SCENE FIRST(On the south-west coast of Morocco. A palm-grove. Under an awning, on ground covered with matting, a table spread for dinner. Further back in the grove hammocks are slung. In the offing lies a steam-yacht, flying the Norwegian and American colours. A jolly-boat drawn up on the beach. It is towards sunset. PEER GYNT, a handsome middle-aged gentleman, in an elegant travelling-dress, with a gold-rimmed double eyeglass hanging at his waistcoat, is doing the honours at the head of the table. MR. COTTON, MONSIEUR BALLON, HERR VON EBERKOPF, and HERR TRUMPETERSTRALE, are seated at the table finishing dinner.)
Drink, gentlemen! If man is made
for pleasure, let him take his fill then.
You know 'tis written: Lost is lost,
and gone is gone-. What may I hand you?
As host you're princely, Brother Gynt!
I share the honour with my cash,
with cook and steward-
let's pledge a toast to all the four!
Monsieur, you have a gout, a ton
that nowadays is seldom met with
among men living en garcon,-
a certain-what's the word-?
a tinge of free soul-contemplation,
an outlook through the cloudy rifts
by narrow prejudice unhemmed,
a stamp of high illumination,
an Ur-Natur, with lore of life,
to crown the trilogy, united.
Nicht wahr, Monsieur, 'twas that you meant?
Yes, very possibly; not quite
so loftily it sounds in French.
Ei was! That language is so stiff.-
But the phenomenon's final cause
if we would seek-
It's found already.
The reason is that I'm unmarried.
Yes, gentlemen, completely clear
the matter is. What should a man be?
Himself, is my concise reply.
He should regard himself and his.
But can he, as a sumpter-mule
for others' woe and others' weal?
But this same in-and-for-yourself-ness,
I'll answer for't, has cost you strife-
Ay yes, indeed; in former days;
but always I came off with honour.
Yet one time I ran very near
to being trapped against my will.
I was a brisk and handsome lad,
and she to whom my heart was given,
she was of royal family-
One of those old stocks,
you know the kind-
Old fossil Highnesses who make it
their pride to keep plebeian blots
excluded from their line's escutcheon.
Then nothing came of the affair?
The family opposed the marriage?
Far from it!
that certain circumstances made for
their marrying us without delay.
But, truth to tell, the whole affair
was, first to last, distasteful to me.
I'm finical in certain ways,
and like to stand on my own feet.
And when my father-in-law came out
with delicately veiled demands
that I should change my name and station,
and undergo ennoblement,
with much else that was most distasteful,
not to say quite inacceptable,-
why then I gracefully withdrew,
point-blank declined his ultimatum-
and so renounced my youthful bride.
(Drums on the table with a devout air.)
Yes, yes; there is a ruling Fate!
On that we mortals may rely;
and 'tis a comfortable knowledge.
And so the matter ended, eh?
Oh no, far otherwise I found it;
for busy-bodies mixed themselves,
with furious outcries, in the business.
The juniors of the clan were worst;
with seven of them I fought a duel.
That time I never shall forget,
though I came through it all in safety.
It cost me blood; but that same blood
attests the value of my person,
and points encouragingly towards
the wise control of Fate aforesaid.
Your outlook on the course of life
exalts you to the rank of thinker.
Whilst the mere commonplace empiric
sees separately the scattered scenes,
and to the last goes groping on,
you in one glance can focus all things.
One norm to all things you apply.
You point each random rule of life,
till one and all diverge like rays
from one full-orbed philosophy.-
And you have never been to college?
I am, as I've already said,
exclusively a self-taught man.
Methodically naught I've learned;
but I have thought and speculated,
and done much desultory reading.
I started somewhat late in life,
and then, you know, it's rather hard
to plough ahead through page on page,
and take in all of everything.
I've done my history piecemeal;
I never have had time for more.
And, as one needs in days of trial
some certainty to place one's trust in,
I took religion intermittently.
That way it goes more smoothly down.
One should not read to swallow all,
but rather see what one has use for.
Ay, that is practical!
(lights a cigar).
just think of my career in general.
In what case came I to the West?
A poor young fellow, empty-handed.
I had to battle sore for bread;
trust me, I often found it hard.
But life, my friends, ah, life is dear,
and, as the phrase goes, death is bitter.
Well! Luck, you see, was kind to me;
old Fate, too, was accommodating.
I prospered; and, by versatility,
I prospered better still and better.
In ten years' time I bore the name
of Croesus 'mongst the Charleston shippers.
My fame flew wide from port to port,
and fortune sailed on board my vessels-
What did you trade in?
I did most
in Negro slaves for Carolina,
and idol-images for China.
The devil, Uncle Gynt!
You think, no doubt, the business hovered
on the outer verge of the allowable?
