations,

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17

theirviews,andeventheirprefaces,
aretheirownproductions, "
theirstandpoints nowherepreciselycoincidingwithKierke-
gaard'sown. Beingidealpersonalitiesonly,theycan express
themselves"witha disregard
forconsequences in goodand evil
limitedonly by the requirementsof an ideal consistency,a
freedom thatno actualauthorspeakingin hisownnamecould
appropriatelyclaim/'
The workwithwhichtheliteraturewaslaunchedis Either-
by VictorEremita,(1843). An ethicalview
Or, a life-fragment,
oflifeis herecontrasted witha purelyesthetic attitude.There
are twoauthors, an estheticistand an ethicist. VictorEremita
is merelythe editorand publisher of the material,whichhas
fallenintohishandsbyaccident. The estheticist is theauthor
ofthepapersthatconstitute thefirst
volume, and is designated
as a; theethicist, b, is responsible
forthesecondvolume,con-
sistingof letterswrittento a, couchedin termsof friendly
admonition.The titleof theworksuggeststhatthereaderis
confronted witha decisivealternative; he is invitedto weigh
and chooseforhimself.The styleof the firstvolumeis im-
passioned,and throughout the work,the thoughtspresented
glow with thewarmth ofpersonalappropriation.The alterna-
tivepresented is thuscharacterized bothin its emotionaland
in its intellectual
significance,and the servicerendered to the
readeris theSocraticoneofformulating thequestionproposed
withthegreatest possibleclarityand precision.
The estheticistis purposely madethemorebrilliant ofthe
twoauthors. His glowing fancy,hishecticeloquence, hisand
dialecticpower,are all devotedto the exploitation of quasi-
dialecticpower, are all devotedto theexploitation ofa quasi-
byronic despair. A groupoflyricalaphorisms introduces the
volume. One ofthesegivesexpression to theinnerdiscordof
a poet'slife,whileanotherhas a certainsymboliccharacter,
as a hintofKierkegaard's determination to utilizethecomical
as a factorin his literaryprogram. I quote themhere as
typicalofthetenseeloquencecharacteristic oftheentirevolume.
"Whatis a poet? A poetis an unhappycreature;hisheartis tornbysecret
buthislipsare so formed
sufferings, thatwhenthecriesand thesighsescape
them,theycreatea soundofbeautifulmusic. His fateis comparabletothefate

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i8

of thewretchedvictimsof the tyrantPhalaris,whowereimprisonedin a brazen


bull,and slowlytorturedovera low fire.Their criescould not reachthe tyrant's
ears so as to striketerrorinto his heart, for they came forthtransformed as
sweetmusic. And men crowdabout the poet and say: Sing forus soon again.
That means: May your heart be tormentedby new sufferings, and may your
lips continueto be formedas before;forthe crieswould onlydisturbour peace,
but the music is lively. And the criticscome upon the scene and say: Quite
correct,so it oughtto be; the rulesof estheticshave been obeyed. To be sure,
a criticresemblesa poet by a hair,lackingonly the sufferings in his heart and
the musicon his lips. And that is whyI would ratherbe a swineherd,and be
understoodby the swine,than be a poet and be misunderstoodby men."

"Somethingwonderfulhas happened to me. I was carried up into the


seventhheaven. There all the gods were assembled together. As a mark of
theirespecial favorI was granteda wish. Said Mercury: Will you have youth,
or beauty, or power,or a long life,or the most beautifulof maidens,or some
otherof the many grand thingswe have here in the chest? You may choose
what you will,but only one thing. For a momentI was at a loss, but quickly
recoveredmyselfand addressed the gods as follows: Honorable Contempo-
raries,I choose alwaysto have thelaughon myside. None ofthegodsanswered
me by a singleword; on the contrary,they all began to laugh. This I inter-
and I perceivedthat the gods
pretedas a sign that my wishwas to be fulfilled,
knew how to express themselveswith taste; for it would hardly have been
suitableto theoccasionforthemto have answeredme solemnly:Your prayeris
granted."
The essayswhichmakeup thebulkofthevolumedeal with
a varietyof topics. There is a criticismof Mozart's Don
Giovanni,whichseeksto exhibitthisoperaas a classicalexpres-
sionforsensuousgeniality;an essayon thetopicof " Ancient
and ModernTragedy,"including a sketchofa modified Antig-
one; psychological studiesof Marie Beaumarchais,Donna
Elvira,and Margaretin Goethe'sFaust; an orationon "The
UnhappiestMan"; a criticism of Scribe'scomedy,The First
Love;an essayentitled"The MethodofRotations,"describing
howone maybestescapebeingbored;and finally, "The Diary
of The Seducer,"in all respectsa mostamazingand brilliant
production,a studyofa reflective Don Juan,a highlycompli-
catedesthetewhohasconcentrated himselfupontheenjoyment
ofthefeminine in all ofitsvariousnuances.
B is a gentleman intowhosehousethe youngman whois
theauthorofthepreceding papersfrequentlycomesas a wel-
comevisitor. Thisgivesoccasionforthetwolonglettersthat

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19

makeup the secondvolume;the subjectsdiscussedare those


whichhavebeentoucheduponin conversation betweenthem.
Himselfmarried,the ethicistwritesin defenseof marriage,
presenting it as thedeepestand mostconcrete manifestation of
life,and hence as fitted
essentially to bring out the ethical in
itstruesignificance.A secondletterdiscusses"theequilibrium
betweentheestheticand theethicalin thedevelopment ofthe
personality." His ethical
formula is: the choice of one's self,
a choiceby whichthe absolutedistinction betweengood and
evil receivesvalidityforthe will. In choosinghimselfthe
ethicistalso becomesmanifest to the world,and entersinto
thelifeofthecommunity so as to realizeitssocialtasks. Time
is interpreted as an ethicalcategory, sinceit is the condition
whichmakesa historyand a development possibleforthe
personality; the individualthus achieves an ethicalcontinuity.
The specifically ethicalenthusiasm constitutes theindividual's
victoryover estheticsecrecy,selfishmelancholy,illusory
passion,and despair. Sucha viewoflife,he asserts,doesnot
destroy theesthetic, butpreserves it and ennoblesit.
"WhenI viewlifefrom thqethicalpointofview,I seeitinitsbeauty.Life
becomesrichin beSauty, and notpoor,as it reallyis foryou. I do nothaveto
travelroundtheglobetofindtracesofbeautyhereandthere, nortoroveabout
thestreets.I do nothaveto chooseand select,to criticize andreject. To be
sure,I am notblessedwithas muchleisureas youarepossessed of;forsinceI
am in thehabitofregarding myownlifefromthestandpoint ofits beauty,t
alwayshaveenoughtodo. Butsometimes, whenI havean hourfree,I takemy
standat thewindowand observethepassers-by; and everyhumanbeingthat
I see,I see as havingbeauty. Let himbe everso insignificant and humble, I
cannevertheless seehisbeauty;forI seehimas thisparticular individualwhois
at thesametimetheuniversal man. He hashisconcrete taskinlife; hedoesnot
existforthesakeofanyoneelse, even thoughhe be the humblestof wage-
servants;his teleologyis self-contained. He realizeshis task,he conquers,
and I can see hisvictory.Fora bravemandoesnotsee spooks,a braveman
seeseverywhere victorious
heroes. It is only the cowardwho can see no
heroes,butonlyspooks."
Atthecloseoftheworkis a sermon, thefruitofthemedita-
tionof a country parson,a friendof b's. It givesexpression
to thatreligiousenthusiasm whichovercomestheincommen-
surability
existingbetweentheinfiniteand thefinite,removing
theobstaclescausedbythemisunderstanding betweenGodand

