A Short Life of Kierkegaard

A Short Life of Kierkegaard

With Lowrie’s essay “How Kierkegaard Got into English” and a new introduction by Alastair Hannay
Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 320
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    A Short Life of Kierkegaard
    Book Description:

    A small, insignificant-looking intellectual with absurdly long legs, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a veritable Hans Christian Andersen caricature of a man. A strange combination of witty cosmopolite and melancholy introvert, he spent years writing under a series of fantastical pseudonyms, lavishing all the splendor of his magnificent mind on a seldom-appreciative world. He had a tragic love affair with a young girl, was dominated by an unforgettable Old Testament father, fought a sensational literary duel with a popular satiric magazine, and died in the midst of a violent quarrel with the state church for which he had once studied theology. Yet this iconoclast produced a number of brilliant books that have profoundly influenced modern thought.

    In this classic biography, the celebrated Kierkegaard translator Walter Lowrie presents a charming and warmly appreciative introduction to the life and work of the great Danish writer. Lowrie tells the story of Kierkegaard's emotionally turbulent life with a keen sense of drama and an acute understanding of how his life shaped his thought. The result is a wonderfully informative and entertaining portrait of one of the most important thinkers of the past two centuries. This edition also includes Lowrie's wry essay "How Kierkegaard Got into English," which tells the improbable story of how Lowrie became one of Kierkegaard's principal English translators despite not learning Danish until he was in his 60s, as well as a new introduction by Kierkegaard scholar Alastair Hannay.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4597-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxii)
    Alastair Hannay

    Walter Lowrie was ninety-one years old when he died at Princeton Hospital on August 12, 1959, the recent translator of twelve works of Kierkegaard, author of thisShort Lifeand of its more than six-hundred-page predecessor. Although Lowrie’s engagement with Kierkegaard had begun earlier in the century, it is staggering to realize that it was not until he had reached the age of sixty-four that he began studying Danish with a view to translation. The energy and enthusiasm with which he plunged into this enormously influential undertaking is still tangible in the retrospective essay accompanying this reissue of theShort...

    (pp. xxiii-2)
    (pp. 3-30)

    One must have at least some slight notion of the Copenhagen of a hundred years ago in order to follow feelingly the story of S.K. and imagine him in his proper setting. It is a setting which remained the same throughout his whole life. For in this drama there is little action and no change of scene.

    In Copenhagen Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was born on the fifth of May 1813, in the great house his father had recently bought alongside the City Hall, facing one of the greatest squares of the city, called the New Market (Nytorv). In Copenhagen his...

    (pp. 31-54)

    On September 9, 1839, S.K. inscribed in his Journal the above lines fromFaust,remarking that he could find no better motto to characterize his childhood. Dates are so rare in this Journal that one learns to be on the alert to detect a special significance in even so brief an entry as this. The next entry too is dated (September 10), and it registers the reflection that foresight is really hind-sight, a reflection of the future which is revealed to the eye when it looks back upon the past. From this one might guess that S.K. was at that...

  7. EARLY YOUTH 1830 TO 1834
    (pp. 55-66)

    There was a rare continuity in my life,” said S.K. To his mind the period of childhood was not definitely brought to an end by putting on long trousers, nor even by entering the University in the year 1830 at the age of seventeen. I see no reason to doubt the affirmation of his schoolmaster, that though he had grown more serious, there was something unusually childish about him. In an unfinished book he describes himself under the name of Johannes Climacus.

    “It is true, however, that he was in love, fanatically in love...with thoughts. No young lover can be...

    (pp. 67-78)

    Then it was that the great earthquake occurred, the frightful upheaval which suddenly forced upon me a new infallible rule for interpreting the phenornena one and all. Then I surmised that my father’s great age was not a divine blessing, but rather a curse; that the distinguished talents of our family existed only to create mutual friction; then I felt the silence of death increasing around me, when in my father I beheld an unfortunate man who must outlive us all, a sepulchral cross upon the grave of all his own hopes. Guilt must rest upon the whole family, a...

    (pp. 79-91)

    In the gilt-edged document the above is the motto chosen to characterize the manly period of youth upon which S.K. entered when on May 5, 1835, he had completed his twenty-second year. Up to this time, according to his way of reckoning, he had been essentially a child, inasmuch as he was completely under the dominance of his father. Essentially the Great Earthquake crushed him, the effect was precisely like that which, according to his account, the discovery of David’s guilt had upon Solomon; but at the same time it liberated him—it liberated him immediately from the dominance of...

