Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Hamburg to Copenhagen and Roskilda

Once a Week, Series 1, Volume VII  (1862) 
Hamburg to Copenhagen and Roskilda
by Edward Smith


Tired of Hamburg and its handsome streets, tired of the Alster Lake and the famous Jungfernstieg, or Maiden’s Walk, where the trees are so exactly like the toy trees of our Noah’s arks, where the boats are clumsy and the oars worse; weary of Gruby’s and “Chablis” and “Clicquot” at Jacobson’s, the “Star and Garter” of Hamburg, and ill with its bad cigars—and in no town in Europe are there so many bad ones—and at last grown fairly callous to the familiar novelties of the city, we started for a week’s jaunt to Copenhagen. Is Copenhagen as fine a town as Hamburg? we asked of a fellow-passenger in a third-class carriage of the train to Kiel, to whom we had casually communicated our destination. Is it as gay and are the streets as broad and as frequented as Hamburg? It is a magnificent town—the streets swarm with people. My companion, half a German by birth, and quite one in feeling, stared somewhat indignantly I thought.

“Hamburg. Why, Copenhagen is the finest city in Europe,” he was about to say; but luckily for our peace and quietness, for my companion’s face wore an angry scowl, the train came to a stop, the guard shouted the name of a small station and opened the door, and our fellow-traveller, gathering his moveables in a hurry, left us. He was a Dane, a fair-haired Dane, such as Mons. Fechter’s Hamlet, only not so handsome, though quite as good-looking as the Laertes with whom that gentleman fences at the Princess’s Theatre in our own Oxford Street. Our anticipations were considerably roused by the answers of the enthusiastic Dane, and we soon forgot, in hearing from our other fellow-travellers of the various lions of the City of Harbours, the cushionless state of a Holstein third-class carriage. About 9.30, p.m., in the dark streets of Kiel, we had our first experience of the Danish coinage: for though we had, like experienced travellers, studied the subject beforehand, still it is only practice that can make you perfect; and when an inhabitant of the new country startles you with an assertion that the value of the dollar is a third less than what the books tell you, you are at first, I would say, just a little flabberghasted, and we were too: but we soon rallied, and being really “up” in the intricacies of the coinage, we entered at once into a noisy discussion with the droski-driver and stood out boldly, and the discomfited droskier “crawled” away, muttering his disappointment. We had heard that the Baltic was one of those seas “where sleep young Cyclads on a sunnier deep,” and where the storm god is unknown. Now as we had but second-class tickets, and on reaching the boat, we found all the berths taken, it would have been well for us, who had to pass the night on deck, if the Baltic had preserved that poetic serenity. But we were doomed to be disappointed, for it blew hard all the night, and with morning came damp fog, which nearly pierced through our Inverness capes as we lay extended on a bench on the after deck. At five o’clock a fair-haired Dane, with large, brilliant, blue eyes, brought us each a cup of coffee, and we shook ourselves, drank it gratefully, and looked around us. There were many young “Cyclads” about just visible in the mist, the largest of these was “Rügen.”