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20

man by resolutelybravingthis misunderstanding out. Its


themeis "the happinessto be derivedfromthe thoughtthat
as overagainstGod youare alwaysin thewrong." The final
wordof thissermonhas a peculiarsignificance.The sermon
ends,namely,withthe epigrammatic proposition that "only
thetruthwhichedifiesis truthforyou." This is a pragmatic
principle on a higherlevel,and servesas a concrete expression
forKierkegaard's ethicalindividualism.The appeal to edi-
ficationis not, as mightperhapsbe imagined,a refugefor
vaguenessof thought, sinceKierkegaard givesthe conceptof
edificationitselfan elaboration and
precise definite.
The ethicthuspresented in thesecondpartofEither-Oris
an ideal ethic. It ignoresthepossibility ofa radicalevil. It
assumesthat the individualmay findhimself,even in his
despair,withoutbreachofcontinuity withhisformer self,and
withoutthenecessity of a newpointofdeparture.Now this
is a viewof thematterthatKierkegaard did not at the time
hold; but he tellsus that he wished to developtheimplications
ofan ideal ethicbeforetakingup theproblemofevil. When
a manhas reacheda pointin his experience wheretheethical
ideal existsfor him in all its infinitude, and not before
then
willhe be prepared to have his attention calledto thefactof
theevil will. Here the strictly religious crises begin,forhere
theindividual needs divine assistance.
An immanent ethicaldoctrineof )ife necessarily assumes
thatmanfindshisindividualduty and destiny commensurate
withthelifeofthecommunity.The ethicaland theuniversal
areforsucha viewcoincident.In therealization ofhisethical
tasktheindividualis consequently manifest to all and intelli-
gibleto his socialenvironment. The individual neither needs
nor experiences any privaterelationship with the divine,a
relationdistinguishable, that is to say, from the relationship
whichhe sustainsto the community; the community is for
himessentially identicalwiththe divine. God is like the hori-
zonofthelandscape,orlikethepoint outside the picture which
determines itsperspective; but Goddoesnotenterimmediately
intolifeas an individualfactor. Whenthe factof sin is ac-
knowledged, however,the whole situationis changed. An

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21

individualrelationshipto God becomesa life-necessity,


and it
is onlyby a transcendence of the old immediacy, and of the
socialrelationships
grounded therein,thattheidealselfcan be
foundin itsreality. Sucha personalrelationshipbetweenGod
and theindividualis by Kierkegaard withtheChris-
identified
tianconceptof Faith. The clarification of thisconceptthus
becomesthenextproblemin hisliterary program. By means
of threesuccessivevolumeshe advances,step by step,to a
psychologicalmotivation of faith:Fear and Trembling
, a dia-
lecticallyricby Johannesde Silentio,(1843); The Repetition,a
psychologicalexperiment, by ConstantineConstantius,(1843);
and Anxiety,a simpledescriptive psychologicalinquiry,witha
viewto theelucidationof thedogmaticproblemof OriginalSin,
byVigiliusHaufniensis (1844). The lastnamedwaspublished
on the same day as the Philosophical Chips,and constitutes,
fromthe point of view of content, companionvolume.
a
Fear and Trembling thestoryofAbraham'ssacrifice
uses of
a
his son. Abrahamis not tragichero, for he cannot claim,
likeJephtah or theRomanconsul,a higherethicaljustification
forhis deed. His intentionto sacrifice his son has a purely
personalmotivation, andonewhichnosocialethiccanacknowl-
edge; forthehighest ethicalobligation thathislifeorthesitua-
tionrevealsis thefather's dutyoflovinghisson. Abrahamis
therefore eithera murderer, or a heroof Faith. The detailed
expositionelucidatesAbraham'ssituationdialecticallyand
lyrically,bringingoutas problemata theteleological suspension
oftheethical,theassumption ofan absolutedutytowardGod,
and the purelyprivatecharacterof Abraham'sprocedure;
thusshowing theparadoxicaland transcendent character of a
relationin whichthe individual,contrary to all rule,is pre-
ciselyas an individual,higher thanthecommunity.A number
ofexamplesof thetragicheroare delineatedto forma back-
groundfortheexposition.
The Repetition attacksessentially the same problem,but
modernizes thesituation. A youngmanfallsin love; he dis-
coversto hissurprise and chagrinthathe has becomea poet,
and cannotfulfill his engagement to marrytheyoungwoman
whowas so unfortunate as to have awakenedthepoeticpro-

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22

ductivity withinhim. He struggles withhimself fora while,


and finallyfleesthefieldwithout leavinganywordofexplana-
tionbehind. His honorhas receiveda blowand his prideis
woundedtothequick,butheis notconscious thathecouldhave
actedotherwise.In eloquentmonologues he voiceshisdespair,
and his senseof the bitterinjusticethatlifehas visitedupon
him. In hisagonyhe discovers Job,whoseplightseemsto fit
- "if Jobis a fictitious
his case precisely character, I hereby
assumefullresponsibility forhis words." The storyof Job
helpshimfirstto giveventto his emotions;later,it suggests
thepossibility of a solution. Withouthavingany clearidea
as to waysand means,and withtheprobabilities of the case
completely he
againsthim, begins expect to a thunder-storm
thatwillcleartheair,givehimbackhishonor,and showhim
thatthewholeexperience is merelya trial. This expectation
constituteshisanalogywithAbraham, and giveshima resem-
blanceto a believer. The actual resolution of his difficulty
comesin a somewhatdifferent form, with the news,namely,
that his former fianceehas marriedanother. This liberates
himfora poet'scareer. The experience was transitory.Its
resultis a religiousawakeningwhichdoes not quite break
through,but registers itselfin a profoundbut unutterable
religiousundertone.
The authorof the book,ConstantinConstantius, follows
thedevelopment oftheyoungman'slove-affair in theroleofa
consultingpsychologist.He is himselfoccupiedwith the
problemofa "repetition," whichhe interprets esthetically, as
an
the problemwhether experience gains or loses in esthetic
value by beingrepeated. He comesto the conclusion, based
upon experience, that a satisfactory is
repetition altogether
impossible,and seekscomfort in a cynicalself-limitation. The
young man of the love-affair illustrates the same problem, but
in theformof a religious experience. He wins a "repetition"
as a redintegrationofhispersonality, and as therestoration of
his consciousness to its in a
integrity higher form. It is in
thislattersensethat the conceptof Repetitionbecomesthe
chiefsubject-matter ofthebook. The essentialpurport ofthis
conceptis the same as the Christian idea of a "new creature,"

