09 Jørgen la Cour

Jørgen was born at Strandet manor on 2 October 1767, and his parents were Pierre la Cour and Christiane Frederikke la Cour. In 1778 he entered the second level (out of the five offered) at the Viborg grammar school* “and had until then learnt nothing”. This probably meant he had learned no Latin, since he had previously certainly been taught by Stiosus Curtz, who was the tutor working at Strandet manor at the time of Pierre’s death. Having passed the intermediate forms, Jørgen was in the last form in 1785, and he was confirmed at Viborg Cathedral on 3 April that same year. In 1782, the school register labelled him “a great hope”, but for both of the following years only “a fairly good hope.” In 1782, he received no food allowance, but in the annual distribution he received four barrels of rye and five barrels of barley. Over the next five years (1783-87), he received between 16 and 30 rix-dollars* annually. Most likely, he was forced to rely on the benevolence of kind people and may also have been forced to earn some money by also teaching small children and playing the organ at Søndersogn church.

According to the 1787 census, Jørgen was a grammar school pupil and – together with Hans Peter Barfod – a lodger with Viborg Cathedral organist Christian Haderup and his wife Margrethe Sophie Nielsdatter at the address of Søndersogns Kirkestræde 2 in Viborg. He graduated from upper secondary school in 1787 and employed a private teacher in view of his theological studies. However, Jørgen did not stay long in Copenhagen because poverty compelled him to discontinue his studies prematurely and seek a livelihood. Possibly it was the pastor for Odder, Anders Kragballe, who was married to Jørgen’s half-sister, who helped Jørgen seek a position as parish clerk in Odder, a job that had become available in 1789 following the death of the previous clerk. Jørgen was asked to take the position in May 1789. It was a good position, and Jørgen also taught outside the school in subjects such as song and music, and helped his brother-in-law, the pastor, with sermons as well. With the few demands he had on life, he was able to put some money aside, and, after a few years, he was able to pay a substitute to take over his office while he went to Copenhagen to finish his studies. Of course, he did have to be thrifty. He was forced to teach: among his piano students was the later very famous Malte Konrad Bruun (1775–1826), who had graduated from upper secondary school in 1790 and was living in Copenhagen at the time. Still, Jørgen had already won himself a warm and affectionate friend in Peter Rosenmeyer, who was the farm-bailiff* at Åkjær manor as well as owner of his own farm in Falling. In 1796, Jørgen wrote: “When I lived in Copenhagen, I did not need to ask for money from anyone else. As soon as Rosenmeyer knew that I needed it, he sent me some, and did so without the slightest proof.”

In Copenhagen, Jørgen lived, as before, together with his schoolmate from Viborg, Hans Peter Barfoed, who graduated from upper secondary school two years after Jørgen and was now studying theology at university. The two became study companions. From these years comes a letter that could appropriately be reproduced here as a small tribute to the two young people’s friendship, which lasted throughout their lives. It reads as follows:

Beloved friend! Late I fulfil my promise to write, but here it comes nevertheless. Although, little Barfoed, I had been awaiting a letter from you, but since we have now both neglected to write, it will make it easier for us to forgive each other. I have registered for my final exams in April. You will be amazed, but it is now set. I haven’t been at Hjorte’s since you left, so I cannot tell you how they are doing. As I hope that this letter comes to you on New Year’s Day or the day after, you need to see my poetry, which is without beauty, but one’s heart beats sincerely and loudly when one hugs a friend happy by his side, and sorrows fade. I hope you never, wonderful Barfoed, lack a true friend tested by times of both grief and joy. May fate us soon reunite. When the quiet country life affects our lot in life, we will feel joys that are pure and praise Him who is all-knowing and good. And, in each others arms, we will remember the solid bond of our happy friendship, and then in delight behold each others’ spouses. In this choice may our Father’s hand lead us. Copenhagen, 29 December 1792, from your devoted J. la Cour.

