The street named after Paul Botten Hansen (1824–1869)

(Norwegian version) Paul Botten Hansen, university librarian and literary critic, was an illegitimate child, and grew up with his grandparents at Selsverket, close by Sel church five kilometres north of Otta.

Text: Rolf Ulvolden

Adapted and translated into English by Ivar Teigum
Paul Botten Hansen (1824–1869)

The Botten farm where the young Paul grew up, hosted an inn, and travellers asking for lodging were numerous. His parents were both local people, his father a teacher of bad repute, who moved to Northern Norway. But since Paul was born outside matrimony, he was adopted by the grandparents on the mother’s side.

Paul was a clever child at drawing and carving. Following his grandmother to church, he would spend the time during the lengthy service copying religious figures and decorations. At an early age he was allowed to attend school classes on the neighbouring farm where he proved a quick learner. At age seven he wrote a sketch outlining episodes from the life of the folklore hero Peder Jynt – better known as Henrik Ibsen’s character Peer Gynt.

One of Paul’s drawings caused him trouble. He copied one and two daler notes, and some he gave to a local girl, who thought they were genuine, and offered one of them as payment in the shop. For his adventure young Paul was arrested and got a prison sentence of five days. After this shameful incident he was helped to get on by the local parson, who had a firm belief in him.

Bust to commemorate Paul Botten Hansen made by the sculptor Arne Meland. The unveiling outside Sel church took place in 1995 after a local initiative.

Even before his confirmation the young Paul left home for Lillehammer, where he got a job as shop assistant. After a return to Selsverket for his confirmatioin, he left home for good, and in 1847 we find him in Oslo, where he settled permanently. Time was ripe for a literary endeavour, again the Peer Gynt motif lay foremost on his mind. He made friends with Aasmund Olavsson Vinje and Henrik Ibsen, two men who were soon to become central figures in Norway’s literary life.

In the 1850s Paul Botten Hansen was fully occupied as editor of an illustrated news magazine – Illustreret Nyhedsblad. At Lillehammer he had taken an interest in books, and as time passed his private collection comprised 14 000 volumes. In 1864 Paul Botten Hansen was appointed as the first university librarian in Norway. After his death his private library was auctioned to become the foundation of the public library in Bergen.

The plaque fastened to the base supporting the bust.

The close relationship between the young men Paul Botten Hansen and Henrik Ibsen is likely to have been an influence when the formation of Ibsen’s drama Peer Gynt was in its early stages. Botten Hansen was familiar with the oral tradition, which he had written about, and in 1862 Ibsen paid a visit to Paul’s home district where Peder Jynt was a folklore hero. The play Peer Gynt was ready for the stage in 1867.