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23

but viewedas if fromafar,and witha certainambiguity, in


hintsand suggestions, in distantgleams. The alternation
betweenthe estheticand the religiouspointsof view gives
occasionfordealingwiththe categoryin a varietyof moods,
mingling jest withearnest;in order,says the author,"that
thehereticsmaynot be able to understand me." Repetition
is describedas "the interest
of metaphysics,and at the same
timethe interestupon whichmetaphysics makesship-wreck;
thesolutionofeveryethicalviewof life;theconditio sinequa
nonforeverydogmatic " A characteri-
problem. psychological
zationof the conceptis givenin a beautifulpassagewhichI
shallherequotein extenso.
"Hope is a newgarment, starchedand stiff andglittering;butithasnever
yetbeenworn,andhenceonedoesnotknowwhether it willfit,orhowit may
becomeone. Memoryis an old garment, and useless,howeverbeautiful;for
it has beenoutgrown.But therepetition is an imperishable garment, fitting
closelyandtenderly; it neither flutters
toolooselyaboutthepersonnorpresses
the bodytoo close. Hope is a beautifulgirlwhoslipsaway through your
fingers;memory is a handsome oldlady,neverquiteserving thepurposeofthe
moment; buttherepetition is a belovedwifeofwhomyounevertire,forit is
onlythenewthattires. The old nevertires,and whenthemindis engrossed
withtheold it is happy. Onlyhe findsa truehappiness whorefuses to yield
to thedelusionthattherepetition oughtto givehimsomething new;forthen
he willbe bored. Hopeis a prerogative ofyouth,andso is memory; butit re-
quirescourageto willtherepetition.Whoeveris content to hopeis a coward,
and whoever is contentto remember is a pleasure-seeker; butwhoever has the
courageto willtherepetition is a man,and themoreprofoundly he has known
howto interpret therepetition to himself, the deeperis his manhood. But
whoever failsto comprehend thatlifeis a repetition, and thatthisconstitutes
itsbeauty,condemns himself,and deserves no betterfatethanthatwhichwill
eventually befallhim,whichis: to be lost. Forhopeis an alluring fruitthat
failsto satisfy;and memory is a miserable pittancethatfailsto satisfy;but
repetitionis thedailybreadthatnotonlysatisfies butblesses. Whena manhas
circumnavigated theglobe,it willappearwhether hehas thecouragetounder-
standthatlifeis a repetition, and theenthusiasm to findhishappiness therein.
Whoever doesnotcircumnavigate theglobebeforehe beginsto live,doesnot
begintolive. Whoever makesthejourney, butisovertaken byweariness, shows
thathe had a poorconstitution. Butwhoever choosestherepetition, lives. He
doesnotrunhereandtheretocatchbutterflies, likea child;nordoeshestandon
tiptoeto beholdthegloriesoftheworld,forhe knowsthem. He doesnotsit
likean old womanat memory's spinning-wheel, buthe wendshiswaythrough
lifecalmlyand quietly,happyin therepetition.Andwhatindeedwouldlife

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24

be,iftherewereno repetition?Whocouldwishto be a tableton whichevery


moment Timewritesa newinscription, or a merememorialofthepast? Who
couldwishto be subjectto everythingthatis newand flighty, and to permit
hissouleverandagaintobe engrossed withan ephemeralpleasure?IfGodhad
notwilledtherepetition,theworldwouldneverhavecomeintobeing;forhe
wouldeitherhave permitted his fancyto pursuetheeasy plansof hope,or
itall,andkeptitonlyinthememory.Butthishedidnotdo,andthere-
recalled
lies
foretheworldstands,and standsbecauseit is a repetition.In repetition
therealityandtheearnestnessoflife. Whoever willstorepeat,provesthathis
earnestnessis full-grown
andmature."

In thetwovolumesabovedescribed, Faithis delineatedin


some of its moreabstractand formalcharacteristics. It is
describedas it appearsin exceptional and witha
situations,
psychological motivationthatfallsshortof the concreteand
decisiveback-ground which,according to the Christian
teach-
ing,it hasforeverymanin theexperience ofsin. The advance
to a moreconcrete treatment is madein thelast oftheabove-
mentionedvolumes,Anxiety;and the PhilosophicalChips
occupiesitselfwiththelogicofthesamesituationthatAnxiety
psychologicallydescribes.
In the intervalbetweenthe Philosophical Chips and its
continuation,the Unscientific
Postscript,Kierkegaardproduced
a newpoetico-psychologicaltreatment oftheproblems already
dealtwith. This resume,whichseemsto have all the lyrical
vitalityand freshnessof his firsthandlingof the subject,is
called Stages on the Way of Life, studiesby various authors,
collectedand publishedby Hilarius Bookbinder(1845). The
volumeis dividedintothreeparts,corresponding to the three
spheresof life which Kierkegaard regardedas fundamental,
theesthetic, theethical,and thereligious.The firstparti'sa
reminiscent reproduction ofa banquet-scene,"In vinoveritas."
Five estheticistsdiscourseon the subjectof woman. Their
speechesinvitecomparison withthesimilardiscourses ofPlato's
Symposium, and neitherin beauty of formnor in pregnancy of
thought do they sufferby the comparison. The second part
ofthebookdealswithmarriage anditsproblems from thestand-
pointofb, the of
ethicist Either- Or. To theestheticproposition
put forward in the firstpart,thatthe significance of woman
culminates in the moment, theethicistopposesthe viewthat

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25

herbeautygrowswiththe years. The ideal resolution with


whichmarriage begins,andbywhichitis sustained, is eulogized
as constituting thetrueidealityofhumanlife;and thevalidity
ofmarriage is defended againstattacksfromboththeesthetic
and thereligious side. The thirdpart,comprising thebulkof
thebook,is a 'psychological experiment' by Frater Taciturnus,
"
GuiltyornotGuilty?" Thisis againthestoryofan unhappy
love-affair and a brokenengagement, presented in theformofa
diary. The subject of the is
experimentequippedat theoutset
with a high-minded ethico-esthetic view of life,whichhis
experience shatters. In his despair is madeto approachas
he
as
nearly possible to the problemof the forgiveness of sin;
butwithout finding restin a Christian interpretation of himself
and his situation. FraterTaciturnusdissectshim psycho-
logically,andindicateshisidiosyncracies, expoundsthetragedy
and thecomedyof his situation, and pointsto a viewof life,
religiousin character, and in advanceof his own standpoint
as a humorist, as beingdeduciblefromit all. The sympathetic
collisiondescribed is brought hometo thereaderwithtremen-
dousforcein a beautiful lyricalprose. In Kierkegaard's own
view, this book is emotionally the richest of all his writings,
buttooidealto becomewidelypopular.
Then came the continuation of the Philosophical Chips,
withits strangetitle: Final Unscientific Postscript tothePhilo-
sophicalChips,a mimic- pathetic-dialecticcomposition, an exis-
tentialpresentment, byJohannes Climacus(1846). It discusses
brieflytheobjectiveapproaches to Christianity through biblical
criticism, the authority of the Church,philosophical specula-
tion,the evidencesof Christianity's historicalachievements.
It dismissesall thesemodesof approachas incommensurable
withthe problemof Christianity, and as tendingto subvert
its significance.The restof the book,throughfivehundred
pagesofdialectic,humor,pathos,and irony,is devotedto the
elucidation of thefollowing subjectiveproblem:"I, Johannes
Climacus, bornand brought up herein Copenhagen, nowthirty
yearsold,assumethatthereexistsformeas wellas fora servant-
girlor a professor ofphilosophy, a highestgood;I have heard
thatChristianity conditions itsattainment.I askthequestion :