At graduation in May 1793 Jørgen received a second in theology, but a first for his graduation sermon. Afterwards returned to his parish clerk’s office in Odder and remained there for the rest of his working life. Although he applied for several pastor positions over the following four years, he was appointed to none of them. From 1798 to 1807 he leased Randlev parsonage and in 1798 also bought a small farm in Odder, which is today called Christianslund, but he did not receive the deed to it until 15 June 1804. Furthermore, in 1800 (and probably even earlier), he owned a house with six sections and a garden which must have been located close to his farm. According to the 1801 census, Jørgen lived with his wife and their two sons Peter and Holger, Jørgen’s mother Christiane Frederikke Nohr, and Jørgen’s sister Appelone Dorthea Worm (no. 07) and her two sons, Peter (no. 45) and Poul (no. 46). The family also had four servants.

Sometime around midsummer 1809, Jørgen was asked to hold an auction for a pauper. It was very hot, and there were quite a few people gathered in the cramped space. After becoming greatly overheated, Jørgen drank a glass of cold water and then immediately felt unwell. It turned out to be a stomach infection, and on Sunday, 3 September 1809, he died, not even 42 years old.

When Jørgen was young, he developed a warm friendship with Steen Steensen Blicher*, who was 15 years younger. However, there was only a single year during which they were able to see each other more frequently: from the end of 1795, when Blicher’s father, Niels Blicher, was transferred from Vium to Bandlev, and until 1797, when Blicher had to start school in Randers. After that, they were only able to spend time together during the holidays, but their friendship lasted over the course of Jørgen’s lifetime, which is apparent from the following poem Blicher wrote to read at his friend’s funeral (here, translated):

My friend is dead! Let the tears flow!
Let the harp of sorrow sound with sighs
and lamentations! My friend is gone forever
— never again
Shall I see his fair countenance.

He to whom Nature gave a beautiful heart,
So warm with unknown delight and unknown pain,
Now as cold and without feeling as the clay of the
grave Smiles and weeps no more.

No more under the high arches of the temple
Does his voice awaken the pure flames of devotion;
Among the thistles of the dismal graveyard
Lies the pious singer’s green grave mound.

Of how happy the day shall I nevermore hear
The cheerful song that enchanted every ear;
Those pale lips are forever closed,
Forever put out is the mild flame in his eyes.

The spring sun smiles, the spring rain falls,
And dead soil once again brings forth new life:
For you, the sun’s rays have no power,
You have been laid down in eternal rest and night.

But, rise, soul! above the prison of life;
Strive towards the kingdom of heaven to continue!
For there are no barriers for the spirit,
And day will come after dark night.

So cease your weeping; allay your grief!
Even in the grave there will be a new day:
The long night of death will someday pass
And those who sleep now will be resurrected once more.

The school in Odder was the setting for his life’s work for 20 years. But he was no ordinary parish clerk. His knowledge, his manners, his musical talents, his lovely singing voice, his uncommon social talent and his winning personality made him popular and welcome at all the area’s finest manors, in all its parsonages, and with all other sorts of families. It was hardly considered a party if “the Odder parish clerk” did not attend, even though all the “aristocrats” in the neighbourhood were well aware of his membership in certain democratic societies. This membership led him to rejoice in the belief that “equality among all classes is spreading more and more” and put him on an excellent footing with all of his plain and simple parishioners. His eight-year-older friend, K.L. Ferslev, the pastor for Jelling, described him eight years after his death as “the most delightful of Adam’s sons”.

Jørgen was also an excellent farmer – indeed, a born farmer. He managed the land that went with his office well and derived not a little income from it. He was the first in the region to cultivate potatoes on a large scale, and he was also one of the first, perhaps the very first, to use covered reed and stone ditches to divert harmful water. It sounds a bit strange today, but in 1797 he wrote, “I am currently quite busy with my seedling operation. When you come here, you will see potatoes planted in the thousands.” However, in those days, this was quite unusual. Because he also appears to have been a good “economist” in the best sense of the word, he was relatively well off.

