This son, who was baptized Henrik Johan, although he never used the second name, was born in a large edifice known as the Stockmann House, in the centre of the town of Skien, on March 20, The house stood on one side of a large, open square; the town pillory was at the right of and the mad-house, the lock-up and other amiable urban institutions to the left; in front was Latin school and the grammar school, while the church occupied the middle of the square.
It is interesting, however, to find that his earliest impressions of life at home were of an optimistic character. "Skien," he says, "in my young days, was an exceedingly lively and sociable place, quite unlike what it afterwards became. Several highly cultivated and wealthy families lived in the town itself or close by on their estates.
They spend a great part of their time in lolling on skien sofas; while a train of female slaves, scarcely less voluptuous, attend to sing to them, to fan them, and to rub their bodies; an exercise which the Easterns enjoy, with a sort of placid ecstasy, as it promotes the circulation of their languid blood.
Between the Hitterdal and the Nordsjö lake there is a rise of fifty feet, which is overcome by two locks at Skien and four at Loveid; and between the Nordsjö and the Bandak lakes there is a rise of one hundred and eighty-seven feet, which is overcome by fourteen locks, five of which are around a waterfall, the Vrangfos, where the average rise for each lock is about thirteen feet.
Ohthere afterwards made a second voyage from Halgoland along the west and south coast of Norway to the Bay of Christiania, and Sciringeshael, the port of Skerin, or Skien, near the entrance of the Christiania fjord. He then sailed southward, and reached in five days the Danish port aet Haedum, the capital town called Sleswic by the Saxons, but by the Danes Haithaby.
The sexton at Skien, who helped in the lessons, described the poet afterwards as "a quiet boy with a pair of wonderful eyes, but with no sort of cleverness except an unusual gift for drawing."
His grandfather, Henrik, was wrecked in 1798 in his own ship, which went down with all souls lost on Hesnaes, near Grimstad; this reef is the scene of Ibsen's animated poem of Terje Viken. His father, Knud, who was born in 1797, married in 1825 a German, Marichen Cornelia Martie Altenburg, of the same town of Skien; she was one year his senior, and the daughter of a merchant.
The movement was the so-called Maalstraev, and had in view the introduction of a pure Norwegian book language, based upon the peasant dialects. A new and grand period in Norwegian literature commenced about 1857, and the two most conspicuous names in this period and in the whole Norwegian literature are those of Henrik Ibsen and Björnstjerne Björnson. Henrik Ibsen was born in Skien, in 1828.
Over this stern prospect the tourist can no longer sentimentalize, for the whole of this part of Skien was burned down in 1886, to the poet's unbridled satisfaction. "The inhabitants of Skien," he said with grim humor, "were quite unworthy to possess my birthplace."
It was in 1771 that the Ibsens, leaving Bergen, had settled in Skien, which was, and still is, an important centre of the timber and shipping trades on the south-east shore of the country. It may be roughly said that Skien, in the Danish days, was a sort of Poole or Dartmouth, existing solely for purposes of marine merchandise, and depending for prosperity, and life itself, on the sea.