Søren Kierkegaard and Georg Brandes

Georg Brandes was the first to introduce the writings of Soren Kierkegaard to Europe. He published his Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature in 1873 in German and it was translated into English in 1902. Brandes published Soren Kierkegaard in 1879. But it hasn’t been translated from the German yet. The link takes you to the German edition.

Then in 1906 Brandes published Recollections of My Childhood and Youth in English. And Friedrich Nietzsche in English 1914.  Below is an entry about Kierkegaard from the Encyclopedia Britannica 1882, in which the author gives credit to Brandes for the content. Another article from the same Encyclopedia gives Brandes credit in 1910.

Georg Brandes: Reminisces of my Childhood and Youth
click here

  • Soren Kierkegaard 5 May 1811 – 11 November 1855
  • Friedrich Nietzsche October 15, 1844 – August 25 1900
  • Georg Brandes 4 February 1842 – 19 February 1927

Anderson, Muller and Kierkegaard  From Eminent Authors of the Nineteenth Century: Literary Portraits 1886 by Georg Brandes click on link above


Kierkegaard, Soren (1813-1855), the greatest philosophical writer that Scandinavia has produced, was born at Copenhagen, May 5, 1813, and was the seventh child of a respectable Jutland hosier. He was a very serious and precocious boy, weak in health, morbid in character. Of his mother, singularly enough, he has said no word in his copious autobiographical remains, although he was in his twenty-second year when she died; she had been his father’s servant.

Kierkegaard became a student at the university of Copenhagen, and took up theology as a profession, but never became a priest. He lived in great retirement, deeply oppressed with melancholy and physical suffering, and was at first very little known to his contemporaries. In 1838 he published his first volume, Papers of a Still Living Man, a very poor attempt to characterize Hans Andersen.

Two years later he took his degree, with a treatise On Irony, which contains the germs of his later speculations. In 1840 he engaged himself to a young lady, and shortly after broke off the engagement, an extraordinary step for which he has given many extraordinary reasons, it was not until 1842 that he began the composition of his greatest work, Enten Eller (“Either Or”), on which his reputation mainly rests; this appeared in 1843, and was immediately followed by a rapid succession of philosophical works, which formed at once an epoch in the history of Danish literature.

From 1849 to 1854, however, he was silent as an author. In the last-mentioned year he published a polemical tract against Bishop Martensen, and the short remainder of his life was spent in a feverish agitation against the theology and practice of the state church. But his health, which had always been miserable, was growing worse and worse. In October 1855 he took up his abode in one of the chief hospitals of Copenhagen, where he died, on the llth of November, at the age of forty-two.

His life has been written, with great skill and brilliance, by Dr Georg Brandes (1877). Kierkegaard published about thirty distinct books during his life-time, and left at his death about an equal amount of MS; a competent analysis of these multifarious labours is given in Brandes’s admirable biography.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica; a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature Ninth Edition volume 16 published 1882 p. 72

george brandes soren k in german 2

From: Friedrich Nietzsche by Brandes

Why you exist, says Nietzsche with Sören Kierkegaard, nobody in the world can tell you in advance; but since you do exist, try to give your existence a meaning by setting up for yourself as lofty and noble a goal as you can.

Nietzsche in the interests of his attack seizes upon the word neighbour. Not only does he demand, with Kierkegaard, a setting-aside of morality for the sake of the end in view, but he is exasperated that the true nature of morality should be held to consist in a consideration of the immediate results of our actions, to which we are to conform.

There is one Scandinavian writer whose works would interest you, if only they were translated: Sören Kierkegaard; he lived from 1813 to 1855, and is in my opinion one of the profoundest psychologists that have ever existed. A little book I wrote about him (translated, Leipzig, 1879) gives no adequate idea of his genius, as it is a sort of polemical pamphlet written to counteract his influence. But in a psychological respect it is, I think, the most subtle thing I have published.