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26

howdo I enterintorelations withChristianity ?" The exposi-


tionofthispersonalquestiondevelopsa philosophy ofreligion,
and incidentally,an analysisof the conceptsof Realityand
Truth. It is herethatKierkegaard makesup hisfinalaccount-
ingwiththeHegelianphilosophy, and withtheinterpretations
ofChristianity whichreston a Hegelianbasis. The workis a
sustainedpolemicnot onlyagainstHegelianism, but against
all system-making in philosophy, takingits stand upon an
ethico-dynamic conceptionof reality,and emphasizingthe
categoriesof existence,actuality,life. Overagainstthe sub-
jectivethinker,"the Greekphilosopher, whoselifeis an artistic
embodiment of his thought/'it sets by way of contrastthe
objectivethinker, "the Germanprofessor of philosophy, who
feelsboundto explaineverything a toutprix" and delivershim
overto a comicinterpretation.
andyetnohermit
''We smileat thelifeofthecloister, everlivedso unreala
lifeas is commontoday,forthehermitdid indeedabstractfromthewhole
world,but he did notabstractfromhimself.We knowhowto describethe
fantasticsituation farfromthehauntsofmen,in thesolitudeof
ofthecloister,
theforests, visiblein thepale blue of thedistanthorizon;but thefantastic
situationof pure thoughtaltogether escapesour attention.And yet,the
patheticunreality of thesolitarymonkis muchto be preferred to thecomic
unreality of thepurethinker; and thepassionateforgetfulness
ofthehermit,
whichtakestheworldawayfrom him,is farbetterthanthecomicaldistraction
oftheworld-historic in whichhe forgets
thinker, himself."
The Unscientific Postscriptis an extraordinary book. Its
polemiccoloring, and the tremendous power of its dialectic,
naturallysuggestthe simileofthehugebattleship, withwhich
it has been comparedby Brandes. Its easy conversational
tone,its aptnessin anecdoteand humorous characterization,
theplayfulfacilitywithwhichit handlesthemostdifficult of
abstractions,and its ironicalself
-depreciation, mark it as em-
bodyinga quitenovelspeciesofphilosophical writing.It is a
philosophical introduction Christianity a mostoriginal
to of
kind. It describes"the way fromphilosophical speculation
back to Christianity, fromthe profundity of philosophical
thought to thesimplicity ofChristian faith,justas theprevious
estheticpseudonyms had describedthewayfromthepoeticto
thereligious,fromtheinteresting to thesimple." "Whatever

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27

actualsignificance theymaycometo havein theworld,"says


Kierkegaard of theseworksin a personalnoteaffixed to the
Unscientific Postscript,in whichnote he acknowledges the
authorship of thepseudonyms, "is absolutelynot to be found
in the makingof any newproposal,or in exploiting any un-
heard-of discovery, or in beginning any newmovement, or in
takingup any advanced position. Their significance in
lies
the preciseopposite,in the renunciation of all claim to sig-
andinmerelyattempting
nificance, toreadthrough again,solo}
at a distanceofdoublereflection, thescriptures ofourhuman,
individual,existendalrelations, theold and well-known scrip-
ture^handeddownto us fromthefathers;ifpossiblereading
themthrough againwithincreasedinwardness."
Of the twenty-one religiousdiscoursesissuedfromtimeto
timeunderhisownname,whiletheaboveesthetic pseudonyms
werebeingpublished, all butthelastthreestriketheuniversal
religiousnote,i.e.,theyattemptto exhaustthepossibilities of
edificationin the religiousspherewithoutdrawinguponany
of the conceptions peculiarto Christianity.The last three,
run
however, parallelto the exposition of the Chipsand the
Postscript,and deal in edifying form with the considerations
whichtheseworksintroduce problematically and esthetically.
The Kierkegaardian literaturehas thusfarbroughtits reader
merelyto thethreshold of the Christianviewof life,marking
theendofthefirst phaseofa mostuniqueliterary undertaking.
VII
Despitethe isolationwhichthe unremitting labor of his
authorship naturallyimposed,Kierkegaardmanagedto keep
inclosesttouchwithhiscontemporaries. Althoughhereceived
no visitorsat home(exceptsuchas cameto himforassistance,
to whomhisdoorwasalwaysopen)he spentmuchtimeon the
streets,talkingwiththe acquaintanceshe chancedto meet,
professorsat theUniversity,
editorsofCopenhagennewspapers,
politiciansand officials,
writersand studentsand menabout
town,orstriking upa conversation
withsomecasualpasser-by.
In thiswayhe tookhisrecreation whenhe did
ofan afternoon,
notvarytheprogram byoneofhisfrequent into
carriage-rides

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28

thecountry.He tookpainsto makehimself generally accessi-


ble, and the promiscuity of his intercourse was noticeable.
This contactwithmenon the streethad a considerable per-
sonalsignificance forhim;amongotherthings, it helpedto en-
richhis literaryvocabulary. "What you have vainlysought
forin books, " "is suddenly illuminated
saysFraterTaciturnus,
foryouwhilelistening to a servant-girlas shetalkswithanother
servant-girl.An expression that you have vainlyattempted
to torture outofyourownhead,youhearinpassing;a soldier-
boysaysit,and he does notdreamhowrichhe is." He felt
thatthismodeoflifetendedto undermine theideal conception
of an aloofgreatnesswhichthe publicmightotherwise have
formedof him. He notesShakespeare'stestimony, in King
HenryIV, to themethodby which"a greathostofkingsand
emperors and spiritualdignitaries, Jesuits and diplomatsand
cleverpeopleof all kinds"have knownhowto profitby the
illusionofdistance,so as to enhancetheirpersonalreputation.
But he wouldnot adopt this method,preferring to givethe
situationthestampof truth. "All the unselfish witnesses for
the truthhave alwaysbeenaccustomed to minglemuchwith
men;theyhaveneverplayedhide-and-seek withthemultitude."
Simultaneously with the completionof the Postscript,
Kierkegaard ventured upon stepthatresulted
a in placinghim
in a still moreconspicuouspositionbeforethe Copenhagen
public. He becamea standing comicfigure in themostwidely
circulatedjournalof the town,The Corsair. This sheethad
obtaineda considerable ascendencyas a vehicleforironical,
levellingattacks upon well-known men,and was muchfeared,
Kierkegaard thus describes its :
influence
"The wholepopulation ofCopenhagen hadbecomeironical andwitty,espe-
ciallyin proportionas it was ignorant and crude;therewas nothing butirony
first
andirony last. Ifthematter hadnotbeensoserious, ifI couldbringmyself
toregardit froma purelyesthetic standpoint,I wouldnotwishtodenythatit
was themostridiculous phenomenon I had everwitnessed.I believethatit
wouldbe necessary to travelfarand wide,and evenso be favored offortune,
before onecouldfindanything so fundamentally comical. The wholepopula-
tionof a town,all thesemanythousands, became'ironical.' Theybecame
ironicalby theaid ofa journalwhich,again,ironically enough,by theaid of
strawmenas editorssucceededin striking thedominantnoteand the tone