Life in the parish clerk’s residence in Odder was described by a pastor’s son from the nearby Saksild parsonage, Hans Christian Ingerslev (born in 1798), who later served as pastor for Boeslunde: “How pleasant it was to come down to the la Cour house in Odder, where the vivacity and cheerfulness of the entire family captivated everyone. They were completely free of the mundane and small-minded disposition that at the time was fairly common in rural life, much to the chagrin of the young. He was an admirable and loveable man, and the boys from Saksild were always happy to see him. He could speak in a way that cheered both young and old, and could laugh so heartily and sing so beautifully that it was a pleasure to hear him. His sweet wife was a lovely woman with so pleasant a face that it could captivate even the wilder boys. And the fact that we were courteous and accommodating when she was around was something that happened all by itself.”

Jørgen married Charlotte la Cour (née Guldberg) on 2 March 1798 in Ribe. Born on 10 June 1777 in Skagen, Charlotte was a daughter of Holger Guldberg, a customs officer, and Petrea Margrethe Schwane Bang. When she was born, her father told his in-laws that she would be named after her maternal grandmother, Christine Charlotte. In the church records she is only listed as Christine, but she later became known as “Lotte” (Lotte Guldberg), and this name stuck. In 1778, after her mother’s death, she came to Fuglede to live with her maternal grandparents, Pastor Jørgen Andreas Bang and Christine Charlotte Fribo, and in 1782 they all moved to Korsør. In 1789, after her grandmother’s death, Lotte went to live with her maternal grandfather’s brother, Jacob Bang, a district revenue officer in Odense, “whose nice wife [Johanne Walther] has promised me [i.e. Lotte’s maternal grandfather] to lead her to the best of everything.” In 1791, after her grandfather’s death, Lotte moved in with her only aunt, who was married to Lauritz Leth, a passport clerk in Copenhagen. During her stay in the capital, which lasted two years, she spent a great deal of time with her mother’s uncle, a renowned and devout doctor and professor named Frederik Ludvig Bang, whose stepsons, Ole Hieronymus Mynster* and Jacob Peter Mynster*, she saw socially on a regular basis. But she became much closer to three of her mother’s cousins: the later very famous Henrik Steffens, the soulfully sensitive Balthasar Bang* (at the time known as a poet), and especially Hans Fribo Garde, who died in 1819 as pastor for Horslunde and Nordlunde and whom she several years later referred to as “one of my dearest uncles, perhaps the very dearest.”

During her time in Copenhagen, due to her uncommon beauty, Lotte had the following experience described by Frederik Barfod: “It was customary at that time that, when royal gala balls were held at Christiansborg Castle, people went in great numbers up into the gallery to look at the finery and hear the music, but it was not customary for people to dress up for this, since they went there to see rather than be seen. Lotte Guldberg also went up there with Leth’s family. She had not been there long when King Chistian VII spotted her and sent an adjutant with the message that she needed to come down and dance a minuet with him immediately – no excuses. Clad in her everyday attire, a simple linsey-woolsey dress, she had to go down into the great hall and dance a minuet with the king. Both the crown prince and princess were also dancing. The others I do not recall. But hardly had the dance come to an end before she hurried home, and she never again set foot in Chistiansborg castle.”

In 1793 Lotte returned to Ribe, but the summer of 1795 found her at the home of one of her father’s young friends, Jens Hartmann, the pastor for Randlev, in whose home Jørgen la Cour was an occasional visitor. She and Jørgen became engaged on 2 November 1795. He was a parish clerk in the town of Odder at the time. In September, just before Lotte was to leave the Randlev parsonage, Jørgen sent her knitting equipment that he had an ingenious turner in Odder make for her, based on her wishes. He sent it together with a letter saying, “I’m not a poet, nor do I need to be called one, but perhaps you wouldn’t be vexed to read this little song I wrote for you and hum it while you’re using this knitting equipment, which is for you.

This little song, called ‘The Family Binding Song’, has been passed down from mouth to mouth for 125 years, and it goes like this [translated]:

My work is going so easily and fast,
The measured-out thread gets less and less,
And the needle goes so easily into the stitch;
My mood is such a happy one.
And my precious health is with me.
How happy I am!

I suppose I’ve been worried sometimes,
But I found it beneficial;
For tears of remorse
Have never run down my cheeks;

And I know no secret sorrow, For I am happy!
And in his well-being
I am the best of friends;
and believe again he does love me,
For I am happy!

In quiet virtue and active deeds
We will bring forth delight in ourselves,
And in order to hold off the tears of
poverty We both lend a hand.
God the Father bless him and me!
Then I’ll be happy!

