‘Les Adieux de l’Hermite de Dronning-Gaard’

‘Les Adieux de l’Hermite de Dronning-Gaard’

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Næsseslottet, 136 Dronninggårds Allé 136, DK-2840, Holte, Denmark

Description: This monument, tucked away in the gardens of the Dronninggård estate, northwest of Copenhagen, is, remarkably, the source of an essentially unknown poem by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), the influential essayist, critic, journalist and poet, and the leader of the so-called ‘Cockney’ school of English Romanticism. Designed by the Danish neoclassical sculptor Johannes Wiedewelt (1731-1802), the monument features a twenty-nine line poem in French by the Dutch cavalry officer Jean Frédéric Henry de Drevon (1734-97), inscribed on a tablet of Norwegian marble. De Drevon’s lines are the source for Hunt’s poem, which was first published by John Carr (1772-1832) in A Northern Summer, in 1805.

In 1781, the wealthy, Copenhagen-based Dutch merchant Frédérick de Coninck (1740-1811) purchased Dronninggård House (now Næsseslottet) for use as his summer home. As part of his extensive restoration work on the estate, in 1785-86 de Coninck invited his childhood friend, de Drevon, to redesign the gardens. De Drevon used the newly popular ‘English’ style, thereby creating one of the earliest ‘romantic’ gardens in Denmark. As part of this work, de Drevon oversaw the construction of an artificial hermitage and various other monuments, some of them bearing lengthy compositions in verse – as recorded in his Description de Dronning-Gaard, Terre Située dans l’Isle de Zelande en Dannemark (1786).

When the well-known English travel writer John Carr visited the estate in 1804, he was impressed by the story of the ‘hermit’ which he seems to have taken at face value: the monument supposedly commemorated an officer suffering from a broken heart, who came to Dronninggård to live out his days in retirement, only to be called away again on military service, during which he was killed. This story was evidently based in part upon de Drevon’s own life, although Carr probably did not know this. Carr made a transcription on the spot of de Drevon’s ‘Les Adieux’ (this does not feature in de Drevon’s Description) and subsequently asked his friend Leigh Hunt to make a translation, which he included in his account of his trip, A Northern Summer (1805).

Hunt’s text has yet to be included in an edition of his works. ‘Farewell of the Hermit of Dronningaard’ is less a translation than an extempore upon de Drevon’s lines. It is thirteen lines longer than the original, draws evidently upon aspects of Carr’s account of his experiences at Dronninggård, and makes allusions to political and domestic strife which seem of more relevance to Hunt’s own personal circumstances, and to the turbulent situation in England and Europe in 1804-05, than to de Drevon’s in Denmark in 1786.

Farewell of the Hermit of Dronningaard

Vain would life’s pilgrim, lingering on his way,
Snatch the short respite of a summer’s day;
Pale Sorrow, bending o’er his sad repose,
Still finds a tear in ev’ry shelt’ring rose:
Still breaks his dream, and leads th’unwilling slave     5
To weep, and wander to a distant grave.
E’en he, whose steps since life’s ungenial morn
Have found no path unfretted with rude thorn,
From all he lov’d must turn his looks away,
Far, far from thee, fair Dronningaard, must stray,     10
Must leave the Eden of his fancy’s dreams,
Its twilight groves and long-resounding streams;
Streams, where the tears of fond regret have ran,
And back return to sorrow and to man!
O yet once more, ye groves, your sighs repeat,     15
And bid farewell to these reluctant feet:
Once more arise, thou soft, thou soothing wave,
In weeping murmurs, ere I seek my grave,
Ere yet a thousand social ills I share,
Consuming war, and more consuming care,     20
Pleasures that ill conceal their future pains,
Virtue in want, blest Liberty in chains,
Vice, proud and powerful as the winter’s wind,
And all the dire deliriums of mankind.

Yet e’en this heart may hail its rest to come:     25
Sorrow, thy reign is ended in the tomb!
There close the eyes, that wept their fires away;
There drop the hands that clasp’d to mourn and pray;
There sleeps the restlessness of aching hearts;
There Love, the tyrant, buries all his darts!     30
O grant me, heav’n, thus sweetly to repose!
’Tis thus my soul shall triumph o’er its woes;
Spring from the world, nor drop one painful tear
On all it leaves, on all it treasures here;
Save once, perhaps, when pensive moonlight gleams     35
O’er Dronningaard’s meek shades and murmuring streams,
The sacred grief, to dear remembrance true,
O’er her soft flow’rs may shed its gentlest dew,
May once in sounds, that soothe the suff’ring mind,
Breathe its lorn murmurs through the solemn wind;     40
Lament, sweet spot, thy charms must wither’d be,
And linger e’en from heav’n to sigh for thee!

(from A Northern Summer, pp. 68-9).

The references to ‘Consuming war […] / Virtue in want, blest Liberty in chains, / Vice, proud and powerful as the winter’s wind, / And all the dire deliriums of mankind’ (ll. 20-4) all sound very much like Hunt and surely reflect the Napoleonic Wars and political clampdown in Britain in 1804-5 with which Hunt’s older brother John (1775-1848) was engaging in his new-established paper The News. Could ‘pleasures that ill conceal their future pains’ (l. 21) allude to the ruinous excesses of the Prince Regent, whom Hunt would later attack in print at such great personal cost? The lament for the vagaries of love in ll. 25-30 is certainly appropriate to de Drevon’s situation in 1785-6, but Hunt seems to have found in it an opportunity to expand on his own on/off relationship with his future wife, Marianne (1788-1857).

Hunt’s lines were well-received by reviewers of A Northern Summer. Both The Monthly Mirror and Hunt’s soon-to-be nemesis The Anti-Jacobin praised the elegance of the verse. The poem and the circumstances of its composition exemplify the diverse forms of cultural exchange which were enabled by the medium of British travel writing about Denmark in the Romantic period.

Date: 1786 / 1805

Creator: Jean Frédéric Henry de Drevon, Johannes Wiedewelt

Subject: James Henry Leigh Hunt

Media rights: photograph by the author, courtesy of Næsseslottet.

Object type: monument

Language: French / English


John Carr, A Northern Summer (London, 1805)

Jean Frédérick Henry de Drevon, Description de Dronning-Gaard, Terre Située dans l’Isle de Zelande en Dannemark (Copenhagen, 1786).

Cian Duffy, ‘“The story of this retired spot”: Dronninggård, John Carr, and forgotten works by William Hayley and Leigh Hunt’, e-romantikstudier 1 (2015), pp. 3-16. http://www.romantikstudier.dk/media/44657/Cian,%20combined.pdf