By Johannes Reimers
IT WAS with doubtful pleasure that in a bundle of new books, lately arrived from Norway, I noticed Ibsen's latest drama.
I had heard and read a great deal of the master's having written himself out, —of his getting too old to do good work; of his not understanding his own late writings, —merely the product of a partly deranged and decadent mind; and how this restless social reformer and thinker had dropped back to constitutional monarchy as the only form of acceptable government, etc., etc.
I had such glorious recollections of his former dramas, as played by great actors in their original tongue,—and such as time and again I had read them,—and I feared lest this latest work, said to be so degenerate in many of its features, should disturb these recollections.
So I had made up my mind, that "John Gabriel Borkman" should remain a sealed book to me.
Yet, there it lay on my desk, with its large gilt letters—eyes wide open—looking at me questioningly, Why don't you read me?
I fingered it, put it back, and after two days' temptation, yielded.
Settling into an easy chair on the porch, I began. The air was heavy with the fragrance of roses and white passifioras. The sky rose without a cloud from the crest of the Miacmas into the high vault of the Californian heaven.
In my hand I held the concentrated product of a concentrated civilization. About me lay nature, undisturbed, untrammeled, vigorous, and I saw the abyss which yawned between them.
The first scene seemed long. I did not find the old lbsenic force, where every word tells. I was growing anxious lest after all I had made a mistake in reading it.
Yet, the electricity of easy running dialogue was there; and back of it that strange power which leads one on. And this power grew stronger, stronger in its mysterious action, till at last it culminated in the closing pages, burning, bitter, sarcastic, merciless, in the very last action almost melodramatic.
Yes, there was a yawning abyss between this picture of human civilization and that fragrant, smiling nature out there, that blue, hopeful sky.
O, no, the master's mind has not grown old, after all, nor antiquated.
"John Gabriel Borkman" is a piece cut out of social life at a place where its flesh has become so ossified that it leaks not a single drop of blood. It does not depict one of the exceptions, no, it is a concentrated picture of society of our time and its god—a danse macabre of that upon which some look as the highest civilization. Ibsen has in his gray old age attacked its god and its greatest enemy—this god which fans its victims with bat wings, and sucks their lifeblood.