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29

struckwas- theironical. I believeit impossible to imagineanything more


ridiculous.Ironypresupposes a specificintellectualculturewhichin every
generation is veryrare- andthischaosofpeoplewereironical!. . .
"But thematter wasonlytooserious.Thisironywasofcoursenothing but,
inessence, vulgarity;andinspiteofa notinconsiderable degreeoftalentin the
manwhowasitsoriginating force,bypassingoverintothesethousands ofpeople
it became,essentially, a mobtrait,a traitwhichis alwaysonlytoopopular.
In viewoftheproportions ofthelittlecountry,it threateneda completemoral
dissolution.Onemustenvisageat closerangehowno attackis so muchfeared
as thatwhichsingles oneoutas an objectoflaughter; howevenonewhowould
bravelyriskdeathfora stranger, is notfarfrombetraying his ownfatheror
mother whenthedangeris thatofbeinglaughedat; forsuchan attackisolates
thevictimmorethananyother,andat nopointdoesitoffer himthesupport of
pathos. Frivolityand curiosity and vulgarity grin;the nervouscowardice
whichitselftrembles forfearof suchan attackcriesthatit is nothing;the
wretched cowardice whichby theuse ofbribery or goodwordsprotects itself
criesthatit is nothing;and evensympathy saysthatit is nothing.It is a ter-
riblethingwhenin a littleland idleprattleand vulgargrimaces threaten to
constitutepublicopinion." (Abbreviated)
The publisher ofthesheetin questionwas a talentedyoung
man who.was himselfan admirerof Kierkegaard, and The
Corsairhad morethan once praisedthe pseudonyms to the
skies. VictorEremitahad been pronounced immortal;from
a sketchin thejournalsat thetimeit appearsthatKierkegaard
had projecteda replyto this pronouncement, askingto be
spared the distinction. A littlelateran opportunity offered
itself,apropos of an articlepublished in P. L. Moller's
Literary
year-book, Gaea,in whichMollerhad madesomeirresponsible
animadversions upon the thirdpart of Stageson theWay of
Life,bringing into connection
it withthe gossipcurrentin
Copenhagen about Kierkegaard'sengagement.This gentle-
manhad describedhimself in the Dictionaryof Authorsas a
regular contributor to The Corsair,authorof pieces "both
lyrical and satirical." Frater Taciturnusrepliedto the criti-
a
cism,taking verysuperiortone,and tookadvantageof the
factjust mentioned to add thefollowing remarkat theend:
"NowmayI soonbe putintoTheCorsair.It is pretty hardforan author
tobeso singled outinDanishliterature,
thathe (assuming tha;twepseudonyms
are one) is theonlyone whois notvilified
in its pages. My ownprincipal,
HflaiiusBookbinder, hasbeenflattered
in TheCorsair,ifmymemory servesme
right;andVictorEremitahas evenhad to endurethedisgraceofbeingimmor-

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30

talized- in TlieCorsair
I Andyet,haveI notalreadybeenthere?Forubispiri-
ubiP. L. Molleribi TheCorsair.Ourliterary
tusibi ccclesia, tramptherefore
characteristicallywindsup his 'Visit to Soro' withone of thesewretched
Cor5<M>-attacks uponpeaceableandrespectablemen,whoinhonorable seclusion
followtheirvocationsin theserviceofthestate;excellentmen,in manyways
deserving well,andinnonehavingmadethemselves worthyofridicule."

Nothingdauntedby the delicacyofits ownsituation,The


Corsairtook up the gauntletflungat it withan attack on
FraterTaciturnus,the silentbrother,
whocouldnot restrain
buthad to revealthesecretsof TheCorsair,entrusted
himself,
to him in confidence.FraterTaciturnuscounteredwitha
summary article: "The dialecticalresult of a piece of police
work."
"Withrespectto a sheetlikeTheCorsair fwhichthoughreadgenerally and
by all sortsof people,has hitherto enjoyedthedistinction of beingignored
anddespised, neveranswered, absolutely theonlythingthatcouldbe doneina
literaryway was forone who had been praisedandimmortalized in itspagesto
asktobevilified, thusexpressing themoralliterary orderofthings in
as reflected
thecontrary orderwhichthissheethas doneits bestto establish.I assume
thattheprocedure adoptedhas metwithsuccess. One can therefore engage
at thehandsof TheCorsair,
vilification justas onecan hirea hurdy-gurdy to
makemusic.. . .
"I can do no moreforothersthanthis- toask tobe attackedmyself.The
fallenclevernessof TheCorsair, and ofitscollectivesecrethelpers, theprofes-
sionaltradesmen ofwitand vulgarity, oughtto be and shallbe ignored in our
justas inciviclifeoneignores
literature, thepublicprostitute.. . .
"The wayis nowopen,andas thepseudonyms say,themethodis changed.
Everyone whoisinsulted byreceiving thepraiseofthissheet,can,ifhehappens
tolearnofthefact,reply, andthustestify tothejudgment thatdecentliterature
haspassedon TheCorsair.It is tobe permitted topursueitslivelihood byway
andattackas muchas itlikes;butifitdarestopraise,itshallmeet
ofvilification
withthisbriefreply:'May I ask to be attacked;it is an unendurable disgrace
to be immortalized in TheCorsair.1"

Kierkegaarddid not pursuethe polemicfurther, but The


Corsairkeptup a steadyfireofsatireand caricature formany
months. Kierkegaardwas featuredas he went about the
streets,his umbrellaunderhis arm; the thinnessof his legs
and the unevenlengthof his trouserswereportrayed as char-
acteristic whilevanityand prideweredescribed
idiosyncracies,
as his besettingsins. It becameexceedingly unpleasantfor
Kierkegaard to showhimselfon thestreetsin his accustomed

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3i

manner. The mob grinned, boysand hoodlumsgreetedhim


witha chorusof nick-names, and passers-by tookoccasionto
inspect his trousers. If he stopped to talk withanyone,it
madehisinterlocutor an objectof embarrassing attention.So
deep did the campaign sink into the popularconsciousness,
thatduringthisperiodand afterward, one mightfinda nurse
attempting to correcta childforfaultsof dress,by callingit
"Soren." Kierkegaardwas not insensible, and the journals
the
showhowprofoundly experience affectedhim. As usual,
hisreflection exploredall its various in
phases an objectifying
and idealizingmanner. We have,as a by-product, profound
estimatesof the press and its influence on public opinion,
probingits anonymity and its irresponsibility in relationto
characteristicfeaturesof modernlife. On the otherside,the
aloofness andindifferencewhichhemetinrelation to thematter
fromtheside of the highercirclesin whichit had previously
beenurged,privately, thatsomething oughtto be doneabout
The Corsair,but wheretherewas now maintainedthe most
completesilence,leavingKierkegaardto bear the bruntof
theattackalone- thisprudent aloofness confirmed Kierkegaard
in his viewof the mediocrity of the world,and gave a char-
acteristiccoloringto the religiousliteraturethat followed.
In his subsequentdescription of the religiouslife,the inner
collision,by whicha man comesinto conflictwithhimself,
a collisionwhichhad beenthechiefburdenofhisearlydelinea-
tion,began to yieldprecedenceto the externalcollision,in
whicha man in the pursuitof his dutycomesinto conflict
withhis environment, a conflictwherebythe performance
of thisdutybecomesan act of trueself-denial.A passage
fromThe Worksof Love will illustratethis new emphasis,
whichis characteristic
ofthesecondphaseofhisauthorship.
"A self-denialof a merelyhumanscopereasonsas follows:Giveup your
wishes,dreamsand plans- and youwillbe honoredand respected
selfish and
lovedas justandwise. It is notdifficult
toseethatthisform ofself-denial
does
notreachGod,butremains ontheworldly planeofa relationship
between men.
Christianself-denial
reasonsas follows:Giveup yourselfish
wishesanddesires,
giveup yourselfishplansandpurposes, becometheservantofthegoodin true
disinterestedness - and prepareto findyourself
of spirit hated and scorned
andderided, juston thataccount, as ifyouwerea criminal;
precisely orrather,

