I had heard his name abundantly discussed in academical and social circles and was thoroughly familiar with the hypothetical part of his history before chance led me to make his personal acquaintance. He had then already lost some of his first lustre of novelty, and the professional yawners at club windows were inclining to the opinion that “he was a good enough fellow, but not made of stuff that was apt to last.” But in the afternoon tea-parties, where ladies of fashion met and gently murdered each other’s reputations, an allusion to him was still the signal for universal commotion; his very name would be greeted with clouds of ecstatic adjectives, and wild interjections and enthusiatic superlatives would fly buzzing about your ears until language would seem to be at its last gasp, and for a week to come the positive and comparative degrees would be applicable only to your enemies.
It was an open secret that the Countess von Brehm, one of the richest heiresses in the kingdom, was madly in love with him and would probably bestow her hand upon him in defiance of the wishes and traditions of her family. And what man, outside of the royal house, would be fool enough to refuse the hand of a Countess von Brehm?
During the winter 1865-66, I met Dannevig frequently at clubs, student festivals, and social gatherings, and his melodious voice, his epigrammatic talk, and his beauty never failed to extort from me a certain amount of reluctant admiration. I could not help noticing, however, that his charming qualities were all very much on the surface, and as for his beauty, it was of a purely physical kind. As a mere animal he could not have been finer. His eyes were as pure and blue and irresponsible as a pair of spring violets, and his face was as clean-cut and perfect as an ideal Greek mask, and as devoid of spiritual meaning. His animation was charmingly heedless and genuine, but nevertheless was mere surface glitter and never seemed to be the expression of any really strong and heartfelt emotion. I could well imagine him pouting like Achilles over the loss of a lovely Briseis and bursting into vituperative language at the sight of the robber; but the very moment Briseis was restored his wrath would as suddenly have given way to the absolute bliss of possession.
The evening before my final departure from Copenhagen he gave a little party for me at his apartments, at which a dozen or more of our friends were invited.
I must admit that he was an admirable host. Without appearing at all to exert himself, he made every one feel at his ease, filled up every gap in the conversation with some droll anecdote or personal reminiscence, and still contrived to make us all imagine that we were entertaining instead of being entertained. The supper was a miracle of culinary skill, and the wines had a most refined and aristocratic flavor. He ate and drank with the deliberation and relish of a man who, without being exactly a gourmand, nevertheless counted the art of dining among the fine arts, and prided himself on being something of a connoisseur. Nothing, I suppose, could have ruined me more hopelessly in his estimation than if I had betrayed unfamiliarity with table etiquette,—if, for instance, I poured Rhine wine into the white glasses, or sherry or Madeira into the blue.