Friedrich Nietzsche by Georg Brandes Click here

Friedrich Nietzsche 1861

Kierkegaard wrote about the neighbor in his 1847 book Works of Love. Science was saying we can’t begin with any presuppositions but Kierkegaard says Christianity begins with the presupposition of the neighbor whom thou shalt love. (Click on link above)


But the second commandment is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. — Matthew 22:39

Every speech, especially a portion of a speech, usually presupposes something from which it proceeds. He who desires to make the speech or the assertion a subject of reflection does well, therefore, to look first for this presupposition, in order to start from it. So there is also a presupposition contained in the text we read, which although it comes last is nevertheless the starting point.

Therefore when we are told : “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” then this statement contains the presupposition that every man loves himself. Consequently Christianity presupposes this, since Christianity, unlike those ambitious thinkers, by no means begins without presuppositions, or with a flattering assumption. Works of Love p. 15


Back to Brandes

A third significant feature in La Nouvelle Héloïse is that, just as we have passion in place of gallantry and inequality of station in place of similarity of rank, we have also the moral conviction of the sanctity of marriage in place of that honour grounded on aristocratic pride and self-respect, which stood for virtue in fashionable literature. This word, Virtue, little in vogue until now, became with Rousseau and his school a watchword which was in perfect harmony with their other watchword, Nature; for to Rousseau virtue was a natural condition.

Following the example of society, French literature had been making merry at the expense of marriage; Rousseau, therefore, defied the spirit of the times by writing a book in its honour. His heroine returns the passion of her lover, but marries another, to whom she remains faithful.

Here, as in Werther, the lover proper loses the maiden, who is wedded to a Monsieur Wolmar (the Albert of Werther and the Edward of Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer), a man as irreproachable as he is uninteresting. The moral conviction which is vindicated and glorified in Rousseau as Virtue, is the same as that which in Chateaubriand, under the influence of the religious reaction, takes the form of a binding religious vow.

Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature – 1. The Emigrant Literature 1873 German 1902 English by Georg Brandes

Georg Brandes librivox
Georg Brandes

There are two types of artist soul. There is the one which needs many varying experiences and constantly changing models, and which instantly gives a poetic form to every fresh incident. There is the other which requires amazingly few outside elements to fertilise it, and for which a single life circumstance, inscribed with sufficient force, can furnish a whole wealth of ever-changing thought and modes of expression. Sören Kierkegaard among writers, and Max Klinger among painters, are both great examples of the latter type.

William Shakespeare: A Critical Study by Georg Brandes 1905Click above


We find the same admiration of wish in Kierkegaard’s Enten-Eller (Either-Or). “The reason why Aladdin is so refreshing is that we feel the childlike audacity of genius in its wildly fantastic wishes. How many are there in our day who dare really wish?” &c. The childlike, for ever the childlike! But who can wonder that wish, the mother of religions, the outward expression of inaction, became the catchword of the Romanticists? Wish is poetry; society as it exists, prose. It is only when we judge them from this standpoint that we rightly understand even the most serene, most chastened works of Germany’s greatest poets.

“We must remember,” says Kierkegaard (Begrebet Ironi, p. 322), “that Tieck and the entire Romantic School entered, or believed they entered, into relations with a period in which men were, so to speak, petrified, in final, unalterable social conditions. Everything was perfected and completed, in a sort of divine Chinese perfection, which left no reasonable longing unsatisfied, no reasonable wish unfulfilled. The glorious principles and maxims of ‘use and wont’ were the objects of a pious worship; everything, including the absolute itself, was absolute; men refrained from polygamy; they wore peaked hats; nothing was without its significance. Each man felt, with the precise degree of dignity that corresponded to his position, what he effected, the exact importance to himself and to the whole, of his unwearied endeavour.

Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature – 2. The Romantic School in Germany by Georg Brandes
Click above –

Georg Brandes

To the end De Maistre was true to his character; he would not yield a foot of the ground that had been lost centuries before.

