Born in Odder on 6 April 1802 to Jørgen la Cour (no. 09) and Charlotte la Cour (née Guldberg), Lauritz, or Lars as he was
eventually called, was baptised at home on 7 April 1802 and presented in Odder church on 19 May 1802. He was only seven
and a half years old when his father died, and when his mother could not keep all of her five sons with her (due to her limited means), Lars was taken in by Hans Christian Møller (1776–1838), a war councilor who was a tenant at Rodstenseje manor, and his wife Ditlevine von Voss (1779–1834). At the same time, his brother Holger was taken in by the owner of the farm, who was a brother of Møller’s wife and a chamberlain to the king. This meant the two brothers saw each other daily and were taught by the same private tutor. Møller and his wife, who were among Jørgen (no. 09) and Charlotte’s closest and dearest friends, had strict views on upbringing, so it is not surprising that Lars often felt lonely and abandoned. “However,” he wrote at some point during the last days of his life, “it was to my great luck, since a consequence of the treatment I received was that, when in my sadness I had no one else to turn to for consolation, I sought consolation from our God and Father, and thereby, as early as the tender age of nine or ten, I learned to pray with a fervour that I often regret lacking at a more mature age.”
About his foster parents, the Møllers, however, Lars wrote that they were “a couple of sincerely good people”, and throughout his life he felt a great debt of gratitude to them which he sought to pay back in many ways when fate later turned against them. For a short period of time, he attended a lower secondary school in Aarhus, but when he was 12 years old, he moved with the Møller family to Østergård farm, about seven kilometres north of Odder, in Tulstrup parish. In 1816, after he turned 14 and was confirmed at Tulstrup church, he began working as a farm apprentice at Østergård. Møller was one of the best farmers of his day: he understood both how to run his farm well and how to teach young people the same skill, but he was also tough on his students. What was said about Lars was undoubtedly true: that when he “later became a man who could lead the work of breaking up stones and clearing the stumps from his own fields, it was a skill he had learnt in the fields of Østergård.”
In May 1820, when he was 18, Lars took over cultivating the Lyngby parsonage land from his stepfather and was in charge of it until 1823. He was about 20 years old then and was portrayed by Frederik Barfod, who at the time lived under the same roof, as follows: “He was now fully grown, and with his blond hair, high forehead, mild blue eyes, finely hooked nose, small mouth, cleft chin, fresh complexion and thin, sparse beard – which neither could nor would hide a pair of mischievous dimples – and with his tall, strong build, slightly above medium height, not too heavy and not too slender, and with his light, cheerful attitude, he was – especially seen from his left side – an unusually handsome young man who drew many eyes, especially female ones. The ladies thought that no ball was complete if ‘the handsome Mr la Cour’ did not attend. When to all this was added his deliberation and calmness, his modesty – well, actually, shyness – his unfailing honesty and his truthfulness, which regularly shaded into a childlike innocence (he did not always understand when a joke was only a joke), it was no wonder that he was almost everyone’s favorite.”
With his stepfather transferred to Fakse in 1823, Lars took a position as farm-bailiff* at Rugård manor located to the far east on the Djursland peninsula, working for a talented and highly regarded chief war commissioner named Ingerslev until 1825. His stepfather gave him the following farewell greeting: “When you, my good Lars, as a knowledgeable and enterprising farmer continue to perform the work that Providence has entrusted you with and do so with indefatigable and selfless hard work, when you continually work in Nature’s great garden with reverence and gratitude and are reminded of our good and almighty Lord, when you in remembrance thereof forever regard the fruits of your diligence as God’s gift and in great esteem thereof use them for yourself and others in good conscience and good order, and when you in all your deeds continually deal honestly with everyone and honourably and fairly with those who work for you and trust in God, then you will receive the approval of God, the love and esteem of good people, and the favour of those who are greater than you and gratitude from those who are your inferior will be your joyful reward and inner satisfaction and domestic happiness your most prized possession, and beneficial activities will promote your physical health. And you are wished all these of life’s precious blessings with heartfelt sincerity by your loving father H.P. Barfoed.”
