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The international bestseller and scandalous love story that inspired A Royal Affair, with rights sold in 25 countries.The Royal Physician's Visit magnificently recasts the dramatic era of Danish history when Johann Friedrich Struensee -- court physician to mad young King Christian -- stepped through an aperture in history and became the holder of absolute power in Denmark. His is a gripping tale of power, sex, love, and the life of the mind, and it is superbly rendered here by Sweden's most acclaimed writer.
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Per Olov Enquist is a journalist, playwright and novelist. He has garnered international recognition for his work, including the novels The Royal Physician's Visit, The Book about Blanche and Marie, and Lewi's Journey.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 5: The Silent One from Altona
His friends called him "the Silent One." He wasn't someone who talked much, not without cause. But he listened attentively.
Importance might be given to the fact that he was silent. Or to the fact that he could listen.
His name was Johann Friedrich Struensee.
In Holsten, about thirty miles outside of Hamburg and the nearby smaller town of Altona, there was an estate called Ascheberg. The estate had gardens that were famous in many parts of Europe; they were owned by the Rantzau family.
The gardens were laid out in the 1730s and consisted of canals, lanes, and rectangular plantings of shrubbery designed according to a rectilinear system typical of the early baroque.
"The Ascheberg Gardens" were a magnificent example of landscape architecture.
But it was the way in which the extraordinary natural formations of the terrain had been used that gave the park its reputation. The natural was incorporated with the artificial. The baroque grounds, with their deep central perspective of lanes and canals, were spread out along the lakeshore. But behind them stood a ridge that was called the "Mountain"; it was a ridge with deep folds interspersed with strange valleys, like lobes, in the mountainside. Beyond the quite unpretentious main building rose this steep terrain, with a natural wildness that was unusual in the gentle Danish landscape.
The Mountain was covered with woods; it was a natural slope, tamed and yet at the same time in its natural state.
Gentle, ravinelike valleys. Terraces. Woods. Perfect nature, at once controlled and shaped by human beings, and an expression of freedom and wildness. From the top of the Mountain there was a panoramic view. And it was also possible to see what human beings could accomplish: a natural reproduction of wild nature.
The Mountain had an offshoot in the garden. The wild within the tamed. It was a civilized dream of domination, and freedom.
In one of the Mountain's "folds," in a hollowed valley, two very old huts had been discovered. They might have been the homes of peasants or -- as people preferred to imagine -- shepherds.
One of these huts had been restored, and for a very specific purpose.
In 1762 Rousseau began his exile after the Assembly in Paris ordered the executioner to burn his Émile.
He sought refuge in various places throughout Europe, and the owner of Ascheberg, a Count Rantzau who was quite old but who had a lifelong passion for radical ideas, invited the persecuted man to settle at Ascheberg. He would be given the hut on the Mountain; that was where he could live. No doubt it was presumed that the great philosopher, in these primitive conditions and close to nature, which he extolled and to which he wished to return, might here continue his great writing endeavors, and in this way his vital needs and his ideas would enjoy a happy union.
To this end, a "cabbage patch" was also laid out next to the hut.
Here he would cultivate his cabbage, cultivate his garden. It is not known whether the digging of the cabbage patch was a reference to the well-known expression about the person "who in peace and quiet cultivates his cabbage and pays no mind to politics." Nevertheless, the cabbage patch was prepared. And the Count doubtless knew his Nouvelle Héloïse and the passage that reads: "Nature flees frequented places; it is on the mountain tops, in the deepest forests, on the remote islands that it shows its true enchantment. Those who love nature and cannot visit it far away are compelled to force themselves upon it, to make it come to them; and none of this can be done without a measure of illusion."
The Ascheberg Gardens represented an illusion of a natural state.
Rousseau never did come to Ascheberg, but his name became mythically associated with the Ascheberg Gardens, lending them a European reputation among those who were zealots about nature and freedom. The Ascheberg Gardens took their place among famous "sentimental sites" in Europe. The "peasant's hut" that was intended for Rousseau became a place of refuge; the hut in the hollowed valley and the cabbage patch, which over time grew more and more neglected, were sites worth visiting. There was no longer any question about it being a shepherd's hut; rather, it was a cult destination for intellectuals on their way from an infatuation with nature to enlightenment. The pathways, doors, and windowsills were painted with elegant French and German quotations from poetry, and verses from contemporary poets and from Juvenal.
Even Christian's father, Frederik V, made the climb up to Rousseau's hut. The Mountain was henceforth called "Königsberg."
