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Kierkegaard's Writings, XXV: Letters and Documents

Kierkegaard's Writings, XXV: Letters and Documents

by Soren Kierkegaard

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This volume provides the first English translation of all the known correspondence to and from Søren Kierkegaard, including a number of his letters in draft form and papers pertaining to his life and death. These fascinating documents offer new access to the character and lifework of the gifted philosopher, theologian, and psychologist.

Kierkegaard speaks


This volume provides the first English translation of all the known correspondence to and from Søren Kierkegaard, including a number of his letters in draft form and papers pertaining to his life and death. These fascinating documents offer new access to the character and lifework of the gifted philosopher, theologian, and psychologist.

Kierkegaard speaks often and openly about his desire to correspond, and the resulting desire to write for a greater audience. He consciously recognizes letter-writing as an opportunity to practice composition. Unlike most correspondence, Kierkegaard's letters expressly "do not require a reply"—he insists on this as a principle, while he clearly and earnestly yearns for a response to his efforts. Among his other principles are purposefulness, directness, and the equality of a letter to a visit with a friend (Kierkegaard preferred the former to the latter). Perhaps more than anything else in print, Kierkegaard's Letters and Documents reveal his love affair with the written word.

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"These new translations are excellent."Choice

"The definitive edition of the Writings. The first volume . . . indicates the scholarly value of the entire series: an introduction setting the work in the context of Kierkegaard's development; a remarkably clear translation; and concluding sections of intelligent notes."Library Journal

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Princeton University Press
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Kierkegaard's Writings Series
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.40(d)

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Kierkegaard Letters and Documents

By Søren Kierkegaard, Henrik Rosenmeier


Copyright © 1978 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-14083-4



1.S. K.—March 8, 1829—P. C. Kierkegaard.

Dear Brother,

Were you to draw conclusions about how I live on the basis of what I write, you might easily decide that I am dead and gone, but Father's letters do not allow you to entertain any such thought. Had I only written as often as you have admonished me, something would have come of it, but you have not yet seen any fruits from your encouragements nor the reward that ought to follow your encouragements. Most of your letters to Father have usually concluded with a reminder to write you. You must in truth have great patience, for you have never tired of reminding me. When you noticed that all those encouragements to write contained in your letters to Father were of no avail, you decided to remind me of my duty through somebody else, Oldenburg, and he did indeed bring me the message that you were expecting a letter from me every postal day. Furthermore, he reminded me that, Fenger's brothers were writing to Fenger. So I, too, decided to write to you, if for no other reason than to let you know that I am alive. If I were to offer excuses now for not having written to you for so long, I would be wasting your time, for they could never be valid excuses. I might tell you that I have been somewhat ill, but what would that prove, what would that procure other than an excuse for not writing on those days when I was ill, and they cannot exceed five or six in number. That I have not had time will not help me either, for you know yourself from your own school days that there is always some time when it is unnecessary for one to do anything. So I will offer no excuses at all but directly beg your pardon for having neglected to do my duty.

I suppose that you learned long ago that Henrichsen has left the Borgerdyds School and been transferred to Elsinore. When he left, our class presented him with a snuffbox, for we had learned he wanted one. For this not exactly grandest of presents he sent us his thanks through Mr. Warncke the following day. He is the first of the masters at the Borgerdyds School to have left during your absence. Ludvig Moller has taken over his Hebrew class while Bojesen has his Latin class.

