Amor Vincit Omnia

Under the stairs to the gallery in the Svartsjö church is a lumber-room filled with the gravediggers’ worn-out shovels, with broken benches, with rejected tin labels and other rubbish.

There, where the dust lies thickest and seems to hide it from every human eye, stands a chest, inlaid with mother-of-pearl in the most perfect mosaic. If one scrapes the dust away, it seems to shine and glitter like a mountain-wall in a fairytale. The chest is locked, and the key is in good keeping; it may not be used. No mortal man may cast a glance into that chest. No one knows what is in it. First, when the nineteenth century has reached its close, may the key be placed in the lock, the cover be lifted, and the treasures which it guarded be seen by men.

So has he who owned the chest ordained.

On the brass-plate of the cover stands an inscription: Labor vincit omnia. But another inscription would be more appropriate. Amor vincit omnia ought to stand there. For the chest in the rubbish room under the gallery stairs is a testimony of the omnipotence of love.

O Eros, all-conquering god!

Thou, O Love, art indeed eternal! Old are people on the earth, but thou hast followed them through the ages.

Where are the gods of the East, the strong heroes who carried weapons of thunderbolts⁠—they who on the shores of holy rivers took offerings of honey and milk? They are dead. Dead is Bel, the mighty warrior, and Thot, the hawk-headed champion. The glorious ones are dead who rested on the cloud banks of Olympus; so too the mighty who dwelt in the turreted Valhalla. All the old gods are dead except Eros, Eros, the all-powerful!

His work is in everything you see. He supports the race. See him everywhere! Whither can you go without finding the print of his foot? What has your ear perceived, where the humming of his wings has not been the keynote? He lives in the hearts of men and in the sleeping germ. See with trembling his presence in inanimate things!

What is there which does not long and desire? What is there which escapes his dominion? All the gods of revenge will fall, all the powers of strength and might. Thou, O Love, art eternal!

Old Uncle Eberhard is sitting at his writing-desk⁠—a splendid piece of furniture with a hundred drawers, with marble top and ornaments of blackened brass. He works with eagerness and diligence, alone in the pensioners’ wing.

Oh, Eberhard, why do you not wander about wood and field in these last days of the departing summer like the other pensioners? No one, you know, worships unpunished the goddess of wisdom. Your back is bent with sixty and some years; the hair which covers your head is not your own; the wrinkles crowd one another on your brow, which arches over hollow eyes; and the decay of old age is drawn in the thousand lines about your empty mouth.

Oh, Eberhard, why do you not wander about wood and field? Death parts you just so much the sooner from your desk, because you have not let life tempt you from it.

Uncle Eberhard draws a thick stroke under his last line. From the desk’s innumerable drawers he drags out yellowed, closely scribbled manuscripts, all the different parts of his great work⁠—that work which is to carry on Eberhard Berggren’s name through all time. But just as he has piled up manuscript on manuscript, and is staring at them in silent rapture, the door opens, and in walks the young countess.

There she is, the old men’s young mistress⁠—she whom they wait on and adore more than grandparents wait on and adore the first grandson. There she is whom they had found in poverty and in sickness, and to whom they had now given all the glory of the world, just as the king in the fairy tale did to the beautiful beggar girl he found in the forest. It is for her that the horn and violin now sound at Ekeby⁠—for her everything moves, breathes, works on the great estate.

She is well again, although still very weak. Time goes slowly for her alone in the big house, and, as she knows that the pensioners are away, she wishes to see what it looks like in the pensioners’ wing, that notorious room.

So she comes softly in and looks up at the whitewashed walls and the yellow striped bed-curtains, but she is embarrassed when she sees that the room is not empty.

Uncle Eberhard goes solemnly towards her, and leads her forward to the great pile of paper.

“Look, countess,” he says; “now my work is ready. Now shall what I have written go out into the world. Now great things are going to happen.”

“What is going to happen, Uncle Eberhard?”