Myself I felt the same thing keenly.
It struck me even as odious.
But, trust me, when you've once begun,
it's hard to break away again.
At any rate it's no light thing,
in such a vast trade-enterprise,
that keeps whole thousands in employ,
to break off wholly, once for all.
That "once for all" I can't abide,
but own, upon the other side,
that I have always felt respect
for what are known as consequences;
and that to overstep the bounds
has ever somewhat daunted me.
Besides, I had begun to age,
was getting on towards the fifties;-
my hair was slowly growing grizzled;
and, though my health was excellent,
yet painfully the thought beset me:
Who knows how soon the hour may strike,
the jury-verdict be delivered
that parts the sheep and goats asunder?
What could I do? To stop the trade
with China was impossible.
A plan I hit on-opened straightway
a new trade with the self-same land.
I shipped off idols every spring,
each autumn sent forth missionaries,
supplying them with all they needed,
as stockings, Bibles, rum, and rice-
Yes, at a profit?
Why, of course.
It prospered. Dauntlessly they toiled.
For every idol that was sold
they got a coolie well baptised,
so that the effect was neutralised.
The mission-field lay never fallow,
for still the idol-propaganda
the missionaries held in check.
Well, but the African commodities?
There, too, my ethics won the day.
I saw the traffic was a wrong one
for people of a certain age.
One may drop off before one dreams of it.
And then there were the thousand pitfalls
laid by the philanthropic camp;
besides, of course, the hostile cruisers,
and all the wind-and-weather risks.
All this together won the day.
I thought: Now, Peter, reef your sails;
see to it you amend your faults!
So in the South I bought some land,
and kept the last meat-importation,
which chanced to be a superfine one.
They throve so, grew so fat and sleek,
that 'twas a joy to me, and them too.
Yes, without boasting, I may say
I acted as a father to them,-
and found my profit in so doing.
I built them schools, too, so that virtue
might uniformly be maintained at
a certain general niveau,
and kept strict watch that never its
thermometer should sink below it.
Now, furthermore, from all this business
I've beat a definite retreat;-
I've sold the whole plantation, and
its tale of live-stock, hide and hair.
At parting, too, I served around,
to big and little, gratis grog,
so men and women all got drunk,
and widows got their snuff as well.
So that is why I trust,-provided
the saying is not idle breath:
Whoso does not do ill, does good,-
my former errors are forgotten,
and I, much more than most, can hold
my misdeeds balanced by my virtues.
(clinking glasses with him).
How strengthening it is to hear
a principle thus acted out,
freed from the night of theory,
unshaken by the outward ferment!
(who has been drinking freely during the preceding passages)
We Northland men know how to carry
our battle through! The key to the art
of life's affairs is simply this:
to keep one's ear close shut against
the ingress of one dangerous viper.
What sort of viper, pray, dear friend?
A little one that slyly wiles you
to tempt the irretrievable.
The essence of the art of daring,
the art of bravery in act,
is this: To stand with choice-free foot
amid the treacherous snares of life,-
to know for sure that other days
remain beyond the day of battle,-
to know that ever in the rear
a bridge for your retreat stands open.
This theory has borne me on,
has given my whole career its colour;
and this same theory I inherit,
a race-gift, from my childhood's home.
You are Norwegian?
Yes, by birth;
but cosmopolitan in spirit.
For fortune such as I've enjoyed
I have to thank America.
My amply-furnished library
I owe to Germany's later schools.
From France, again, I get my waistcoats,
my manners, and my spice of wit,-
from England an industrious hand,
and keen sense for my own advantage.
The Jew has taught me how to wait.
Some taste for dolce far niente
I have received from Italy,-
and one time, in a perilous pass,
to eke the measure of my days,
I had recourse to Swedish steel.
(lifting up his glass).
Ay, Swedish steel-?
The weapon's wielder
demands our homage first of all!
(They clink glasses and drink with him. The wine begins to go to his
All this is very good indeed;-
but, sir, I'm curious to know
what with your gold. you think of doing.
Hm; doing? Eh?
Yes, let us hear!
Well, first of all, I want to travel.
You see, that's why I shipped you four,
to keep me company, at Gibraltar.
I needed such a dancing-choir
of friends around my gold-calf-altar-
Well, but no one hoists
his sails for nothing but the sailing.
Beyond all doubt, you have a goal;
and that is-?
To be Emperor.
O'er all the world.
But how, friend-?
By the might of gold!
That plan is not at all a new one;
it's been the soul of my career.
Even as a boy, I swept in dreams
far o'er the ocean on a cloud.
I soared with train and golden scabbard,-
and flopped down on all-fours again.
