D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Other (Posthumous) Works

Letters And Documents

  • Letters and Documents
  • Breve og Aktstykker
  • KW25, SKS28, Breve og Aktstykker vedrørende Søren Kierkegaard

This collection, according to the editor, H. Rosenmeier, contains every known piece of correspondence to or from Kierkegaard. Documents included are certificates of baptism and vaccination, as well as school and medical records. The letters themselves prove interesting, especially those to Regine Olsen, his once-betrothed. One item in particular is revelatory. It is a note written by Kierkegaard to be opened after his death. His brother Peter found it was found locked in Kierkegaard's desk.

Dear Brother,

It is, of course, my will that my former fiancée, Mrs. Regine Schlegel [née Olsen], inherit without condition whatever little I may leave. If she herself will not accept it, she is to be asked if she would be willing to administer it for distribution to the poor.

What I wish to give expression to is that to me an engagement was and is just as binding as a marriage, and that therefore my estate is her due, exactly as if I had been married to her (p. 33).

Kierkegaard ended the year-long engagement to Regine in 1841. Later, after she married her piano instructor Herr Schlegel, Kierkegaard approached her to re-establish their relationship on a friendly basis. Herr Schlegel would have none of it, and in fact she had little to do with the decision. But through this letter, Kierkegaard has, so to speak, the last word. The letter itself is clear as to the intent of his heart: it is formal, given that it is an expression of the heart, and casual, given that it is a legal document. Rosenmeier says, "This will is presumed to have been written in 1849.... Peter Christian Kierkegaard [his brother] found it sealed and locked up in S. K.'s desk. In the desk was another sealed document, dated August, 1851. On the cover it said, 'To be opened after my death.' It contained S. K.'s literary will and testament: 'The unidentified one whose name shall one day be identified—to whom all my activity as an author is dedicated—is my erstwhile fiancée, Mrs. Regine Schlegel.' Mrs. Schlegel refused the inheritance and only requested the return of a few personal items and of her letters".

Kierkegaard, aware of his unsuitability as a prospective husband, sought to break the engagement with Regine Olsen in 1841. She protested vehemently to the point that he pretended to be a scoundrel so as to make the break easier. She was intelligent enough to see through this. This letter, written in 1849, reveals his sorrow over his actions.

That I was cruel is true; that I, committed to a higher relationship, not simply for the sake of my virtue, had to be so because of love is a certainty; that you have suffered indescribably I realize; but I was to suffer more, I believe and know.—Nevertheless, I am ready to ask your forgiveness—provided you understand it as follows, provided you harbor no other explanation of our relationship than the fabrication, provided and forced upon you by my solicitude, that I was a black-hearted villain who broke a sacred obligation out of self-love, cruelly deceiving a lovely young girl who with all the righteousness of innocence on her side, with almost worshipful admiration and almost childlike devotion, entrusted herself to him. Provided you understand the matter in that way, then let me remain in the character of that pious deception: I am a villain, but now I come as a suffering penitent and beg forgiveness (Letter 235, p. 322f.).

Many of the more revelatory letters are to his great friend Emil Boesen. Kierkegaard confided in him about Regine, who often remains unnamed. Boesen felt that Kierkegaard would have been better off without updates on Regine. Kierkegaard responds.

So you would leave me to my Daydreams! In this you are mistaken. I am not dreaming, I am awake. I do not turn her into poetry. I do not call her to my mind, but I call myself to account. This is as far as I can go: I think I am able to turn anything into poetry, but when it comes to duty, obligation, responsibility, etc., I cannot and will not turn those into poetic subjects. If she had broken our engagement, my soul would soon have driven the plough of forgetfulness over her, and she would have served me as others have done before her—but now, now I serve her. If it were in her power to surround me with vigilant scouts who were always putting me in mind of her, she could still not be so clearly remembered as she is now in all her righteousness, all her beauty, all her pain. So just keep me informed. In the course of these recent events my soul has received a needed baptism, but that baptism was certainly not by sprinkling, for I have descended into the waters, all has gone black before my eyes, but I rise to the surface again. Nothing, after all, so develops a human being as adhering to a plan in defiance of the whole world. Even if it were something evil, it would still serve to a high degree to develop a person... (Letter 50, p. 93).

Another letter to Boesen shows Kierkegaard's great fecundity of thought and need to express the ideas he was brimming over with. Moreover, it reveals the latent tendency toward insanity in the Kierkegaard family, as well as his frail physique. Kierkegaard was quite surprised when he survived past the age of thirty-three, which was roughly the span of a generation, and was the age of Christ when he was crucified.

I have finished a work important to me; I am in full spate with a new one, and I cannot do without my library, also a printer. In the beginning I was ill but am now to all intents and purposes well, that is, my spirit swells and will probably do my body to death. I have never worked so hard as now. In the morning I go out for a little, then come home and sit in my room without interruption until about three o'clock. My eyes can hardly see. Then I sneak off with my walking-stick to the restaurant, but am so weak that I think that if anyone called out my name I would keel over and die. Then I go home and begin again. The past months I had in my indolence pumped up a shower-bath and now I have pulled the string and the ideas are cascading down upon me: healthy, happy, thriving, gay, blessed children, born with ease and yet all of them with the birthmark of my personality. Otherwise, as I said, I am weak, my legs shake, my knees ache, etc.... If I do not die on the way, I believe that you will find me happier than before. It is a new crisis, whether it means that I now begin living or that I am to die. There would be one more way out: that I lost my mind. God knows. But wherever I end up, I shall never forget to employ the passion of irony in its justified defiance of any non-human half-philosophers who understand neither this nor that, and whose whole skill consists in scribbling down German compendia and thus defiling what was a worthier origin by making nonsense of it (Letter 83, p. 154).