The grey dawn, streaked with red, was slowly clearing away the mist as we steamed into the little harbour of Korsör. From thence a train—one of, perhaps, the slowest in Europe, for they are not very rapid in Denmark in travelling—bore us, willingly enough, for we were gluttonously thinking of breakfasting on our arrival. We passed through the famous Baltic corn-country—flat and hedgeless as our own dear Cambridgeshire fens—and where for miles a vast expanse of corn waves like a sea of gold and amber. This continual yellow and gold, with its infinite varieties of tint, seemed to us a peculiar feature in our trip; our crew on board the boat were all yellow-haired—the skipper, the helmsman, and the mate,—all tints of hair were there, from pale straw-colour to bright golden cowslip. In Copenhagen everyone was fair-haired, and we saw not even one dark-haired Dane. Our first impression was, that the City of Harbours was collectively asleep; but it was a false one, for at mid-day it was the same—a city in its decline—with large, white, hideous palaces, all uninhabited (for the king, who is not the most popular, lives in Holstein); a city, plain and cheap-looking, where art external, at least, is an expensive luxury. Thorwaldsen’s sculptures are, of course, a glorious exception. Copenhagen began to attain importance in the twelfth century: it was originally called Axelstad, from a Bishop of Roskilda (the ancient capital of Denmark), who erected a castle here in 1168, on the site of the present Christianborg, as a protection against pirates; later it was called Kiobmaendhorn—the haven of merchants—and latterly Kjobenhaven, or Copenhagen. Thorwaldsen’s sculptures are contained in a painted stucco building, which was partly designed by Thorwaldsen himself. It is one of the noblest collections in the world! Barthelemy or Bertel Albert von Thorwaldsen, like Canova, who was the son of a stonemason, was a man sprung from the people. His father made figure-heads, and Bertel, showing early signs of skill, was sent to the art-schools of Copenhagen, where he gained the silver medal at the age of seventeen, in the year 1787. In 1793, by the patronage of Reventlow, the prime minister, he obtained the pension, and went to Rome to study, but remained for four years in obscurity, and it is said that on the eve of his departure home again in despair, Thomas Hope, a Dutch banker, caused him to change his plans by giving him his first commission to execute his model of “Jason” in marble, for 500 sequins, after which his fame and fortune rose rapidly. His inexhaustible fertility of invention led to his making an enormous number of models, a third of which were executed in marble. Among those most known to Englishmen are the “Christ,” copies of which are so often seen in Parian china, and which formed the principal figure to the group of the Twelve Apostles, and is now in a church in Copenhagen; the “Night and Morning” bas reliefs (fac similes of which are in possession of Lord Lucan); the famous “Lord Byron” at Cambridge, in Trinity Library; and the “Lion” at Lucerne. One of his famous pieces is the “Triumph of Alexander,” ordered by Napoleon—the modern Alexander—to decorate the Quirinal Palace at Monte Carvallo, but which is now in the palace of Christianborg. This man, whose grand and calm purity of style caused him to contrast with the burning genius of Michael Angelo and Canova, never executed any design until matured by deep study and reflection, and all his works bear this character. There are three portraits of him—one by Gazzoli, engraved at Rome in 1831, another by Kitzler, at the age of sixty-six, and a third by Horace Vernet. On his return to Copenhagen he was received by the whole people, rich and poor, coming down to meet him disembarking; this scene is depicted in fresco on the outside of his museum, so deeply had his kind-heartedness and generosity endeared him to everyone. His last works were a bust of Luther and a “Hercules.” He died of apoplexy at the theatre one evening, just before the play began, and his funeral was attended by the whole people of Copenhagen.

The Castle of Rosenberg, with grey walls and quaint zinc roofs, is a picturesque building, and rises handsomely from amid a noble grove of chesnut-trees; but, like all the other palaces, it is empty and deserted. We met no dark-haired Danes, and my companion fell desperately in love with more than one blue-eyed Chrysocome. In the evening we went to Renz’s Circus, of almost continental celebrity—and facile princeps of all Ducrows, Battys, and Cookes. The great feature of the evening was a swinging-boy; but our readers have seen Leotard, so I shall not describe him. There was, of course, Mr. Merryman, who, of course, had some English ribaldry to utter, and there was the usual India-rubber-man void of joints, quite unpleasant to look at, and, to conclude, a grand medley combining the various excellencies of an English cup-race, steeple-chace, and fox-hunt, with blue and red-fire besides.

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Castle of Elsinore, Denmark.