In May 1825 Lars leased the Hyllested vicarage farmlands from his cousin and guardian Peter Worm (no. 45), but that same year, together with Jacob Ludvig Vauvert Hansen, who was the farm-bailiff at Rugård manor, he purchased Skærsø manor and a small farm called Frederikkesminde, along with Dråby parish’s king and church tithes* and some land that was leased out to crofters, all for a total of 2400 rix-dollars*. This low price was due in part to the small farm’s wretched condition, but also to the prevailing agricultural crisis, during which money achieved a staggering value and country manors and other properties were sold at similarly insignificant prices. But that he seemed now to own sufficient land was made apparent by the fact that, a few years later (in 1828), he sold Lot No. 3 of the Skærsø manor property (now Godthåb), including its buildings and adjacent properties, to a cooper named Rasmus Horn in Hesselballe (1777–1855) in order to relieve some of the burden he felt from taxes. That same year, he also sold Frederikkesminde farm to the J.L.V. Hansen mentioned above, but bought it back from him in 1840, only to sell it again in 1848, this time to J.L. Faurschou. As was also mentioned above, Lars formed a partnership with his brother Holger between 1827 and 1833.
Skærsø manor was, as mentioned, in an extremely poor state when Lars bought it: the fields were neglected, the woods
misused, and the buildings either demolished and sold or dilapidated. There were no animals, no tools, no furniture or fittings, barely a tether for a calf. But he set about solving these problems with his chin held high. First, he needed the
most crucial farm tools, and he made many of them himself. The first year he was only able to sow a small part of the land because he had to do most of the work himself. His earnings were initially quite small, and he had spending requirements that were greater than what he could bring in. The farm included sizeable areas of peaty soil, so he dug ditches, levelled mounds, filled holes and broke up and worked turf, and then he sowed grain and rape, as well as some good grass for seed, and managed to bring forth from this hitherto neglected land crops to an extent and of a value that not only surprised his neighbours, but even exceeded his own boldest expectations. In sandy areas, he extensively cultivated potatoes, which turned into an exceedingly lucrative business for him for many years. At first, he took his potatoes to market in Copenhagen by boat, and later, when prices fell, he used them mostly to fatten his steers: over the years, he gained a great reputation in the local area for steer fattening. He was one of the largest potato farmers of his time. In the springtime, as the potato harvest at Skærsø manor drew near, it was announced at church events, and people from a wide surrounding area flocked there to earn a little extra money helping out. Lars introduced a fixed orderly rotation of crops and was probably one of the first in the region to begin allowing fields to lie fallow at regular intervals. He obtained good seed from distant locations and regularly tried cultivating various trading crops such as tobacco, caraway, mustard and hops. In 1857 he obtained lupins from abroad, both blue and yellow, which back then were almost unknown in Denmark. Also the forest that belonged to the Skærsø manor was protected and guarded by Lars: he fenced it in and planted in the open areas, little by little bringing the 44 hectares (about 109 acres) of forest preserve in good order. He also introduced plants into parts of the sandy soil. Among his more remarkable projects was planting spruce and pine on the forest’s western side in 1838, which provided him with enough timber to build a new barn in 1873.
He patched up the existing buildings as best he could. As early as 1833-34, he built a large barn and, in 1846, the tenant farmer* building that would serve as a temporary residence. In 1853 he laid the foundation for a new main manor building with stables in wings that were partly newly constructed, partly repaired by him at different times.
His eldest son described his father’s farming abilities as follows: “Not only did he have a natural talent for agriculture – a man’s real calling is given to him by God and by birth and rooted in his unique character (patience, mildness, endurance, frugality, a solid but not high- flying or daring mindset, an open eye for nature both large and small, and enjoyment of physical work could perhaps be mentioned as necessary characteristics of those who really have an inner calling to practice agriculture) – and not only do I say he felt a real calling and had the right abilities to be a farmer, and not only was this supported both in his original home and his foster home, but also later in life he maintained this conformity with his calling: his desire and love for agriculture was never disputed and never faltered. And this is why he became a solid-cast farmer such as is rarely seen. It was the reason he always had a strange light in his eyes and a lively voice when he talked about agriculture. It was an area in which he rightly felt at home.”
Despite being a major land owner, Lars was elected to the Estates Assembly in 1834 to represent the small farmers in the eighth district of northern Jutland. He was only 32 years old and the second-youngest of the 54 men elected to the Estate Assembly* at Viborg. He attended the Assembly in 1836, 1838 and 1840, but had no major influence. He submitted some proposals, but all were unsuccessful. From 1841 to 1845, he was a member and chairman of the parish council* in Dråby. He was the patron of the parish school from 1841 to 1849 and a long-time member of the public assistance committee. According to the 1845 census, his household consisted of Lars and Ellen, their two daughters and four sons, a tutor, a housekeeper and twenty servants. Lars’s cousin Fritz Absolon Worm (no. 46) was also farm-bailiff on the estate. From 1845 to 1849 and then in 1854 and subsequent years, Lars was a member of Randers County Council. He purchased Jægergården, a house near Aarhus, in 1847 and lived there during the First Schleswig War*. The 1850 census recorded the family, now with nine children, as living at Jægergården along with ten servants. Lars also leased the Mallinggård and Holtskovgård estates from 1852 to 1860. In 1858 he was elected to the parliament to represent Randers county and attended the next three parliamentary assemblies. He became the Randers county agricultural commissioner in 1858. In May 1867 he leased Skærsø manor to his sons Niels and Jacob to run, keeping only management of the garden and the forests for himself. However, four years later, he changed the lease into a deed of ownership and handed over management of the garden and forest land to his sons while retaining the manor’s main building for residential purposes for himself and his wife for life, and it was here he died on 27 February 1875.