    (pp. 92-103)

    Inwardly rent asunder as I was, without any prospect of leading a happy earthly life (‘that it might go well with me and I should live long in the land’), without any hope of a happy and snug future—which most naturally issues from and consists in the historical continuity of family life in the home—what wonder that in hopeless despair I grasped solely at the intellectual side of man’s nature and clung to it, so that the thought of my not inconsiderable gifts of mind was my only consolation, the idea my only joy, and that men were...

    (pp. 104-117)

    This period, though it covers two years, can be dealt with briefly. In my big book I called it “The Ethical Stage”—dubiously, and only out of respect for S.K.’s categories. But really S.K. never seriously conceived of an ethical stage as possible apart from a religious belief. Even Judge William, who exemplifies the ethical stage inEither/Or,has a vague traditional religion of immanence—and a good deal more of it than most men have. It is evident from the Journal that immediately after his fall S.K. began to think of picking himself up. He made many moral resolutions;...

    (pp. 118-127)

    This motto, which was inscribed on the third sheet of gilt-edged letter paper, finds in the reconciliation of King Lear and his daughter Cordelia in a walled prison an exact counterpart to Søren’s heartfelt reconciliation with his father, which was brought about on his twenty-fifth birthday. I have, however, printed in brackets four lines which S.K. did not transcribe, for the reason that they were too poignantly appropriate.

    Nothing has led us to expect such a reconciliation. It would be incredible if we had not this proof of it, and in perfect conformity with that is the adoring tribute of...

    (pp. 128-134)

    What I have often sufferd from was that all the doubt, trouble, unrest which my real ‘I’ wished to forget for the sake of attaining a world-view, my reflective ‘I’ sought as it were to print upon my mind and preserve, partly as a necessary and partly as an interesting transitional stage, for fear I might have mendaciously appropriated a result.

    “Thus, for example, when I have sa ordered my life that it appears as if I were destined to readin perpetuumfor examination, and that my life, even if it were to be longer than I except, will...

    (pp. 135-143)

    I Will let S.K. tell the story of his brisk wooing as he told it in the Journal on August 24, 1849, in an entry about “My relation to Her” which occupies nine pages as it is now printed, besides several pages of marginal comment. I quote only the first part. Over it is inscribed the Virgilian line, “Infandum me jubes, Regina, renovare dolorem.”

    “In the summer of 1840 I took the official examination in theology. Then straightway I made a visit to my father’s birthplace in Jutland, and perhaps at that time was already fishing for her a bit,...

  15. THE AESTHETIC WORKS 1841 TO 1845
    (pp. 144-165)

    In Copenhagen S.K.’s conduct caused a great scandal. He faced it for a fortnight (that being a part of his plan to deceive Regina) and on October 25 he departed for Berlin with the intention of remaining a year and a half in the city which then was the intellectual capital of Europe. He was especially eager to hear Schelling demolish the Hegelian system, with the applause of the Court as well as of the University. On February 2, 1842, at the end of a long letter to Boesen he said: “This winter in Berlin will always have great importance...

    (pp. 166-175)

    The outstanding event of the year 1846 was the publication, on February 27, of theConcluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments,ascribed to the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, but bearing the name of S. Kierkegaard on the title page as editor. The big book (of 554 pages in the English edition) is quaintly described in the title as a “postscript” to a very small book published about two years earlier and ascribed to the same pseudonym—the same pseudonym, moreover, who was held responsible for a work entitledDe omnibus disputandum est,which was begun in 1842 and left unfinished...

    (pp. 176-187)

    The affair of theCorsair”was one of the major events in S.K.’s life, which outwardly was so uneventful but inwardly so intense. TheCorsairwas a comic paper founded by a talented young Jew, Aaron Goldschmidt, and by him so cleverly managed that it had attained the biggest circulation in Denmark. Though S.K. affirmed that it stood for no idea, Goldschmidt flattered himself that he was serving the idea of political liberalism by dragging down the great and revealing that they were not really superior to the vulgar. It paid “a glittering honorarium” to disloyal servants for betraying the...

