Hans Christian Andersen
The Happy Family
REALLY, the largest green leaf in
this country is a dockleaf; if one holds it before one, it is like a whole
apron, and if one holds it over one's head in rainy weather, it is almost
as good as an umbrella, for it is so immensely large. The burdock never
grows alone, but where there grows one there always grow several: it is
a great delight, and all this delightfulness is snails' food. The great
white snails which persons of quality in former times made fricassees
of, ate, and said, "Hem, hem! how delicious!" for they thought
Now, there was an old manor-house, where they no longer
ate snails, they were quite extinct; but the burdocks were not extinct,
they grew and grew all over the walks and all the beds; they could not
get the mastery over them--it was a whole forest of burdocks. Here and
there stood an apple and a plum-tree, or else one never would have thought
that it was a garden; all was burdocks, and
They themselves knew not how old they were, but they could
remember very well that there had been many more; that they were of a
family from foreign lands, and that for them and theirs the whole forest
was planted. They had never been outside it, but they knew that there
was still something more in the world,
The old white snails were the first persons of distinction in the world, that they knew; the forest was planted for their sake, and the manor-house was there that they might be boiled and laid on a silver dish.
Now they lived a very lonely and happy life; and as they
had no children themselves, they had adopted a little common snail, which
they brought up as their own; but the little one would not grow, for he
was of a common family; but the old ones, especially Dame Mother Snail,
thought they could observe how he increased in size, and she begged father,
if he could not see it, that he
One day there was a heavy storm of rain.
"Hear how it beats like a drum on the dock-leaves!" said Father Snail.
"There are also rain-drops!" said Mother Snail. "And now the rain pours right down the stalk! You will see that it will be wet here! I am very happy to think that we have our good house, and the little one has his also! There is more done for us than for all other creatures, sure enough; but can you not see that we are folks of quality in the world? We are provided with a house from our birth, and the burdock forest is planted for our sakes! I should like to know how far it extends, and what there is outside!"
"There is nothing at all," said Father Snail. "No place can be better than ours, and I have nothing to wish for!"
"Yes," said the dame. "I would willingly go to the manorhouse, be boiled, and laid on a silver dish; all our forefathers have been treated so; there is something extraordinary in it, you may be sure!"
"The manor-house has most likely fallen to ruin!"
said Father Snail. "Or the burdocks have grown up over it, so that
they cannot come out. There need not, however, be any haste about that;
but you are always in such a tremendous hurry, and the little one is beginning
to be the same. Has he not been creeping up that stalk these three days?
It gives me a headache when I look up
"You must not scold him," said Mother Snail. "He creeps so carefully; he will afford us much pleasure--and we have nothing but him to live for! But have you not thought of it? Where shall we get a wife for him? Do you not think that there are some of our species at a great distance in the interior of the burdock forest?"
"Black snails, I dare say, there are enough of," said the old one. "Black snails without a house--but they are so common, and so conceited. But we might give the ants a commission to look out for us; they run to and fro as if they had something to do, and they certainly know of a wife for our little snail!"
"I know one, sure enough--the most charming one!" said one of the ants. "But I am afraid we shall hardly succeed, for she is a queen!"
"That is nothing!" said the old folks. "Has she a house?"
"She has a palace!" said the ant. "The finest ant's palace, with seven hundred passages!"
"I thank you!" said Mother Snail. "Our son shall not go into an ant-hill; if you know nothing better than that, we shall give the commission to the white gnats. They fly far and wide, in rain and sunshine; they know the whole forest here, both within and without."
"We have a wife for him," said the gnats. "At a hundred human paces from here there sits a little snail in her house, on a gooseberry bush; she is quite lonely, and old enough to be married. It is only a hundred human paces!"
"Well, then, let her come to him!" said the old ones. "He has a whole forest of burdocks, she has only a bush!"
And so they went and fetched little Miss Snail. It was a whole week before she arrived; but therein was just the very best of it, for one could thus see that she was of the same species.
And then the marriage was celebrated. Six earth-worms
shone as well as they could. In other respects the whole went off very
quietly, for the old folks could not bear noise and merriment; but old
Dame Snail made a brilliant speech. Father Snail could not speak, he was
too much affected; and so they gave them as a dowry and inheritance, the
whole forest of burdocks, and said--what they had always said--that it
was the best in the world; and if
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