For some time the Professor has been bothered with a bad leg, which troubled him a good deal, for he could not supervise the running of the school himself and had to turn it over to Mr. Bang. All the while he was unable to walk, we had to go to his place where we recited our lessons, and he also assigned us so many written translations into Latin that in the end even he could not sort them out. At last he was on his feet again and worked with us for some time, but then the same leg gave him trouble once more. A fire had broken out in his stove, and as he hurried to put it out he accidentally injured the leg, which then became much worse. Nevertheless, he chose to hold classes with the B section of the first-year Latin class whose door is next to his room, and thus he was able to be with us in a step or two. He entered by that door every day wearing one slipper and one boot. However, the news that he hurt himself while extinguishing the fire in his stove I have only from Peer, his servant, who usually is very reliable. Lately it has been said several times that Professor Thune has died, but this has not yet come true. Still, these rumors show that he must be very ill. Each time such a rumor spread, it caused general grief among those young people who want to graduate next time and fear that Ursin might replace him, which seems very likely, and he does have a reputation for badgering. At least they prefer someone who in order to get a precise answer to his precise question repeats it, rather than one who does not repeat his question and even phrases it vaguely.

I said earlier that Henrichsen was the first master to leave the school, from which you may gather there must be several, as indeed there are. The second is in fact Friedenreich, who has been appointed an assistant principal at the Efterslaegts School, where he replaces Bentzen, who in his turn has become a minister, but in a calling that will not put so much in his pocket as did his post at Efterslaegten, which, as far as I know, pays 800 rdl. a year. To replace Bentzen three new masters have joined the school: Kroyer, a small person no bigger than I (I am no bigger than I was when you left), and Zager and Bergenhammer. This is probably a heavy loss for the school, for Friedenreich has the greatest knowledge of history and geography of all the masters at the school; yet Warncke boasts that the school could not survive without him, but that is probably mere boasting, and I for one believe that it is more likely that Warncke cannot survive without the school. Father is working on a letter to you, but you know Father and realize how much time he needs to write a letter, since he is able to write for only one or two hours every morning. I hope you are well. Nicoline's arm is on the mend, but the finger she crushed gives her great pain and will probably heal slowly. Do write her again so she may have some comfort in adversity. Henrich is well, but Michael is ailing. Father, Mother, Nicoline, Petrea, Christian, Ferdinand, Mrs. Lund, and Niels all send you greetings. Most loving greetings to you

from your devoted brother, Søren.

Copenhagen, March 8, 1829. [Address in another hand:] Herrn Cand. Theol: P. C. Kierkegaard Unter Linden 20 drey Treppen in Berlin postage paid Hamburg [Postmark:] Hamburg 3/13 N. 3/15 2.

2.S. K.—March 25, 1829—P. C. Kierkegaard.

Dear Brother,

Your reply arrived long before I had expected it. I waited for your letter for less time than you had to be in suspense for mine, and I am pleased that you liked it. As to your belief that I have read Cicero's letters, this is not so at all; I have not read a single one of them. I suppose that I shall get to read them next year. It is true that the artium has not yet become particularly difficult, but it may become so by the time I have to take my exams, for a man by the name of Asp, cand. theol. et juris, has written a book about increasing the artium requirements. He demands, for example, that solid geometry and trigonometry be made mandatory subjects for this examination, and he demands that there be written translations in German and French and that the English language not be neglected as it has been until now, but that it be taught and that there be written translations in this language as well. He also proposes that anyone who fails any subject pass another exam in that discipline the following spring. One thing he complains of in his book is the slighting of the university-trained graduates in medicine in favor of apprentice barbers. I really hope that his proposals are not adopted, as it would be extremely unpleasant for me to have to tackle the English language in my last year of school. It was already decided at the time of the last exams that I not be examined until 1830 because I am, after all, a bit young. Bindesboll teaches religion and New Testament; Warncke is my history teacher, of course; Marthensen is my mathematics teacher; and Ursin has left the school for good. I am studying Greek with the Professor, something I did not expect, inasmuch as he became quite fed up last year with teaching Greek to the A section of the first class.

Incidentally, you must not think that the Professor's sickness has been a particularly dangerous one, for he has in fact been teaching us for a long time now, and his leg is completely healed. When you write to him, do not go into too much detail about the cause of his being laid up, for, as you know, I only heard about it from his servant.