Lotte Guldberg sent her thanks for the knitting equipment and the song in a letter saying, “I find the aria very beautiful, and it will oft serve to remind me of your friendship. I do not want to say goodbye just yet, for I hope to see you still in Odder if possible; you are leaving me so I will now conclude, for my mood will not permit me to ramble further, but will simply sign this missive as Your Friend, C.C. Guldberg.”

By the standards of the time she was, as mentioned above, remarkably beautiful: she had an upright posture, noble features, beautiful sky blue eyes and a rounded, thoughtful brow. In addition, she possessed a sensitive soul and a vivid imagination. She was a perfectly lovely woman as a daughter, sister, wife and mother, and was also a loving and faithful stepmother, a wise and cautious housekeeper and a supporter of the weak and suffering.

After her husband’s death, she remained at his farm in Odder until she married her late husband’s friend, the above-mentioned Pastor Hans Peter Barfoed, on 25 March 1817 in Viby, and in 1823 she moved to Fakse with him. But she did not grow old in Fakse. “In February 1826 Lotte fell ill. Dr Steenberg from Vallø was summoned, and he declared it was a stomach infection. Hardly had the rumor spread in the town before the parish official, John Larsen, called all the townsfolk together and got them to agree unanimously that, as long as she was sick, they would stand by and at his summons send either a wagon for a doctor or a messenger on a horse for medicine. On 21 February, an innkeeper named Thaning, a man known to be quiet and melancholy, went to pick up the doctor and then also sent his carriage off on the 23-kilometre journey again to get the medicine. I myself heard him tell the coachman: ‘A fresh set of horses has been sent to Hårlev, so change horses there. When you come back from Vallø to Hårlev, there will be a new team. And then go as fast as the horses can; if they drop, they are paid for.’ And Thaning was more of a poor man than a rich one. But she could not be saved, and she passed away peacefully on Tuesday, 28 February 1826.”

At her funeral on 8 March 1826 in Fakse, M.F.G. Bøgh, the pastor for Herfølge-Sædder, remembered her with the following words: “He who won his life’s luck in you and found in you what he wanted, he thanks you. A noble and worthy man thanks you because, as a loving and faithful wife, you walked by his side and sweetened his days with your care, assistance and advice. The many who called you mother thank you for your maternal graciousness and care. All who knew you praise you for the gentle and unassuming behavior which also showed you to be a cultivated person, for your work in your domestic calling, for your thoughtful and intelligent conduct, and for your shining example as a Christian. Yes, we all thank you for everything that was Christian and elevating in you, in both life and death. God’s providence accompanied you throughout your life on Earth; you acknowledged the Christian faith and acknowledged it with a judicious heart. You especially acknowledged the gift of God that it was to be blessed with relatives and friends who appreciated you and appreciated the person you were. Indeed, you felt surrounded by God’s care and, in humble gratitude to the mercy towards what was entrusted to you, you left this Earth, and in Christian hope, in hope of God’s grace in the life after this one, you departed this life.”

Hans Peter Barfoed, who was stepfather for Jørgen and Lotte’s five sons and lovingly took their father’s place, was born on 15 February 1770 at the Tistrup vicarage outside Ebeltoft. As mentioned above, he attended school in Viborg, graduating at the upper secondary level in 1789. He earned a master’s degree in theology in 1792 and started working as a catechist* at the Nikolai church in Copenhagen that same year. He became pastor for Branderup parish in Tørninglen in 1796 and for Lyngby and Albøge in 1808, where he founded a teacher training college in 1813. He became pastor for Fakse in 1822 and rural dean there in 1828, and on 14 November 1841 he died.

Nine years after Lotte’s death, Hans Peter put up a memorial to her engraved with the following words: “Esteem and gratitude accompanied her to her grave. The blessings of many will meet her in eternity.” Jørgen and Lotte’s life is described in the 1909 book Mindet om Poul Frederik Barfod (” The Memory of Poul Frederik Barfod” ) by Lars Frederik La Cour, a copy of which can be found in the la Cour family archives. (Five children: nos. 50–54.)