After a plunge in the fiord from the baths which are built in the centre of the stream, we started for Elsinore—a trip of a few hours down the Sound. The Danish coast near the city is low and wooded, dotted here and there with the country houses of the wealthy Copenhagenites, and tiny villages with pearly-thatched cottages: then low, sandy cliffs, and as you go down towards Elsinore the coast is bolder; we were too far off to see the character of the Swedish coast. The Sound, the scene, by the way, of the dispute some few years back about the shipping dues, when England paid 500,000l. as her share of compensation money for the withdrawal of those hideous exactions, the Sound dues were called before that time, from these lucrative taxes, the “Gold Mine of the King of Denmark.” Though it has not the blue beauties of the Bosphorus, or even of the Menai Straits, still the Sound is not without beauty, but we admired it more at home than on board the steamer, for the sea has a way of twisting itself about when it blows hard, in a way peculiar to narrow channels, and by no means agreeable. It was full of Danish men of war and the entrance is strongly fortified by two castles, one on each coast.

The Sound at Elsinore is about four miles in width, and is commanded on each side by the castles of Elsinore and Helsingborg: thus it is not so wide as the Hellespont, which is five miles across. King Harold Hardrada’s fleet is said to have reached across it. The steamer calls first at Elsinore, and afterwards at Helsingborg, and at the latter place remains a few hours, after which it returns to Elsinore, and thence to Copenhagen. Being unable to see both places, we chose Elsinore. The town is small and mean, and has little to interest one. The castle, which is very strongly fortified, was garrisoned at the time we saw it by 400 Holsteiners, under a Danish Commandant, whom of course they cordially hated.

One soldier, on our asking him the name of his officer, said:—“he didn’t know the ‘Kerl’s’ name, who he was;” but we will not enter into the merits of the Holstein dispute here. The Princess Matilda Caroline, daughter of George II. of England, who was married to Christian VII. of Denmark, was imprisoned here for some years, being suspected by him (who seems, by the way, to have been a monster of brutality and sensuality), of an intrigue with Struensee, his prime minister; but her banishment and the subsequent downfall of that minister were the results of a plot hatched by the other party. When she was imprisoned there, it is said that the captain of an English merchantman, then in the Sound, whose name unfortunately has not been preserved, hearing of her unhappy condition, and anxious to alleviate it, sent her by the medium of the English consul at Elsinore, a leg of mutton and potatoes: which she graciously accepted, sending him in return a gold chain. This Princess was subsequently removed to Aalberg, and after an imprisonment of three years there, died at Zell in Hanover.

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Cathedral of Roskilda, Denmark. See page 56.

In the course of our trip we had become used to seeing the names dramatis personæ in Shakspeare’s play constantly recur; but I don’t think we were prepared to dine on or near Hamlet’s grave; but Marienlust, a small hotel, or boarding-house, with its garden, occupies the traditional spot. As all the Danish kings were and are still buried at Roeskilda, it does not appear how Hamlet’s grave comes to be here. As all our readers have not read “Dunham’s Scandinavia, or Saxo-Grammaticus,” we will give the original story as told there.

Fengo and Horwendil were joint sovereigns of Jutland. Hamlet was the son of the latter: Fengo murdered Horwendil, married his widow Gertrude, and became sole ruler. Thus, the main incidents in the story of the play are historical facts. Hamlet eager to revenge his father’s murder feigned madness, and for this cause put on a strange garb, and did the most ridiculous things.

He was frequently seen on the hearth among the ashes, making wooden hooks which he hardened by the heat. On being asked for what he intended them, he said:

“For the revenge of my father!”

Fengo suspecting him of feigning madness for some design, set spies to watch him, and for this purpose had him brought to the Queen’s apartment, where a spy lay concealed under some straw. But Hamlet, on entering the room, imitated the crowing of a cock, and waving his arms like wings, leapt on the straw, and feeling something beneath it, despatched him with his sword: after which, while his mother is bewailing his insanity, he upbraids her with her crimes as in the play. The body of the slain man he had cut in pieces, and thrown into a sewer; and on being asked on Fengo’s coming, what had become of him, replied:

“He fell into the sewer, and being unable to extricate himself, was eaten by the swine.”