His most prominent feature, according to Frederik Barfod, was a strong sense of justice and a deep love of truth paired with the highest degree of modesty – indeed, real humility. He thought strangely little of himself, his abilities, his knowledge, his power and his skill. He was exceedingly placid and serene, and yet fierce by nature. However, over the years he continually fought this fierceness so it showed itself increasingly rarely and in his later years almost not at all. He was highly sensitive, yet very much considerate towards all others, be they high or low, or close to him or not. In private – and actually also in public – he was very reserved. He was not one who easily showed his emotions. The same was true of his religious life. In his earlier years, he hid most of it within himself, but after he, when he was in his early 50s, experienced a spiritual breakthrough and thus came to fully trust in God’s grace, he became more outspoken in his profession of faith.
One hundred years after Lars la Cour’s birth in 1902, a memorial stone with the following inscription was erected in Skærsø forest, carved by Poul la Cour in Askov: “In 1825 Lars bought Skærsø manor, which was at that time in disrepair. Faithfully supported by his wife Ellen Kirstine (née Poulsen), he worked until 1871 to build the manor, obtain cattle, cultivate the fields and meadows, and nurture the forest. And God blessed his home. Descendants of the eighth generation erected this stone in 1902, on the centenary of his birth.” Lars’s life is described in Morten Pontoppidan’s 1915 book En Dansk Landman (“A Danish Farmer”), a copy of which can be found in the la Cour family archives.
Lars married Ellen Kirstine (Stine) la Cour (née Poulsen) on 5 October 1833 in Rolsø church. She was born on 26 December 1809 on the Nørlund farming estate, a daughter of Niels Poulsen of the Rolsøgård manor and Dorte Dinesdatter. In 1825-26 she learned to sew in Randers, at a highly esteemed seamstress school for young girls run by Severine Kathrine Heni. Until her wedding, Stine, as she was called, managed her brothers’ household at Rolsøgård.
We insert here a translation of the letter in which, on 16 October 1832, Lars Ulrik told his brother Peter (no. 53) about his engagement. We think it is worth reading as a charming remembrance from the past:
My dear brother Peter!
Thank you so very much for the congratulations you presumed to give me in your last letter, which I am able to appropriate as an approximate recognition of the fact that I now have a girlfriend, but with no hope as yet of being able to claim her as my wife. The circumstances which prevented me – although I very much desired to do so – from telling you anything more about my betrothal are no longer in effect, so this time I am able to do just that. So listen up! My girl’s name is Stine Poulsen. She is from Rolsøgaard, a manor that her late father owned. Her mother, a woman about 60 years of age, is alive and still lives there. Stine has five brothers, two of whom own the farm. She is 22 years old. My dear Peter, I cannot possibly tell you how happy I am for this relationship, which is not only based on the tenderest kind of love, but also on a deep respect and the firmest belief that she in every respect possesses the characteristics needed to make a man like me happy. I will not continue to elaborate on this, but instead pass on to you the many kind regards that she wishes me to give you. I also wish to tell you that I am otherwise living an exceedingly excellent life and have this year enjoyed a fine harvest, which is also something I know you will be interested to hear. I will close now, with the fondest of greetings to you from both my girl and myself. Live well!
Your eternally devoted brother,
Lauritz la Cour
As a young woman, Stine was tall, lithe and strong, of medium height, and with handsome, regular features that shone with gentleness and goodness. She had dark brown hair, a rounded forehead and friendly blue-grey eyes. She became engaged to Lars in the autumn of 1829, and the wedding took place at Rolsøgård manor four years later. “She was,” wrote Frederik Barfod, “her husband’s faithfully devoted friend, his tender and loving wife, and a vigilant, careful and conscientious mother to all their many children.” She was devoted to her family, which she demonstrated in many ways: first and foremost she was devoted to her children and grandchildren, but also to her many relatives and the large family she had married into. She had a remarkable ability both to be happy and to make others happy, to mend things and handle any kind of problem, and to find ways to do so where others could not. She was also frugal and thrifty, diligent and industrious, generous and helpful. “A prominent feature of both of them,” Pauline Worm said of Lars and his wife, “was their great hospitality, kindness, generosity and benevolence towards both the young and old who lacked a home.”