“Oh, countess, it is going to strike like a thunderbolt, a bolt which enlightens and kills. Ever since Moses dragged him out of Sinai’s thundercloud and put him on the throne of grace in the innermost sanctuary of the temple, ever since then he has sat secure, the old Jehovah; but now men shall see what he is: Imagination, emptiness, exhalation, the stillborn child of our own brain. He shall sink into nothingness,” said the old man, and laid his wrinkled hand on the pile of manuscript. “It stands here; and when people read this, they will have to believe. They will rise up and acknowledge their own stupidity; they will use crosses for kindling-wood, churches for storehouses, and clergymen will plough the earth.”

“Oh, Uncle Eberhard,” says the countess, with a slight shudder, “are you such a dreadful person? Do such dreadful things stand there?”

“Dreadful!” repeated the old man, “it is only the truth. But we are like little boys who hide their faces in a woman’s skirt as soon as they meet a stranger: we have accustomed ourselves to hide from the truth, from the eternal stranger. But now he shall come and dwell among us, now he shall be known by all.”

“By all?”

“Not only by philosophers, but by everybody; do you understand, countess, by everybody.”

“And so Jehovah shall die?”

“He and all angels, all saints, all devils, all lies.”

“Who shall then rule the world?”

“Do you believe that anyone has ruled it before? Do you believe in that Providence which looks after sparrows and the hair of your head? No one has ruled it, no one shall rule it.”

“But we, we people, what will we become⁠—”

“The same which we have been⁠—dust. That which is burned out can burn no longer; it is dead. We about whom the fire of life flickers are only fuel. Life’s sparks fly from one to another. We are lighted, flame up, and die out. That is life.”

“Oh, Eberhard, is there no life of the spirit?”


“No life beyond the grave?”


“No good, no evil, no aim, no hope?”


The young woman walks over to the window. She looks out at the autumn’s yellowed leaves, at dahlias and asters which hang their heavy heads on broken stalks. She sees the Löfven’s black waves, the autumn’s dark storm-clouds, and for a moment she inclines towards repudiation.

“Uncle Eberhard,” she says, “how ugly and gray the world is; how profitless everything is! I should like to lie down and die.”

But then she hears a murmur in her soul. The vigor of life and its strong emotions cry out for the happiness of living.

“Is there nothing,” she breaks out, “which can give life beauty, since you have taken from me God and immortality?”

“Work,” answers the old man.

But she looks out again, and a feeling of scorn for that poor wisdom creeps over her. The unfathomable rises before her; she feels the spirit dwelling in everything; she is sensible of the power which lies bound in seemingly dead material, but which can develop into a thousand forms of shifting life. Dizzily she seeks for a name for the presence of God’s spirit in nature.

“Oh, Eberhard,” she says, “what is work? Is it a god? Has it any meaning in itself? Name another!”

“I know no other,” answered the old man.

Then she finds the name which she is seeking⁠—a poor, often sullied name.

“Uncle Eberhard, why do you not speak of love?”

A smile glides over the empty mouth where the thousand wrinkles cross.

“Here,” says the philosopher, and strikes the heavy packet with his clenched hand, “here all the gods are slain, and I have not forgotten Eros. What is love but a longing of the flesh? In what does he stand higher than the other requirements of the body? Make hunger a god! Make fatigue a god! They are just as worthy. Let there be an end to such absurdities! Let the truth live!”

The young countess sinks her head. It is not so, all that is not true; but she cannot contest it.

“Your words have wounded my soul,” she says; “but still I do not believe you. The gods of revenge and violence you may be able to kill, no others.”

But the old man takes her hand, lays it on the book, and swears in the fanaticism of unbelief.

“When you have read this, you must believe.”

“May it never come before my eyes,” she says, “for if I believe that, I cannot live.”

And she goes sadly from the philosopher. But he sits for a long time and thinks, when she has gone.

Those old manuscripts, scribbled over with heathenish confessions, have not yet been tested before the world. Uncle Eberhard’s name has not yet reached the heights of fame.

His great work lies hidden in a chest in the lumber-room under the gallery stairs in the Svartsjö church; it shall first see the light of day at the end of the century.

But why has he done this? Was he afraid not to have proved his point? Did he fear persecutions? You little know Uncle Eberhard.

Understand it now; he has loved the truth, not his own glory. So he has sacrificed the latter, not the former, in order that a deeply loved child might die in the belief in that she has most cared for.

O Love, thou art indeed eternal!