If you could find something out about Fritz Lange, whether his eyes are better or are even worse, I would appreciate it. What I have heard here is that where he was staying he started wearing thick glasses on doctor's advice but that he fell in the street and got splinters in his eyes and because of that went completely blind, but this I neither credit nor hope.

I have indeed found the book you requested, and Father has also fulfilled your wish and bought you a Danish Bible. These books will, as you request, be sent along, tied and sealed in a small canvas-covered box. Greetings have been conveyed to Mrs. Fenger, as you requested in your letter, and she returns most loving greetings to you. She had obtained one of the books, P. Hald's dissertation, and it has already been sent. She promised to see if she could get hold of the other, the Bishops' Pastoral Letter of 1817, and if she does, it will be sent with the others.

I hope you are as well as most of us here are, with the exception of Petrea, who has been unwell for some time. Nicoline is mending, and her finger is nearly cured, but it is still somewhat sore.

Everybody sends you greetings: Father, Mother, Nicoline, Lund, Petrea, Niels, Mrs. Lund, and Ole Lund's daughters, but above all, greetings from

Your affectionate brother, Søren.

Copenhagen, March 25, 1829 [in M. P. Kierkegaard's handwriting:] Probably Ferdinand will write a few words on the back of this.

M. P. Kierkegaard—July 15, 1829—P.C.K.

P.S. Just as Soren is about to enter this letter in the copy book, Lorentzen is paying me a visit, and he asks most emphatically that his warmest greetings be sent to you. I (Soren) will soon write to you so that I may be able also to gainsay Father.

3.S. K.—Junel, 1835—P. W. Lund.

Copenhagen, June 1, 1835.

You know how inspiring I once found it to listen to you and how enthusiastic I was about your description of your stay in Brazil, although not so much on account of the mass of detailed observations with which you have enriched yourself and your scholarly field as on account of the impression your first journey into that wondrous nature made upon you: your paradisical happiness and joy. Something like this is bound to find a sympathetic response in any person who has the least feeling and warmth, even though he seeks his satisfaction, his occupation, in an entirely different sphere, but especially so in a young person who as yet only dreams of his destiny. Our early youth is like a flower at dawn with a lovely dewdrop in its cup, harmoniously and pensively reflecting everything that surrounds it. But soon the sun rises over the horizon, and the dewdrop evaporates; with it vanish the fantasies of life, and now it becomes a question (to use a flower metaphor once more) whether or not man is able to produce—by his own efforts as does the nereum—a drop that may represent the fruit of his life. This requires, above all, that one be allowed to grow in the soil where one really belongs, but that is not always so easy to find. In this respect there exist fortunate creatures who have such a decided inclination in a particular direction that they faithfully follow the path once it is laid out for them without ever falling prey to the thought that perhaps they ought to have followed an entirely different path. There are others who let themselves be influenced so completely by their surroundings that it never becomes clear to them in what direction they are really striving. Just as the former group has its own implicit categorical imperative, so the latter recognizes an explicit categorical imperative. But how few there are in the former group, and to the latter I do not wish to belong. Those who get to experience the real meaning of Hegelian dialectics in their lives are greater in number. Incidentally, it is altogether natural for wine to ferment before it becomes clear; nevertheless this process is often disagreeable in its several stages, although regarded in its totality it is of course agreeable, provided it does in the end yield its relative results in the context of the usual doubt. This is of major significance for anybody who has come to terms with his destiny by means of it, not only because of the calm that follows in contrast to the preceding storm, but because one then has life in a quite different sense than before. For many, it is this Faustian element that makes itself more or less applicable to every intellectual development, which is why it has always seemed to me that we should concede cosmic significance to the Faust concept. Just as our ancestors worshipped a goddess of yearning, so I think that Faust represents doubt personified. He need be no more than that, and Goethe probably sins against the concept when he permits Faust to convert, as does Mérimée when he permits Don Juan to convert. One cannot use the argument against me that Faust is taking a positive step at the instant he applies to the Devil, for right here, it seems to me, is one of the most significant elements in the Faust legend. He surrendered himself to the Devil for the express purpose of attaining enlightenment, and it follows that he was not in possession of it prior to this; and precisely because he surrendered himself to the Devil, his doubt increased (just as a sick person who falls into the hands of a medical quack usually gets sicker). For although Mephistopheles permitted him to look through his spectacles into man and into the secret hiding places of the earth, Faust must forever doubt him because of his inability to provide enlightenment about the most profound intellectual matters. In accordance with his own idea he could never turn to God because in the very instant he did so he would have to admit to himself that here in truth lay enlightenment; but in that same instant he would, in fact, have denied his character as one who doubts.

