Ludvig Holberg was born on December 3, 1684, to Christen Nielsen Holberg and Karen Lem. His father was of peasant stock but had worked his way from the rank of private to that of lieutenant colonel in the army. His mother came from a clerical family including several educated men.
Holberg’s father died when the boy was two years old, and his mother passed away in 1695. The child, who had attended the German school for boys and the grammar school in Bergen, was sent to live with his mother’s country cousin. In 1698, he returned to Bergen, where his uncle and guardian, the merchant Peder Lem, took him into his family, and Holberg grew up in Bergen amidst the enterprising burghers of the city.
He returned to the grammar school, but a fire in 1702 reduced it and most of Bergen to ashes. Members of the senior class were sent to Copenhagen, where Holberg matriculated at the university. He soon came back to Norway, however, and found a position as tutor and spiritual assistant in the home of the rural dean at Voss, northeast of Bergen. Returning to Copenhagen in the fall of 1703, he passed his theological examinations in April of 1704.
At the age of eighteen Holberg had gained control of a small inheritance, which he converted to cash to finance travel abroad. He spent a year in Holland and then returned to Norway, having run out of funds. He spent the winter as a tutor in the city of Kristiansand, and the following spring he traveled to England in the company of a fellow graduate in theology.
He returned to Copenhagen in 1708, having spent his time in Oxford and London. After another year as a tutor, during which part of his duty was to accompany a young man on a journey to Germany, he was given lodging at Borch’s College and was thus free to pursue his scholarly interests. The result was his first book, Introduction til de fornemste europæiske rigers historier (1711; introduction to the principal kingdoms of Europe).
Holberg’s ambitions at this time were most likely directed toward a career at the University of Copenhagen. By 1711, he applied to the king for censors to be appointed to examine a work of history that he was contemplating, and about 1714 he applied for a professorship, probably on the strength of a historical work that was never...
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