    (pp. 188-195)

    On may 5, 1847, S.K. completed his thirty-fourth year—and was still alive! In a letter which he wrote to his brother on this date he expressed his amazement. He was inclined to suspect that his birth had been incorrectly registered and that he might still have time to die before he was thirty-four years old. This was the last vestige of the fixed idea his father’s melancholy presage had implanted in him. It will be remembered that he felt the same amazement at surviving his father. Strangely enough, the fact that Peter had already invalidated his father’s prophecy by...

    (pp. 196-200)

    If all of S.K.’s Edifying Discourses must be dealt with in one chapter, though they Stretch from the beginning to the end of his authorship (from 1843 to 1855), this obviously is the place for it; for it is at this point, just after the publication of thePostscript,and in consequence of the persecution he suffered from theCorsair,he became exclusively a religious author. Exclusively, he could say, except for one little piece of aesthetic criticism, an appreciation of Fru Heiberg as an actress, which he published in 1848 and which he often cited as proof that even...

    (pp. 201-209)

    In 1848 S.K. was an old man—an old man at thirty-five—and yet not too old to experience a profound transformation which made this year the most productive of his whole life. This year, which was so momentous in European history for the external effects produced by a belated concretion of the ideas of the French Revolution, was for S.K. the period of his most intense spiritual activity, which resulted in the production of his most admirable works. Professor Hirsch says that “the year 1848 represents the climax of Kierkegaard’s intellectual productiveness. . . .The Sickness unto Death...

  21. VENTURING FAR OUT 1849–1851
    (pp. 210-221)

    At the beginning of 1849—the year when gold was discovered in California—S.K. held in his hands a more precious treasure...and did not know what to do with it. Since the Easter experience of the preceding year he had written his three greatest books:The Point of View, The Sickness unto Death,andTraining in Christianity. These were the captain jewels in the coronet, but there were others: “A Cycle” of essays (the final recast of the book on Adler), of which a part was ultimately published in theTwo Little Ethico-Religious Treatises; Armed Neutrality(not quite finished and...

  22. HOLDING OUT 1852–1854
    (pp. 222-238)

    Incredible as it may seem, the Kierkegaard we are dealing with now is a resolute man. His Journals, which during these three years are more voluminous than ever, no longer contain excruciating debates as to whether he should seek an appointment in the Church, whether it would be given to him, how long his money will last, how clearly he ought to speak his mind, etc., etc. His resolution was definitely made, and never again was it shaken. From a very early period he had an exceedingly complicated knot to unravel. We have seen with sympathy, or perhaps with impatience,...

    (pp. 239-252)

    When the time came for him to speak S.K. did indeed say the definite thing he had to say, he said it again and again, and he said it very definitely. Essentially he had only one thesis, that “Christianity no longer exists.” “O Luther,” he exclaimed, “you had ninety-five theses—terrible! And yet, in a deeper sense, the more theses there are, the less terrible it is. The Situation now is far more terrible—I have only one thesis.” But this one thesis was accompanied and illustrated by a torrent of satire. His attack upon the Established Church of Denmark,...

    (pp. 253-256)

    While he was working on the last number of theInstantS.K. fell to the floor unconscious. Subsequently he had difficulty in walking, but he recovered sufficiently to take his customary promenades. On October 2 he fell unconscious in the Street. His legs were paralyzed. He was carried to Frederik’s Hospital, and as he entered it he said, “I have come here to die.” His trouble was vaguely attributed to disease of the spine. He affirmed that his ailment was psychic, and that their physical remedies were tried in vain. Forty days later he died.

    In the hospital he was...

    (pp. 257-260)

    Every “intellectual tragic hero” must have a last word to say which illuminates the significance of his life and makes clear the pertinence of his sacrifice. So said S.K. (or Johannes de silentio) inFear and Trembling.Hence he sought for the last word of Abraham, and the last word of Socrates. Of course he did not mean the last, half-articulate groan of a dying man; and I do not seek for S.K.’s last word in the account of his death at the hospital. He had been provident enough to utter his last word betimes, and to register it in...

    (pp. 261-264)
  27. How Kierkegaard Got into English
    (pp. 265-288)

    Mr. Charles Williams of the Oxford University Press, who from the first affectionately fostered the enterprise of publishing S.K.’s works in English, proposed to me several years ago that I ought to write a little book about this story. Although the story contains episodes of some interest, a whole book about it would be pretentious, I thought, and for the very fact that I wasgars magnain the undertaking I was shy at the thought of telling the tale. But after all who else could tell it? Now, too, when the edition is almost complete the reason for telling...

  28. INDEX
    (pp. 289-294)