Søren Kierkegaard

Royal Danish Library

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard is at the forefront of those Danes whose thought has had the greatest impact on a global scale.

His fame is largely due to such masterpieces as Either/Or, Fear and Trem­bling and The Concept of Anxiety, but his entire canon has been greatly influen­tial in subsequent theological and philosophical thought.

In addition to his published works, Kierkegaard also left a vast quantity of letters, diaries, preparatory writings, manuscripts and notes, now held in a special archive at the Royal Library in Denmark. In 1997, this archive was included in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” list, recognising its place among the world’s most significant cultural legacies.

The material from the Kierkegaard Archive provides a unique opportunity to experience at close quarters his thought processes between the emergence of the idea and its commitment to paper – the point at which pen met paper, giving shape to the original ideas.

Kierkegaard’s 56-year-old father was hugely significant for the development of his son’s imagination and intellect. 

Former hosier Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard introduced his son to religious-philosophical thought; his father was also essential in a purely financial sense.

Kierkegaard left his family home in 1837. 

Here you can take a close look at the book of receipts for the considerable financial support received by the young theology student after leaving the family home.

Before his writings took their final form, Kierkegaard produced various ”writing exercises”, for example a drama entitled “The Battle between the New and the Old Soap-Cellars: A heroic-patriotic-cosmopolitan-philan­thropic-fatalistic drama in several acts” (1838). 

The manuscript, however, remained in the drawer, as might perhaps be expected from this chaotic page.

Another incomplete text is the autobiographical novel from around 1842-43 entitled “Johannes Climacus” or “De omnibus dubitandum est” (“Everything should be doubted”). 

It may have been abandoned because Kierkegaard was unable to reconcile the genre of the novel with philo­sophical doctrine.

At the age of 27, Søren Kierkegaard became engaged to Regine Olsen, who was 10 years his junior. He broke off the engagement after just 13 months, but the relationship nonetheless had significant impact on Kierkegaard and his work.

This letter to Regine Olsen, with Kierkegaard’s drawing of Knippelsbro – close to where Regine lived – opens with a lesson as a prelude to his observations on the self-reflecting function of spyglasses: “This is the Knippelsbro. I am that person with the spyglass. As you know, figures appearing in a landscape are apt to look somewhat curious. You may take comfort, therefore, in the fact that I do not look quite that ugly and that every artis­tic conception always retains something of the ideal, even in caricature.”

In Kierkegaard’s testament, addressed to his brother and probably writ­ten in 1851, he nominates his former fiancée as the unconditional bene­ficiary of all he owns. “What I want to declare is that, for me, an engage­ment is just as binding as a marriage and therefore I leave my effects to her just as though I were married to her.”

At the age of 30, Kierkegaard published one of his principal works, Either/Or. 

Here notes and draft of “Diary of a Seducer” – the most famous part of the book.

In this manuscript version of another part of Either/Or, “Diapsalmata”, Kierkegaard has systemati­cally deleted great chunks of the text with strokes of ink. 

Only the intro­ductory words have survived: 

“I prefer speaking to children; for of them it can be hoped that they will grow into reasonable creatures; but those who have become so –Lord Jemini!”

Kierkegaard regarded himself first and foremost as a religious writer and therefore published his seminal works on psychology, philosophy and human existence under various pseudonyms.

Title page of the final manuscript to “Philosophical Fragments”, demonstrating that even at this last stage, Kierkegaard carries out ex­tensive amendments to his manuscript.

With the exception of Either/Or, the work most widely associated with Søren Kierkegaard is probably The Concept of Anxiety, notwithstanding the fact that it is one of his most difficult books. Kierkegaard spent less than four months preparing the text. He wrote the draft in a series of colourful booklets.

Alongside his pseudonymous writings, Kierkegaard also delivered, under his own name, a series of sermons directly to his readers. These he called “upbuilding discourses”.

Very few drafts of "Three Upbuilding Discourses survive. 

This is a draft of the first discourse with the heading: “Think about your Creator in your Youth”.

Clean copy of the title page to Four Upbuilding Discourses. 

The title page is an example of Kierkegaard’s usual meticulousness with regard to the layout of his books: “To the typesetter: the whole book is to be printed using the same typescripts as were used in 1843 for Two Upbuilding Discourses and with the same number of lines per page.”

From childhood, Kierkegaard had a sharp tongue and a flair for debate and satire. 

He was unable to resist temptation when literary critic P.L. Møller published a personal attack against him: Kierkegaard wrote a satirical response to the charges, resulting in an intensive campaign against Kierkegaard in the magazine “The Corsair”.

Cartoonist P.C. Klæstrup (1820-82) was a regular contributor to The Cor­sair. 

He is best known today for his many caricatures of Søren Kierkegaard in which he was depicted in eccentric postures, exaggerating – and mock­ing – his less flattering physical features and his attire.

Following the Corsair affair, Kierkegaard directed his attention towards his Christian writings and completed a number of his religious works. 

From this manuscript of “The Sickness Unto Death” it is evident that the book was originally intended for publication under Søren Kierkegaard’s own name, but he decided instead to use the pseudonym “Anti-Clima­cus”, with himself as the publisher.

Kierkegaard was both self-absorbed and preoccupied by the world around him. In a large number of notebooks and journals, he recorded and reflected upon his inner and outer life. These writings are both valuable in themselves and of incalculable worth as supplementary material for his published works.

Shown here is an entry from February 1846, in which Kierkegaard re­counts how his father cursed God, an event which played a lasting role in his self-understanding – even after his father’s death eight years earlier: “How appalling for the man who, as a lad watching sheep on the Jutland heath, suffering painfully, hungry and exhausted, once stood on a hill and cursed God — and the man was unable to forget it when he was eighty-two years old.”

From 1846 Kierkegaard worked on several texts with the intention of summarising his pseudonymous works. He now acknowledged his authorship of the pseudonymous texts.

Here an early, preliminary outline of the contents of Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. The book has not yet been given its final title.

The fair copy print manuscript of “The Point of View of my Work as an Au­thor” was lost during the process of the work’s publication by his brother, but some draft material survives. 

This chaotic entry provides an excellent insight into the onerous process Kierkegaard underwent in the develop­ment of his direct message.

Clean copy of “Christ is the Way” from ”For Self-Examination: Recom­mended to the Present Age".

A long piece of text has been deleted with a pencil. It has been replaced by the marginal addition, written in ink, on page 106.

A memorial service on behalf of the prominent Bishop Mynster provoked Kierkegaard into a violent confrontation with the established Church and clergy. 

Here draft of contents to “The Moment, no. 3” with three articles edited out.

The manuscript of the article “Take an Emetic!”, which provides a fla­vour of the kind of language Kierkegaard uses to capture the attention of the reader. 

He denounces the preached Christianity as a sickness, where faith is half-hearted, making no claims upon and demanding no sacrifices of the individual

This final entry in Kierkegaard’s hand was written on 25 September 1855. Eight days later, he was admitted to Frederik’s Hospital, where he died on 11 November, aged 42.

“This is life’s destiny: to be brought to the highest degree of weariness with life. Anyone brought to this point who can insist, or anyone who with God’s help can insist, that it is God who has brought him there out of love: he has, as a Christian, taken life’s examination and is ripe for eternity.”

Credits: Story

Curators — Bruno Svindborg & Ditte Maria Bergstrøm
Based upon the Royal Librarys Exhibition "The Original Kierkegaard" from 2013.

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