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32

do not merelyprepareto findyourselfin thissituation,forthat may be neces-


sary,but chooseit of yourown freewill. For Christianself-denialknowswhat
will happen beforehand,and chooses the consequences voluntarily. Human
self-denialrushes into danger withoutregard for the consequences- but the
danger into whichit rushesis one in whichhonor awaits the victor,and the
admirationof his fellow-menbeckons the daringhero, and urgeshim on. It
is easy to see that this formof self-denialdoes not reach God, but is delayed
on the way, losingitselfin the relativitiesof human life. Christianself-denial
also rushesinto dangerwithoutregardforthe consequences;but thedangeris
one whichthe environment cannotinterpretas yieldingany honorto the victor;
because the environment is itselfblinded,ensnared,guilty. Thus the Christian
is confrontedby a double danger,for the derisionof the spectatorawaits the
herowhetherhe wins or loses."

VIII
A volumeofliterary devotedto theinterpretation
criticism,
of a Danishnovel,and notableforits characterization of the
contemporary age as againstthe background of the revolu-
tionaryperiod,followedclose upon the publicationof the
Unscientific Postscript.From the beginning,Kierkegaard's
plan had notincludeda distinctively
religious authorship,but
ratheran introductionto suchan authorship.The underlying
religiousmotivationwas something he had intendedto express
by takinga chargeas a clergyman in some countryparish.
But now,influenced partlyby the troublewithThe Corsair,
partlyby a senseof his ownunfitness foran officialposition,
and partlyby the acquiredmomentum of his productiveim-
pulse,he determined to devotehimselfto religiouswriting,
andthushisauthorship entereduponitssecondphase. To the
firsthalfof thisperiodbelongEdifying Discourses(1847),The
WorksofLove (1848), and ChristianDiscourses(1848). Though
each religiousdiscourseis completein itself,the individual
themes arelogicallyconnected,andthemethodical and system-
aticadvanceso noticeably characteristic oftheestheticproduc-
also here,in a gradualapproachto
tions,findsits counterpart
moreand moreconcreteconceptions, and to an increasingly
severejudgment oftheactualcontemporary lifein thelightof
theidealsdelineated.
Edifying Discoursesdealsin a,firstsection,withtheunityof
the ethicalideal,- "thatthe heartcan be cleanonlywhenit

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33

has a singleaim," and thatthissingleness of aim is possible


only forone who chooses the good, and actual onlywhenhe
choosesthegoodin truth;in a secondsection,withthelessons
to be learnedfromthe liliesof the fieldand thebirdsof the
air,- contentment withourcommon humanity, an appreciation
of its glory,and an understanding of its blessedness, which
consistsin firstseekingthekingdom of God; and thirdly, with
of "the
thegospel suffering, happinessto be derived fromthe
of
thought following Christ,""how the burdencan be light
thoughthesorrowis heavy,""thattheschoolofsuffering pre-
paresforeternity," "thatit is notthewaywhichis narrowbut
thenarrowness whichis theway,""thatin relationto God we
alwayssuffer as thosewhoareguilty,""thateternity outweighs
in its blessedness even the heaviesttemporalsuffering," and
"thatthespiritofcouragein suffering takespowerawayfrom
the world,and transforms derisioninto honor,defeatinto
victory."
TheWorksofLovepresents theelaboration ofa socialethic
onthebasisofChristianity.It makesno attempt to formulate
an ideal organization of society,nordoes it so muchas even
givea suggestion ofa hintofany externalpolity;but it deals
profoundly with the attitudeof the individualtowardhis
fellowmen."TheseareChristian reflections," saysthepreface,
"and therefore not about love,but about the worksof love.
They concernthe worksof love,not as if all its workswere
hereinenumerated and described, farfromit; notas ifthepar-
ticularworkshereindescribed werenowdescribed onceforall-
praiseGodthatthisis impossible!Forthatwhichin itswhole
wealthis essentiallyinexhaustible, is also in itsleastexpression
essentially
indescribable, because it is essentially presentevery-
wherein its wholeness,and essentiallyincapableof being
described." The beautyand simplicity of the language,the
tenderpersuasiveness of the idealism,and the universality of
its appeal,makethisperhapsthe mostpopularof all Kierke-
gaard'sreligiouswritings; it formsa striking contribution to
theworld'ssermonic literature.
Christian
Discourses containsin thefirst parta treatment of
theanxietiesof thepagan mind,"the anxietiesof poverty, of

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34

wealth,of lowliness, of highposition,of presumption, of self-


of and
torture, doubt,inconstancy despair/7 devotinga dis-
courseto each; second,a seriesof discourses on theChristian
gospelofsuffering; third,a numberofdiscourses criticalofthe
prevailingreligious situation under the caption:"Thoughts
whichwoundfrombehind - in orderto edify";and fourth, a
treatment in sermonicformof the Christiandoctrineof the
Atonement, sevendiscourses ontheLord'ssupper. Thefollow-
ingsignificant motto is attached to thethirdsection: "Chris-
tianity needs no defense, and cannot be servedby meansof
any defense- Christianity always on the offensive.To
is
defendChristianity is themostindefensible ofall distortions of
it, the most confusing and the -
mostdangerousit uncon-is
sciouslyand cunningly to betrayit. Christianity is alwayson
the offensive; in Christendom, consequently, it attacksfrom
behind." Herewe meetwiththefirstdefinite anticipation of
the attack whichKierkegaardwas soon to make upon the
openortacitassumption, currentin Christendom, of an estab-
lishedChristian order.
A littleestheticarticlefromKierkegaard's pen,"The Crisis
intheLifeofan Actress," sawthelightina Copenhagen journal
duringthe summerof 1848,to servenoticeupon the public
thathis exclusivedevotionto religiousthemesfor the past
twoor threeyearsdid nothaveits groundin an obtuseness to
estheticvalues. In thespringofthefollowing yeartherewere
publishedanonymously two remarkabletheologicalessays:
"Has a mantherightto allowhimself to be putto deathforthe
Truth?"and "The Difference betweena Geniusand an Apos-
tle"; theformer withan indirect bearingupontheAtonement,
and thelatterattempting to clearup the Christian conceptof
Authority.
To thesecondhalfofKierkegaard's religious
authorship may
be assignedthe following volumes:The SicknessuntoDeath
(1849); Practical Introductionto Christianity(1850); and For
(1851). In thesewritings
Self-Examination Kierkegaard pre-
sentstheChristianteachingin its highestideality,and witha
to the prevailingstate of religionin the Christian
reference
world. The ideal is presentedsharplyand clearly,without