But still my goal, my friends, stood fast.-
There is a text, or else a saying,
somewhere, I don't remember where,
that if you gained the whole wide world,
but lost yourself, your gain were but
a garland on a cloven skull.
That is the text-or something like it;
and that remark is sober truth.
But what then is the Gyntish Self?
The world behind my forehead's arch,
in force of which I'm no one else
than I, no more than God's the Devil.
I understand now where you're aiming!
(more and more elevated).
The Gyntish Self-it is the host
of wishes, appetites, desires,-
the Gyntish Self, it is the sea
of fancies, exigencies, claims,
all that, in short, makes my breast heave,
and whereby I, as I, exist.
But as our Lord requires the clay
to constitute him God o' the world,
so I, too, stand in need of gold,
if I as Emperor would figure.
You have the gold, though!
Ay, maybe for a nine-days' flourish,
as Emperor a la Lippe-Detmold.
But I must be myself en bloc,
must be the Gynt of all the planet,
Sir Gynt throughout, from top to toe!
Possess the earth's most exquisite beauty!
All century-old Johannisberger!
And all the blades of Charles the Twelfth!
But first a profitable opening
That's already found;
our anchoring here supplied me with it.
To-night we set off northward ho!
The papers I received on board
have brought me tidings of importance-!
(Rises with uplifted glass.)
It seems that Fortune ceaselessly
aids him who has the pluck to seize it-
Well? Tell us-!
Greece is in revolt.
The Greeks have risen in Hellas.
And Turkey's in a fix!
(Empties his glass.)
To Hellas! Glory's gate stands open!
I'll help them with the sword of France!
And I with war-whoops-from a distance!
And I as well-by taking contracts!
Lead on! I'll find again in Bender
the world-renowned spur-strap-buckles!
(falling on PEER GYNT'S neck).
Forgive me, friend, that I at first
misjudged you quite!
(pressing his hands).
I, stupid hound,
took you for next door to a scoundrel!
Too strong that; only for a fool-
(trying to kiss him).
I, Uncle, for a specimen
of Yankee riff-raff's meanest spawn-!
We've been in the dark-
What stuff is this?
We now see gathered
in glory all the Gyntish host
of wishes, appetites, and desires-!
So this is being Monsieur Gynt!
(in the same tone).
This I call being Gynt with honour!
But tell me-?
Don't you understand?
May I be hanged if I begin to!
What? Are you not upon your way
to join the Greeks, with ship and money-?
No, many thanks! I side with strength,
and lend my money to the Turks.
Witty, but a jest!
(after a short silence, leaning on a chair and assuming a dignified mien).
Come, gentlemen, I think it best
we part before the last remains
of friendship melt away like smoke.
Who nothing owns will lightly risk it.
When in the world one scarce commands
the strip of earth one's shadow covers,
one's born to serve as food for powder.
But when a man stands safely landed,
as I do, then his stake is greater.
Go you to Hellas. I will put you
ashore, and arm you gratis too.
The more you eke the flames of strife,
the better will it serve my purpose.
Strike home for freedom and for right!
Fight! storm! make hell hot for the Turks;-
and gloriously end your days
upon the Janissaries' lances.-
But I-excuse me-
(Slaps his pocket.)
I have cash,
and am myself, Sir Peter Gynt.
(Puts up his sunshade, and goes into the grove, where the hammocks are partly visible.)
The swinish cur!
No taste for glory-!
Oh, glory's neither here nor there;
but think of the enormous profits
we'd reap if Greece should free herself.
I saw myself a conqueror,
by lovely Grecian maids encircled.
Grasped in my Swedish hands, I saw
the great, heroic spur-strap-buckles!V
I my gigantic Fatherland's
culture saw spread o'er earth and sea-!
The worst's the loss in solid cash.
God dam! I scarce can keep from weeping!
I saw me owner of Olympus.
If to its fame the mountain answers,
there must be veins of copper in it,
that could be opened up again.
And furthermore, that stream Castalia,
which people talk so much about,
with fall on fall, at lowest reckoning,
must mean a thousand horse-power good-!
Still I will go! My Swedish sword
is worth far more than Yankee gold!
Perhaps; but, jammed into the ranks,
amid the press we'd all be drowned;
and then where would the profit be?
Accurst! So near to fortune's summit,
and now stopped short beside its grave!
(shakes his fist towards the yacht).
That long black chest holds coffered up
the nabob's golden nigger-sweat-!
A royal notion! Quick! Away!
It's all up with his empire now!
What would you?
Seize the power!
The crew can easily be bought.
On board then! I annex the yacht!
I grab the whole concern!
(Goes down to the jolly-boat.)
Why then self-interest commands me
to grab my share.
(Goes after him.)
A scurvy business-but-enfin!
(Follows the others.)
I'll have to follow, I suppose,-
but I protest to all the world-!