Famous Danish author Morten Pontoppidan, who visited Skærsø manor as a 14-year- old boy, wrote: “Skærsø was a big, wonderful farm in gorgeous surroundings that were genuinely typical of Jutland. One found oneself among cordial, lively, stout-hearted and beautiful people. One participated in a daily life that was marked by prosperity and a certain elegance, but also of something pleasant, smooth and somewhat poetic – something like a parsonage. It felt good to be at Skærsø manor, and one was well provided for, both in body and soul.”
Stine died six days after her husband, on 5 March 1875, after just a few days of illness, but the last time she left her living room at Skærsø, on the day her husband closed his eyes, was described so beautifully by her eldest son, Jørgen, that his account was said to be “so captivating and sublime that it has few parallels in our literature.” That afternoon, she felt pain in her right side, and by eight o’clock in the evening she was shivering with such intensity that she soon agreed with her children that she should go to bed. The description reads: “She then stood up, but to the old bedroom she could not go. Father was certainly there, and yet he was not. The stove fire was no longer burning; it was dark and cold – she had become homeless, our dear old mother. And where now could she better attempt to rest than with her daughters in the girls’ bedroom. I shall never forget the sight: surrounded and followed by her four daughters and wrapped tightly in her shawl, she walked quietly through the room. Her steps were light, almost floating, but her shape was bent as though she had become several years older. And yet a strange grace rested upon her, and she seemed radiant with a curious clarity.
When she quietly and gently, as she neared the door, said her goodnight to us, her sons, who stood on the other side of the
room, we were so captivated by her stature and solemnity that we instinctively felt as if we were rooted to the spot. None of
us dared break the silence or stop her by moving towards her and offering her a ‘goodnight’ hand: instead, we bowed
deeply. A grand vision went past before eyes: our mother was walking here on Earth for the last time. She began the same
journey that our father had recently completed, so that they could stand together before in the countenance of God. Her
voice sounded deep and solemn to us, and our hearts trembled, our eyes were filled with tears, the door closed, and
we stood alone in the room: This morning our father had gone home. Now our mother had also left us. Heavenly Father, grant us all, by your grace, a blissful reunion in heaven, so that we will never be parted again.” She was buried together with her husband in the Dråby churchyard on 11 March 1875.
A few days after Lars died, the following poem (here, translated) appeared in the local newspaper Randers Avis – except for the last two verses, which were added the following week, after Stine had followed her husband in death.
Quiet, quiet, every voice of discord,
Storms of every day, be silent at his grave!
He was peace-loving; God gave him peace
To preserve and own.
We have said it often: we recognise God’s children
From the fact that the world hates their doings;
can it be true? Did he have an enemy,
The man lying here?
Not until he lay dead did we sound
Word of his strong, mild disposition,
Of the heart’s treasure he brings redeemed
Now into harbour!
No — to him was given that rare great joy:
Everyone encountered him with an affectionate gaze,
Friends stood there to shake his hand,
Wherever he came and went.
He was loved, honoured by the oldest of us,
While small children played at his knee,
He who now has a place among the
Lord’s redeemed under the Tree of Life.
Richly blessed was his father’s heart,
None of the many gave him woe,
Before his eyes glazed over, a new-born candle
He should still see.
And while the family name was to faraway
lands Carried by new stock forward,
His life’s sun set below death’s shores,
And his soul went home.
Home — and the pearl of home made from it
And he with it; the ties were so strong
That, before the ground received his dust as a gift,
Her heart broke.
Oh, how beautiful is life when its summer
Is followed by an autumn so exuberant and joyful!
And how beautiful is death when it comes
As it did to these two!
Lars and Stine’s life is described in En Dansk Landmand (“A Danish Farmer”), a book from 1915 written by the above-mentioned author Morten Pontoppidan. We have a copy of it in the la Cour family archives. We conclude here with a few words taken from the local newspaper Ebeltoft Avis published on 17 March 1875: “His wife and children appreciated him to the fullest extent, looked up to him with the respect he so very much deserved, and surrounded him with the love that grows but never grows old, that surpasses both time and space. That is why his house was a house of love for everyone who sought it, a home in which everyone – learned or lay, rich or poor – was received with mild eyes and kind words; indeed, a home that people left feeling better than they did when they entered and where people could see and feel the blessings of a quiet Christian life.” (Ten children: nos. 67–77.)