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35

compromise.But the consequentjudgmenton Christendom


is formulated as gentlyas possible,urgingnothingbut admis-
sionsin theinterests ofsincerity, "in orderthatwe maylearn
to take refugein grace,even withrespectto the mannerin
whichwe use grace." The SicknessuntoDeath marksthe
appearance ofa newpseudonym, Anti-Climacus.Thestandard
forhumanlifeheredelineated is so idealthatKierkegaard did
notwishto presentit in hisownnameand character, as ifhis
personalexistenceembodiedit; it was therefore presented in
thelight of a poetic and imaginative -
renderingfortheideal
oughtat least to be heard - underwhichKierkegaard wished
to humiliate himself qua reader. Too muchthepoet to be a
reformer, he preferred to represent himselfas a spy in the
serviceof the ideals, his missionbeingthe Socraticone of
detectingand exposingillusions. The journalsfromthese
yearsshowthe intensity of his feelingabout whatpasses for
Christianity in Christendom, his unmeasured contempt forits
paltrinessand its mediocrity; they disclosealso the long-
continuedself-examination whichprecededall thesepublica-
tions,and hisanxiousfearlesthe shouldassumetoo highand
authoritative a role,and say morethanhe had a rightto utter.
The PracticalIntroduction, forexample,was written in 1848,
butheldbackfrom publication fortwoyears,whileKierkegaard
was debatingin whatformit oughtto appear,or ifit oughtto
appearat all. It was finally publishedas by thepseudonym,
Anti-Climacus, andtheprefacevirtually appealsto theauthori-
tiesoftheDanishchurch tomaketheadmission thatthereligion
and
preached practiced in theChurch was reallya modification,
severaldegreeslowerthanthe Christianity ofthe New Testa-
ment. Withsucha concession publicly made by the highest
authority, Kierkegaard felt that the establishedordercouldbe
made to embodya sufficient measureof sincerity and truth,
so thatit wouldbe unnecessary forhim,at least,to makeany
open attack upon it. No such admissionwas forthcoming,
and BishopMynsterfoundmeansto let Kierkegaardknow,
indirectly, that he regardedthe PracticalIntroduction in the
lightof a vicious and dangerousexaggeration, not to say dis-
tortion,of Christian teaching. But he refused to discuss the

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36

matterwithKierkegaard personally,and publiclymaintained


silence.
TheSicknessuntoDeathis a psychological studyofdespair
in its variousforms,consciousand unconscious.Its pointof
viewis thatdespairis a universaldiseaseofthespirit,so that
everymanwhohas notbeencuredofit,suffers fromit whether
he knowsit or not. Anddespairis an imperfect expression for
sin; on a higherlevelof consciousness despairrevealsitselfas
theconsciousness ofsin. The PracticalIntroduction is perhaps
theclearestand mostpreciseexposition oftheChristian dogma
in its pragmaticsignificanceand meaningforlifeto be found
in any literature.It was publishedin a formcarefully cal-
culatedinitsbearingupontheconcrete contemporary situation
in Denmark. ForSelf-Examination, twoseriesofdiscourses, of
whichthe secondwas not publisheduntilafterKierkegaard's
death,presentsa criticalestimateof Lutheranprotestantism,
acknowledging the significanceof Luther'smissionas a cor-
rective, but condemning modern protestantism for taking
advantage of Luther's one-sidedness to leave out thedeeper
ethicalimplicationsofChristianity, the
ignoring requirement of
following and the
Christ, "taking grace of God in vain."
The ideaswhichwereto playa partin thegrandiose agita-
tionthatfollowedsomeyearslater,as the climaxof Kierke-
gaard'scareer,werenowlaid downin thereligious literature as
a whole. But as yettheywerebroughtto bear at a distance
fromtheactualsituation, in theformof imaginative delinea-
tions,suggesting no otherrequirement to thereaderthancon-
cession,admissionand personalhumiliation underthe ideal.
IX
From September, 1851,to December,1854, therewas a
pausein thesteadystreamofpublications flowing fromKierke-
gaard'spen eversincetheyear 1843. His reflection had not
becomesterile,butitsenergywas consumed in self-preparation
fora newrole,one moredecisivethananyhe had yetplayed,
as thejournalsoftheperiodbearwitness. He was engagedin
probingthedistancebetweenmodernlifeandthe idealswhich
seized upon the
his reflection
it professes;and particularly,

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37

differencebetweenthelifeofChristendom and theChristianity


of the New Testament. As always, his thoughtwas im-
passioned,pregnantwithindignationand scorn. Financial
worries,whichhadassailedhimforsometime,helpedto mature
his personality,and thereare indicationsthat Kierkegaard
began,during period,a courseof self-discipline
this by means
of asceticexercises,
to replacethe somewhatluxuriouslifehe
had permitted himself earlierto lead.
Then, in the year 1854,came an opportunity which,in
view ofhis previouspublications, appealedtohimas a challenge
thatmustbe squarelymet. In thefallof1853,BishopMynster
died. He had beena pulpiteer ofgreatability,and as bishop
he had ruledthechurchwitha strongand conservative hand.
Kierkegaardmaintainedclose personalrelationswith him,
Mynsterhavingbeen his father'spastor. He admiredhis
ability,and hadfrequently defended himagainstattackswhich
he deemedunjustified.But he had not hesitatedto let him
knowwhereand howfarhe differed fromhim. A fewweeks
afterMynster'sdeath,Professor Martensen(whoseChristian
Dogmatics had so wide a voguein theologicalcirclesat one
time)preacheda memorial sermon in whichthelatebishopwas
eulogizedas "one morelinkin theholychainof witnesses for
theTruth,stretching all thewayfromthedaysoftheapostles
toourowntimes. " Thisidealization ofBishopMynster seemed
to Kierkegaard an impudent falsificationoftheChristianideal,
symptomatic of thatdemoralization to whichChristendom as
a wholewas subject. He wroteat oncea briefbut emphatic
protest. Professor Martensenwas a candidateforthevacant
bishopric,and hence Kierkegaard postponedpublicationuntil
theappointment was announced, so as to avoidentanglement
withpoliticalcross-currentsandotherirrelevant considerations.
Martensen receivedtheappointment, and in December,1854,
thearticlewas published, in thecolumnsofa dailynewspaper
in Copenhagen.It placesin questionthetruthoftheassertion
thatBishopMynsterwas a witnessfortheTruth,maintaining
thatbothas regardsthecontentofhispreaching and theform
ofhispersonallifeBishopMynster fellfarshortoftheChristian
idealofa witness. It accusesProfessor Martensenof playing