H. L. Martensen, the future Primate of Denmark, applied the Hegelian system to Church dogmatics. Kierkegaard's brother Peter, who was a pastor, took an opportunity to side with Martensen against him in an address to the Roskilde Convention. This wounded Kierkegaard deeply. The brothers' falling out was to last through Kierkegaard's life. When he was hospitalized during his final days, he would not permit Peter to enter his room. Peter in turn refused to mark his gravesite within the family plot.

I have now read your article in Kierketidenden [Church Gazette]. To be honest, it has pained me in more ways than one. But it would go too far afield to enter into that here. Let me thank you, on the other hand, for the article inasmuch as you meant well by it.

Incidentally, if I am to be compared as an author with Martensen, I think it should in fairness have been said that only one aspect of me was considered, that I am an author with a different orientation from Martensen's and use another yardstick. This, however, is of minor importance. But if I am to be compared with Martensen qua author, it does seem to me that you should have pointed out the essential difference that I have made unusual sacrifices while he has gained unusual profit. Perhaps it should also be remembered that Martensen really has no primitivity [that is, connectedness to pure nascent Christianity] but allows himself without further ado to appropriate all of German scholarship as his own.

Finally, I think for your own sake and mine you should modify your utterance about me. If what you say is appropriate at all, it applies to two of my pseudonyms. As author of upbuilding discourses (my authentic, avowed writing, which is already quite voluminous) it doesn't exactly fit. I have myself begged in print that this distinction be observed. It is important for me, and in conclusion I could have wished that precisely you should not help in any way to give credence to a carelessness under which I have to suffer often enough (Letter 240, p. 337).

As years passed Kierkegaard drifted from his friend Emil Boesen on issues of the church. However, Boesen was the only one whom he could still confide in. After Boesen had taken a pastorate, Kierkegaard wrote to him, in a letter of April 12, 1850, about a number of things, including the art of composing sermons. The letter closes on a melancholy note.

First a reminder: if you want to write to me please write so I can read it. This wasn't writing at all, but small pinpricks on monstrously thin paper. I could have used a microscope to read it.

Iam ad alia [Now on to other things]. So finally I got a letter from you. And what do I read in it? I read that when you used to visit me, I was usually the one who did most of the talking, so I ought to do most of the writing as well. Excellent! There's gratitude for you! But enough of that. You have three wishes. The first two concern your father and your fiancée, both of whom I am supposed to visit. Answer: can't be done. That you could have forgotten me so completely in such a short time! I happened to run into your fiancée on the street and told her that you had asked me to visit her, and also what I had decided to reply to you on the subject, using the opportunity there and then to say it to her. As for your father, you know how fond I am of him, not to mention how dear the memories are that the sight of him brings to mind, but I have been away from it all for so long that it would take some accident to get it started again.

Finally, you want to learn the art of constructing themata. Now there you see, you have given me one. Besides, in my view there's nothing more foolish than to sit down and try to come up with a theme. For that you must arrange your life sensibly. See to it that every day you have at least half an hour for incidental reading in the New Testament, or a devotional work. When you go for a walk you must let your thoughts flutter randomly, sniffing here and there, letting them have a go now here, now there. That is how to arrange one's housekeeping. Themata are the accidents that the week should deliver to you in abundance. But the more you see to it that the dividends are uncertain, the freer, better, richer they will become, and the more striking, surprising, penetrating.

I am happy to learn that you are pleased with your new position. I had expected as much. In a sense, you have a lot coming to you, but also a lot to catch up with, for, as I've always said, you took far too long before taking orders. But of course that will soon pass. Your relationship with me eventually stopped being truly beneficial for you precisely because you were not quite sure what you wanted. As soon as you have consolidated yourself a little as a clergyman, ditto as a married man, you will see that, from this firmer basis, you will view me with a new equanimity and gain more pleasure and satisfaction as a result.

As for me, everything is as usual. As you know, I am reluctant to discuss this further in a letter. Live well, be hale, hearty, happy and confident! Before you lies, I hope, a smiling summer, which I suppose you are looking forward to and which will also bring you encouragement as well as smiles. So be happy, and let me have the happiness of being happy with someone who is happy, and let that happy someone be you (Letter 263, p. 357f.).

In late 1854 Kierkegaard began his assault on official Christianity, which was triggered by the political and theological stance of Pastor J. Mynster (who had died before the attack began) and his successor H. L. Martensen. In 1854 Mynster's son gave to Kierkegaard a book written by his father. Kierkegaard replies to the son. This makes evident that Kierkegaard was clear on the issues, and was not attacking mere personalities.

Thank you, Pastor Mynster, for remembering me with such affection! I found it, in all sincerity, most touching, and that is also why I shall keep your little note that accompanied the book you sent me.

But I cannot accept the book itself. My relationship with your late father was of quite a special kind. I told him privately the first time I spoke with him, and in as solemn terms as possible, how much I disagreed with him. Privately, I have told him again and again—and I shall not forget that he had the good will to listen to me with sympathy—that my principal concern was the memory of my late father.

Now that he is dead, I must stop. I must and now mean to have the freedom to be able to speak out, whether or not I want to, without having to take such things into consideration. And for that reason I ought to avoid everything that might bring about any misunderstanding that might be binding on me, such as for example now accepting this book. For, as your sending it to me says (and that was nice of you!) that everything is as it used to be—well, but that is not the way it is. Dear Pastor M., if this should have such an unpleasant and disturbing effect that you do not think you can maintain your affection for me, please be assured of one thing: I remain

Your affectionate S. K. (Letter 299, p. 417f.)

Altogether there are over 300 pieces of correspondence.

(More notes forthcoming).