Portrait of Knud Lyne Rahbek, by Christian Horneman, and silhouette of his wife Kamma Rahbek, by F.L. Schmitz in 1805.
A Literary Couple - Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek
Knud Lyne Rahbek was a professor of aesthetics, a writer, a literary critic, and a theatre director. He lived from 1760 to 1830 and was influential for both poets and writers in his own time and for the generations of writers that came after the Golden Age. He was the editor of various periodicals, including “Minerva” and “The Danish Spectator”, which contained news, scientific articles and literature. Some of the writers who joined the Rahbek circle had their writings published in his journals. In the late 18th century the clubs for Copenhagen’s gentry were a melting pot of ideas, a place where gentlemen met to play cards, drink punch, read newspapers, and discuss the topics of the day. Rahbek was an enthusiastic member of various clubs such as the Dreyer’s and the Norwegian Society. His views on society, politics, education, theatre, literature and many other things were strongly linked to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the cultural understandings of the 18th century.
In 1798, Knud Lyne Rahbek married a young woman called Karen Margrethe Heger, known affectionately as Kamma. The daughter of Anna Louise and Hans Heger, she was born 1775 and died 1829. Kamma Rahbek was both creatively and intellectually gifted. She shared her husband’s keen interest in literature, and together they opened their home to the visionary writers, artists and scientists of the time. Kamma Rahbek established close friendships with several of the people who became known as Bakkehuset’s circle. Although she never became a writer herself, she engaged in long correspondence with family members and close friends such as the poet Adam Oehlenschläger, the theologian J.P. Mynster and the historian Christian Molbech. Kamma Rahbek channelled her creativity into the making of boxes from card and paper; she worked on these from her youth until her death in 1829. In the years 1825-1827, she founded a little painting school, "Kunst Commerzen", in her home which supported her work of manufacturing boxes with professional drawing lessons. Her boxes often had a personal touch because inside she painted particular motifs or placed small objects inside intended for a specific recipient.
Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek moved into a floor apartment in Bakkehuset in 1802. Even in the early years of their residence an intellectual circle began to coalesce around them. In the beginning the inner core of this group was made up of the couple themselves, the poet Adam Oehlenschläger and Kamma Rahbek's brothers and sisters, Christiane, Carl and Steffen Heger as well as Steffen Heger's wife Eline. This august intellectual group soon expanded to include the linguist and hymnist B.S. Ingemann, the scientist H.C. Østed, the philosopher and scientist Henrich Steffens, the academic and poet Poul Martin Møller, the poet Christian Winther, the playwright and literary historian Johan Ludvig Heiberg and of course Hans Christian Andersen who, along with many others, spent some time at the Rahbek’s home. Bakkehuset became one of the most important meeting places in Copenhagen at this time – a time that would be called the Danish Golden Age.
Read more about the history of Bakkehuset.
Bakkehuset’s Literary Circle
The poet Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850) was one of the first people to come to the Rahbek's home at Bakkehuset. He became acquainted with the Rahbeks even before he became a published writer. In the intellectual climate of Bakkehuset his literary ambitions were stimulated. Here he met Kamma Rahbek's younger sister Christiane Heger, and in the year 1800 he became engaged to her. He made his literary debut in 1802 with a work entitled “Poems”, which was soon followed by the successful play “Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp” in 1805. Oehlenschläger wrote a large number of tragedies, based on historical Danish themes; these were performed at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. Starting in 1819 he began work on the poem “There is a Lovely Country”, that would later become the Danish national anthem.
Oehlenschläger enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Kamma Rahbek. From 1805-1809 Oehlenschläger made the Grand Tour of Europe’s artistic and culturally important sites, during this time he wrote many letters to Kamma Rahbek. Some of these letters were laid out to look like a spoof newspaper, and were given the name “The Dog Posts". The name came from the fact that many of these letters were adorned with a drawing of a small dog in the letterhead. After the completion of his Grand Tour in 1810 Adam Oehlenschläger married Christiane Heger, they had four children together, who also spent time in Bakkehuset. Many items belonging to Adam Oehlenschläger and portraits of him can be seen today in Bakkehuset.
The intellectual circle based around Bakkehuset expanded to include the philosopher and theologian N.S.F. Grundtvig, the linguist and hymnist B. S. Ingemann the scientist Hans Christian Ørsted. In their final years the Rahbeks were introduced to a young aspiring poet – Hans Christian Andersen.
Who does not know the fairy tales such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Little Mermaid” and “The Tinderbox”, all written by Hans Christian Andersen, a writer renowned across the world? Andersen even as a very young man was a visitor to Bakkehuset and today in the museum one can experience the same atmosphere that inspired Andersen himself. Andersen described Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek in his memoirs. In these he recounts that Kamma Rahbek had welcomed him warmly. At one point Andersen read some of his, as yet unpublished manuscripts to his host at Bakkehuset. According to Andersen’s own account Kamma Rahbek was the first to confer upon him the title of "poet". This finally convinced him to make poetry his calling in life. Andersen wrote two tragedies in 1822, “The Robbers of Vissenberg” and “Alfsol”, he submitted these anonymously to the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Knud Lyne Rahbek was actually a director at the theatre and he declined to stage the pieces. Despite this, Andersen's encounter with Rahbek and the Royal Theatre was a turning point in his life. Rahbek, along with his colleague Jonas Collin, recognised Andersen's talent as a writer and they encouraged him to study further. Andersen later completed grammar school and graduated in 1828. In 1829 he made his debut as a writer with the story "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager in the years 1828 and 1829”. Later he began to write the fairy tales that would make him world famous.
Read more about Danish literature from the Golden Age.
Portrait of the poet Adam Oehlenschläger, by the brothers Riepenhausen in 1809