Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791 - 1860)

By Stewart, Jon | Scandinavian Review, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791 - 1860)


Stewart, Jon, Scandinavian Review


Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791-1860) an introduction by Jon Stewart 2000 Inger Sjoberg Prize Winner

In Denmark in the first half of the 19th century (during the period known as the Golden Age), while thinkers such as Soren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen were laboring in obscurity, it was Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791 - 1860) who stood at the focal point of Copenhagen's rich and varied intellectual life. Through his vast range of activities, he came to dominate Golden Age culture for a quarter of a century. He is, perhaps, best known among present-day Danes in the context of the celebrated Royal Theater. He introduced French vaudeville as a genre to the Danish stage, and his own vaudevilles soon became classics in the history of Danish theater. He wrote and translated dramas and held the post of Director at the Royal Theater for many years. In addition to this, he was also a philosopher: He wrote works on aesthetics, logic, philosophy of history, philosophy of nature, and philosophy of language, all generally from the perspective of Hegel's thought. Moreover, he was one of Denmark's leading poets during the heyday of Danish poetry. He wrote many kinds of poetry, including lyric and versified dramas. Further, he founded and edited the leading academic journals of the day, such as Kjobenhavns flyvende Post (Copenhagen's Flying Post), Intelligensblade (Intelligence Papers), and Perseus. These journals provided the forum for Heiberg to become the leading aesthetic theorist of the day and to form his own school of criticism. The main philosophical and literary debates of the age were carried out in his journals and their rivals.

Heiberg's home was among the most important literary salons of Golden Age Copenhagen; his father, Peter Andreas Heiberg (1758 -- 1841), was an accomplished author in his own right, and his mother, Thomasine Buntzen, known as Fru Gyllembourg (1773 - 1856), became an extremely popular novelist relatively late in life. They saw to it that their son received a traditional humanist education, which was to prepare him for his later literary endeavors. Evidence of this education can be seen in the fact that, in addition to his native Danish, Heiberg wrote in German, French and Latin. He was among the most cosmopolitan thinkers of the 19th century, traveling throughout Scandinavia, England, France, Prussia and the German states. …

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