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38

Christianity,just as childrenplay at being soldiers. This


decisiveattackupon the ideal legitimation of the established
ordercreateda sensation,and naturallyawakeneda storm
ofprotest. Kierkegaard wasaccusedofattacking thememory
ofthedead,and ofviolating thesanctity ofthegrave;ofa lack
of earnestnessof purpose;of an overweening personalpride;
of beinginsane;and of whateverelse thewoundedfeelings of
hisantagonists couldinvent. But Kierkegaard brushedobjec-
tionsand objectorsaside,keepingstraightto his maintheme,
andmaintaining it withincreasing intensity.Forfourmonths,
publishingaltogether a score of articles
at irregularintervals,
Kierkegaardkept up the agitationin the columnsof Fadre-
lamdet.It quicklybecameclearthatherewas no attackupon
the reputation of Bishop Mynster,as that phrasewouldbe
ordinarilyunderstood, but thatDenmarkwas confronted with
a mostsearching critique of thewhole established orderwhich
BishopMynster represented.
"If Bishop Mynsteris a witnessforthe Truth,theneveryclergymanin the
country,as even theblindestcan see,is also a witnessfortheTruth. . . . What
we call being a clergyman,priest,or bishop,is a means of livelihood,just like
everyotherin thecommunity;and a meansoflivelihoodcarriedon,ifyouplease,
withina communitywhere- all call themselvesChristians,wherethereis there-
forenot the slightestdanger connectedwith the preachingof the Christian
doctrine,but whereon the contrarythis situationin life must be regardedas
one of the most respectedand attractive. Now I ask: Is therethe slightest
resemblancebetweenthese clergymen,priests,bishops,and what Christcalls
his witnesses? Or is it not ridiculousto call such clergymen,priests,bishops,
'witnesses*in the sense of the New Testament- as ridiculousas to call field
maneuvresin timeof peace, war?
"But Bishop Martensenpersistsin callingthemwitnesses,witnessesforthe
Truth. If the clergyunderstoodtheirown interestsin the matter,theywould
withoutdelay petitionthe Bishop to give up this terminology, whichputs the
wholeprofession, to say theleast, in a ridiculouslight. For I knowseveralmost
respectableand able, very able, clergymen;but I ventureto say that in the
wholekingdomthereis not one, who whenviewed in the lightof a witnessfor
the Truth does not presenta comic figure."

Withrapidstridesand boldstrokesKierkegaard advanced


to thepositionthatthenotionofa Christian peopleor nation
sanctionand
withofficial
is an illusion,that a Christianity
authority to the teaching Christ,that
is directlycontrary of

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39

protestantismin general is a slily dishonest perversion of


Christianity,and that New Testament Christianityis so com-
pletelynon-existentin modernstates that it is norisenseeven
to talk of a reformation, there being nothingto reform. In
two separatelypublished leaflets the situationwas intensified
almost to the breakingpoint. "Whoever you are, my frierid,
and whateveryourlifemay be, by refusingany longerto take
part (ifyou have hithertodone so) in the public worshipas it is
now conducted,withthe pretenseof beingthe New Testament
Christianity,you will have one less crime,and a heavy one,
uponyourconscience;foryou willno longertake partin making
a mockeryof God." .... And shortlyafterthispronounce-
ment,he sharplycalled the attentionof the public to the fact
that the clergywerebound by oath to the New Testament;and
thenwenton to apply the wordsof Christin Matthew23:29-33
and Luke 11:47-48,withoutreservation,to an officialChristian-
ity of every description,and particularlythat of the Danish
church.
The last week in May, Kierkegaardbegan the publication
of a pamphlet called The Moment,of which altogethernine
numbersappeared up to the end of September. A tenthnum-
ber was made ready for publication,but its appearance was
delayed by Kierkegaard's last illness, so that it came to be
published posthumously. In these stirringpamphlets the
agitationis carriedon to its last consequences,and the measure
of the distancebetweenthe Christianideal and the actual life
ofthe Christianworld,is takenwitha certaintyand an accuracy
that leaves no illusionunexposed. "He was a greatagitator,"
says Brandes. "His soul was full to the brim with a living
indignation;he had the language completelyin his power; by
his religiouswritingshe had trainedhimselfto speak the plain
man's tongue;and his quiver was fullof the sharpestarrowsof
wit. He was just the man to carryon an agitationof which
the nineteenthcenturywill scarcelysee the equal. He united
the personalweightof a La Salle to the eloquenceof an O'Con-
nell and the bitingscornof a Dean Swift. It is impossibleto
describehis procedure. One mustsee how he chiselshis scorn
into linguisticform,and hammersthe word until it shapes

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4O

itselfinto the greatestpossible,the bloodiest injury- without


fora momentceasing to be the vehicleof an idea."
His purpose was ideal. He had no finiteend in view, no
proposalof a changedorganization,no displacementof authori-
ties,no derogationofpersons,nothingbut a clarification of con-
of
sciousness in the direction greaterhonesty and sincerity.
For those who wonderedwhat his motivemightbe, he replied:
"I want honesty. I do not representChristianseverityas
over against Christian mildness; by no means. I represent
neitherseveritynormildness,I standforhumanhonesty
And if the human race or my contemporarieswishhonestly,
sincerely,frankly,openly,to rebel against Christianity, and to
say to God, 'We cannot and will not subject ourselvesto this
power/- well and good; providedthis be done openly,frankly
and sincerely,then,howeverstrangeit may seem forme to say
this,I am withthem; forI want honesty."
In October, 1855, he fell in a fainton the street,and was
taken to a hospital. In the notes of the young internewho
kept an account of the case, there are incorporatedcertain
expressionsto whichKierkegaardgave utterance. The follow-
ing is fromthe firstday's journal: "He considershis disease
mortal. His death is necessaryto the cause he has used all his
spiritualand intellectualpowersto further, the cause forwhich
alone he has lived, and which he considershimselfespecially
called and fittedto serve; whencethe greatintellectualpowers
withwhichhe has been endowed,in connectionwithso fraila
body. If he wereto live,he wouldhave to continuehisreligious
agitation. But people would soon tireof it; if he dies, on the
otherhand, the strengthof his cause will be maintained,and as
he thinks,its victory." On the 11th of November he died,
forty-twoyears and six monthsold. It appeals as a fitting
poeticsymbolismthat thepatrimonywhichhad made his untir-
ing literarylabors possible should have been found just ex-
hausted at the timeof his death.

X
It would be interestingto speculate upon the reputation
that Kierkegaard mighthave attained, and the extentof the

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41

he mighthaveexerted,
influence ifhe had written in oneofthe
majorEuropeanlanguages, instead of in the tongueof one of
thesmallestcountries intheworld. An idealismmorepowerful
and moreconsistent thanthatofeitherEmersonor Carlyle,a
democratic individualism as thorough-going as thearistocratic
individualism of Nietszche,and presentedwith an equally
passionateintensity,an ethicalvoluntarism clothedina literary
formas persuasive as thatofSchopenhauer's philosophy, and a
speciesof pragmatism morecarefully and thoroughly worked
outthanthatofeitherJamesor Bergson - thesequalitiesmust
have attractedworld-wide attention.And yet, he himself
believedthatthelimitations underwhichhe was compelledto
labor,and theconsequent lackofanyeffective opposition from
theoutside,was a necessary factorin thepeculiardevelopment
andonedemanded
ofhispersonality, byhispeculiartask. Had
he writtenin Englishor in Germantherewouldhavenaturally
beenenoughsignificant oppositionto have consumeda great
part ofhisenergy in external polemic. As it was,theoutward
opposition was negligible; was compelledto set his own
he
standardand to be his own critic. His reflection was thus
turnedinwardin a greatermeasurethanwouldotherwise have
beenpossible;thishe regarded as essentialforthekindoflitera-
tureit washismissionto produce. Thisliterature willalways
remainin onesensea luxury;it doesnothavethekindofone-
sidednesswhichwouldadapt it forthefoundation ofa school
or thepromotion ofa movement.Nevertheless, it is boundto
have an enduring significance, forit "delineatesthe essential
thought-determinations of life,and of individualexistence, in
a mannermore dialecticallypreciseand more emotionally
primitivethananything comparable to be foundin anymodern
"
literature.
David F. Swenson
of Minnesota
University

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