But such a doubt can also manifest itself in other spheres. Even though a man may have come to terms with a few of these main issues, life offers other significant questions. Naturally every man desires to work according to his abilities in this world, but it follows from this that he wishes to develop his abilities in a particular direction, namely, in that which is best suited to him as an individual. But which is that? Here I am confronted with a big question mark. Here I stand like Hercules—not at a crossroads—no, but at a multitude of roads, and therefore it is all the harder to choose the right one. Perhaps it is my misfortune in life that I am interested in far too many things rather than definitely in any one thing. My interests are not all subordinated to one but are all coordinate.

I shall attempt to show how matters look to me.

1. The Natural Sciences. (In this category I include all those who seek to explain and interpret the runic script of nature, ranging from him who calculates the speed of the stars and, so to speak, arrests them in order to study them more closely, to him who describes the physiology of a particular animal, from him who surveys the surface of the earth from the mountain peaks to him who descends to the depths of the abyss, from him who follows the development of the human body through its countless nuances to him who examines intestinal worms.) First, when I consider this whole scholarly field, I realize that on this path as well as on every other (but indeed primarily here) I have of course seen examples of men who have made names for themselves in the annals of scholarship by means of enormous diligence in collecting. They master a great wealth of details and have discovered many new ones, but no more than that. They have merely provided the substratum for the thought and elaboration of others. These men are content with their details, and yet to me they are like the rich farmer in the gospel; they have gathered great stores in their barn, yet science may declare to them: "Tomorrow I demand your life," inasmuch as it is that which determines the significance of each particular finding for the whole. To the extent that there is a sort of unconscious life in such a man's knowledge, the sciences may be said to demand his life, but to the extent that there is not, his activity is comparable to that of the man who nourishes the earth by the decay of his dead body. The case differs of course with respect to other phenomena, with respect to those scholars in the natural sciences who have found or have sought to find by their speculation that Archimedean point that does not exist in the world and who from this point have considered the totality and seen the component parts in their proper light. As far as they are concerned, I cannot deny that they have had a very salutary effect on me. The tranquility, the harmony, the joy one finds in them is rarely found elsewhere. We have three worthy representatives here in town: an Ørsted, whose face has always seemed to me like a chord that nature has sounded in just the right way; a Schouw, who provides a study for the painter who wanted to paint Adam naming the animals; and finally a Horneman, who, conversant with every plant, stands like a patriarch in nature. In this connection I also remember with pleasure the impression you made upon me as the representative of a great nature which also ought to be represented in the National Assembly. I have been and am still inspired by the natural sciences; and yet I do not think that I shall make them my principal field of study. By virtue of reason and freedom, life has always interested me most, and it has always been my desire to clarify and solve the riddle of life. The forty years in the desert before I could reach the promised land of the sciences seem too costly to me, and the more so as I believe that nature may also be observed from another side, which does not require insight into the secrets of science. It matters not whether I contemplate the whole world in a single flower or listen to the many hints that nature offers about human life; whether I admire those daring designs on the firmament; or whether, upon hearing the sounds of nature in Ceylon, for example, I am reminded of the sounds of the spiritual world; or whether the departure of the migratory birds reminds me of the more profound yearnings of the human heart.


Excerpted from Kierkegaard Letters and Documents by Søren Kierkegaard, Henrik Rosenmeier. Copyright © 1978 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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