He is a great and fascinating personality, this successful advocate of a lost cause, which unmistakably gained ground during his lifetime. As the upholder of authority, of monarchy, and of the gloomy view of life, as the disputant, as the knight of Christianity, and as the scorner of science, he has a faint resemblance to Kierkegaard. But his system is an edifice of ideas relating to the outer, Kierkegaard’s one of ideas relating to the inner, world.

Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature – 3. The Reaction in France by Georg Brandes

Sk Black 1

Kierkegaard, Soren Aaby (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, the seventh child of a Jutland hosier, was born in Copenhagen on the 5th of May 1813. As a boy he was delicate precocious and morbid in temperament. He studies theology at the university of Copenhagen, where he graduated in 1840 with a treatise On Irony. For two years he travelled in Germany, and in  1842 settled finally in Copenhagen, where he died on the 11th of November 1855.

He had lived in studious retirement, subject to physical suffering and depression. His first volume, Papers of a Still Living Man (1838), a characterization of Hans Andersen, was a failure, and he was for some time unnoticed. In 1843 he published Euten-Eller (Either-or) (4th edition 1878), a work on which his reputation mainly rests; it is a discussion of the ethical and aesthetic ideas of life.

In his last years he  carried on a feverish agitation against the theology and practice of the state church, on the ground that religion is for the individual soul, and is to be separated absolutely from the state and the world. In general his philosophy was a reaction against the speculative thinkers-Steffens (q.v.), Niels Treschow (1751-1833) and Frederik Christian Sibbern (1785-1872); it was based on the absolute dualism of Faith and Knowledge.

His chief follower was Rasmus Neilsen (1809-1884) and he was opposed by Georg Brandes, who wrote a brilliant account of his life and works. As a dialectician he has been described as little inferior to Plato, and his influence on the literature of Denmark is considerable both in style and in matter. To him Ibsen owed his character Brand in the  drama of that name.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, 11th ed., Published 1910 by Encyclopaedia Britannica in New York .


What I have so often said to you I say now once again, or rather I shout it: Either/or, aut/aut. For a single aut adjoined as a rectification does not make the situation clear, since the question here at issue is so important that one cannot rest satisfied with a part of it, and in itself it is too coherent to be possessed partially.

There are situations in life where it would be ridiculous or a species of madness to apply an either/or; but also, there are men whose souls are too dissolute (in the etymological sense of the word) to grasp what is implied in such a dilemma, whose personalities lack the energy to say with pathos, Either/or. Upon me these words have always made a deep impression, and they still do, especially when I pronounce them absolutely and without specific reference to any objects, for this use of them suggests the possibility of starting the most dreadful contrasts into action.

They affect me like a magic formula of incantation, and my soul becomes exceeding serious, sometimes almost harrowed.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or Vol II 1843 Swenson/Lowrie translation 1944 p. 133 Click above

The Rotation of Crops from Soren Kierkegaard’s Either/Or Volume I 1843 Click above

either-or internal2




2 thoughts on “Søren Kierkegaard and Georg Brandes

  1. I know that Soren Kirkegaards mother was his father’s second wife. She was from Brande (Brandlund) and was his housekeeper. He made her pregnant and married her and they had 7 children and moved to Copenhagen. Since she could do simple reading but not write, my best guess why she was not mentioned more is that he was embarrassed over her. She was from a very simple upbringing in a village opposite his father was from the biggest town in this area at that time. She was not simpleminded though, but lived the role women had at that time being a mother and grandmother. Kierkegaard was known to be a snob. I live in Brande, which is today no longer a village but a town in rapid development.


    1. Thanks for your comment and background information about Anne. Anne Sørensdatter Lund, 1768-1834, had been a servant girl in Michael’s home since 1794. Anne was the daughter of tenant farmer Soren Jensen Lund of Brandlund in Jutland and Maren Larsdatter who had six children, two sons and four daughters. I think Soren wrote about his mother in an indirect way.


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