After this, Fengo devised his plan of sending him to England, which country, at that period, was, we are told, a fief of Denmark. Hamlet, before starting, desired his mother in one year from that time to celebrate his obsequies: assuring her that in one year he would return. He was accompanied by two creatures of Fengo, and from them he discovered, while asleep, the mandate to the English king to murder him, which was carved on wood. This he so ingeniously altered that the two companions were put to death, while he himself was received with the greatest hospitality, and was so much admired that he received in marriage the hand of the King’s daughter. He pretended to be grieved at the death of his two companions, and to pacify him the King gave him a quantity of gold which he melted and inclosed in two walking sticks, with which he returned at the end of the year to Jutland. Here in a motley garb he reached the house of his uncle, where his funeral rites were being held. After the astonishment at his appearance had subsided, he was asked:

“Where are your two companions?”

“Here they are,” he replied; showing his two sticks.

He then joined the cupbearers, and as his flowing garments interfered with his movements, he girt his sword on scabbardless, and to impress them with his insanity grasped the blade till his blood flowed. He then succeeded in making them all drunk, so that they were unable to stir from the room. At length, all being asleep, he cut the cords supporting the curtain which covered the room, so that it fell down, and then fastened it to the ground over the men; after which he set the building on fire, and they were all destroyed. He then goes and kills the king, first upbraiding him for his crimes, and then retires to a safe place to watch the progress of events. But popular feeling setting in his favour, he soon reappears, and is proclaimed king.

We shall not pursue his story any further; nor will we detain our readers by describing the return journey to Copenhagen. Having heard in our young days of Roskilda, or Rosekild, as the ancient capital of Denmark, we resolved to visit it, and started off by railway the next morning. A rosy-faced, fair-haired Dane, who spoke English like a native, was of great service to us here; he was a native of Roskilda, and volunteered to cicerone us; now as we knew only two words of Danish—for German is not spoken here—it was no small advantage to us to have an interpreter. By the way, as he was pointing out a church on the journey, as being richly endowed, he told us of a curious custom which obtains here. The widow of the incumbent or holder receives a pension, to be deducted from the salary of the next incumbent. The cathedral of Roskilda is a Gothic, red, brick building; the interior, once covered with gorgeous frescoes, is now nearly entirely whitewashed; it is, however, undergoing restoration. As there is no stained glass, the effect is cold and dreary; but the proportions of the building are noble. The same hand which overlaid the frescoes with whitewash painted the oak-carved stalls stone-colour.

Roskilda is especially interesting as being the burial-place of the old Danish kings; the earlier tombs are mostly in the vaults, and are almost universally covered with palls of black velvet, starred with gold or silver, according to the sex of the deceased—gold being for the kings and princes, and silver for queens and princesses. There are a great many tombs in a side chapel, and among others that of Louisa, daughter of George the Third of England, and the wife of Frederick the Fifth of Denmark, a princess much beloved in Denmark; she died very young.

Under some portraits of the earlier kings we saw the words “et rex Angliæ,” a title no doubt retained long after the Danish reign had been forgotten in England, just as the title of Rex Galliæ was retained by our own kings down to the time of George III. There are two marks in a pillar, said to be the heights of Christian I., and Peter the Great; the former’s height is about seven feet, while the latter is not more than four feet five inches.

The once famous Roskilda is now a miserable village, and we were forced to satisfy ourselves with such scanty fare as the very humble inn of the place could produce. One side of the town lies on the banks of the fiord which winds round to Copenhagen, and here are remains of bathing establishments; here, no doubt, once were innumerable bathing-houses, and pleasure-barges and boats crowded the lake, and there was all the parade of fashion and pleasure; but that must have been many years ago, for now there are no barges, and no boats; and the wind sweeps over the lake with not more than one solitary fisherman’s sail to check it in its course, and where once the chivalry of Denmark trod, the rush grows long and rank, and Roskilda and its glories are part and parcel of the past.