At this time the hut became something of a holy shrine for Danish and German men of the Enlightenment. They gathered at the Ascheberg estate, and they hiked up to Rousseau's hut, where they discussed the great ideas of the day. Their names were Ahlefeld and Berckentin; their names were Schack Carl Rantzau, von Falkenskjold, Claude Louis de Saint-Germain, Ulrich Adolph Holstein, and Enevold Brandt. They regarded themselves as enlightened men.
One of them was also named Struensee.
Here, in this hut, much later on, he would read a passage from Holberg's Moral Thoughts to Caroline Mathilde, the Queen of Denmark.
He had met her in Altona. That much is known.
Struensee saw Caroline Mathilde when she arrived in Altona on her way to her wedding, and he noted that her face was tear stained.
She, however, did not notice Struensee. He was one of many. They stood in the same room, but she did not see him. Almost no one seems to have seen him at that time; few have described him. He was kindly and reticent. He was above average in height, blond, with a well-shaped mouth and good teeth. His contemporaries noted that he was one of the first to use toothpaste.
Otherwise there is almost nothing. Reverdil, who had met him early on, in the summer of 1767 in Holsten, merely remarks that Struensee, the young German doctor, had a discreet and reserved manner.
Once again: young, reticent, attentive.
Three weeks after Christian VII had decided on his European tour, Count Rantzau, at the request of the Danish government, paid a visit to the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee in Altona in order to make him an offer to become the Royal Physician to the Danish King.
They knew each other well. They had spent many weeks together at Ascheberg. They had made the climb up to Rousseau's hut. They belonged to the Circle.
Rantzau was much older, however. Struensee was still young.
At the time Struensee was living in a small apartment at the corner of Papagoyenstrasse and Reichstrasse, but on the day the offer was made, he was out attending to the sick, as usual. After some effort, Rantzau found him in a hovel in Altona's slums, where he was in the process of cupping the children of the neighborhood.
Without equivocating, Rantzau stated the purpose of his visit, and Struensee immediately and without hesitation declined.
He regarded the assignment as uninteresting.
He happened to be finishing up cupping a widow and her three children. He seemed in good humor but uninterested. No, he said, that doesn't interest me. He then gathered up his instruments and, with a smile, patted the little children on the head. He accepted the words of gratitude from their mother, as well as her invitation, along with his esteemed guest, to partake of a glass of white wine out in the kitchen.
The kitchen had an earthen floor, and the children were shooed outside.
Count Rantzau waited patiently.
"You're being sentimental, my friend," he said. "Saint Francis among Altona's poor. But remember that you're a man of the Enlightenment. You must take the long view. Right now you see only the people in front of you, but lift your eyes. Look beyond them. You're one of the most brilliant minds I've ever met; you have a great mission in life. You can't say no to this offer. Sickness can be found anywhere. All of Copenhagen is sick."
Struensee did not reply to this, merely smiled.
"You ought to give yourself greater challenges. A King's Royal Physician can have influence. You could put your theories into practice...in real life. In real life."
"Why else have I taught you so much?" Rantzau continued, his voice now sounding annoyed. "Those discussions! Those studies! Why just theories? Why not do something in practice? Something ...substantial?"
That brought a reaction from Struensee, and after a moment's silence he began, in a very low but distinct voice, to talk about his life.
Evidently he felt piqued by the phrase "something substantial."
He spoke in a friendly manner, but with a slightly ironic undertone. "My friend and esteemed teacher," he said, "I was under the impression that I am 'doing' something. I have my practice. But in addition -- in addition! -- I 'do' various other things. Something substantial. I keep statistics on all the medical problems in Altona. I inspect the three dispensaries that exist in this city of eighteen thousand people. I help the wounded and those who fall victim to accidents. I supervise the treatment of the insane. I observe and assist with the autopsies at the Theatro Anatomico.
I crawl into slum dwellings, squalid hovels where people lie in stinking filth, and I seek out those who are powerless. I listen to the needs of the powerless and the ill. I attend to the sick in the women's prison, the general hospital, and the jail; I treat the sick prisoners who are under guard and in the executioner's house. Even the condemned can be sick; I help the condemned to survive in a tolerable fashion until the executioner's ax takes their lives, like a deliverance. Every day I treat eight to ten of the poor who can't pay but who are under the care of the poor relief fund. I treat poor travelers not covered by the poor relief fund. I treat farmhands passing through Altona. I treat patients with contagious disease...
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