The True Story of My Life: A Sketch by Hans Christian Andersen
The True Story of My Life: A Sketch
In the spring of 1844 I had finished a dramatic tale,
"The Flower of
Professor Heiberg, who was appointed censor, declared himself against the reception of my piece. During the last years I had met with nothing but hostility from this party; I regarded it as personal ill-will, and this was to me still more painful than the rejection of the pieces. It was painful for me to be placed in a constrained position with regard to a poet whom I respected, and towards whom, according to my own conviction, I had done everything in order to obtain a friendly relationship. A further attempt, however, must be made. I wrote to Heiberg, expressed myself candidly, and, as I thought, cordially, and entreated him to give me explicitly the reasons for his rejection of the piece and for his ill-will towards me. He immediately paid me a visit, which I, not being at home when he called, returned on the following day, and I was received in the most friendly manner. The visit and the conversation belong certainly to the extraordinary, but they occasioned an explanation, and I hope led to a better understanding for the future.
He clearly set before me his views in the rejection of my piece. Seen from his point of sight they were unquestionably correct; but they were not mine, and thus we could not agree. He declared decidedly that he cherished no spite against me, and that he acknowledged my talent. I mentioned his various attacks upon me, for example, in the Intelligence, and that he had denied to me original invention: I imagined, however, that I had shown this in my novels; "But of these," said I, "you have read none; you, yourself have told me so."
"Yes, that is the truth," replied he; "I
have not yet read them, but I
"Since then," continued I, "you have turned
me and my Bazaar to
"Was it the Bosphorus?" said he, with his own peculiar smile; "yes, I had quite forgotten that, and, you see, people do not remember it either; the object in this case was only to give you a stab."
This confession sounded so natural, so like him, that I was obliged to smile. I looked into his clever eyes, thought how many beautiful things he had written, and I could not be angry with him. The conversation became more lively, more free, and he said many kind things to me; for example, he esteemed my stories very highly, and entreated me frequently to visit him. I have become more and more acquainted with his poetical temperament, and I fancy that he too will understand mine. We are very dissimilar, but we both strive after the same object. Before we separated he conducted me to his little observatory; now his dearest world. He seems now to live for poetry and now for philosophy, and for which I fancy he is least of all calculated--for astronomy. I could almost sigh and sing,
Thou wast erewhile the star at which them gazest now!
My dramatic story came at length on the stage, and in the course of the season was performed seven times.
As people grow older, however much they may be tossed about in the world, some one place must be the true home; even the bird of passage has one fixed spot to which it hastens; mine was and is the house of my friend Collin. Treated as a son, almost grown up with the children, I have become a member of the family; a more heartfelt connection, a better home have I never known: a link broke in this chain, and precisely in the hour of bereavement, did I feel how firmly I have been engrafted here, so that I was regarded as one of the children.
If I were to give the picture of the mistress of a family
I parted from her one Sunday evening in health and joy; in the night I was awoke; a servant brought me a letter. Collin wrote, "My wife is very ill; the children are all assembled here!" I understood it, and hastened thither. She slept quietly and without pain; it was the sleep of the just; it was death which was approaching so kindly and calmly. On the third day she yet lay in that peaceful slumber: then her countenance grew pale--and she was dead!
Thou didst but close thine eyes to gather in
Never had I imagined that the departure from this world could be so painless, so blessed. A devotion arose in my soul; a conviction of God and eternity, which this moment elevated to an epoch in my life. It was the first death-bed at which I had been present since my childhood. Children, and children's children were assembled. In such moments all is holy around us. Her soul was love; she went to love and to God!
At the end of July, the monument of King Frederick VI.
was to be
Skanderburg lies in one of the most beautiful districts
I returned home. In this year my novel of the Improvisatore
Travelling operates like an invigorating bath to the mind;
By prudent economy, and the proceeds of my writings, I
was in a
I wished to visit Italy for the third time, there to spend
I spent a few days at Count Moltke's, at Glorup; strolling players were acting some of my dramatic works at one of the nearest provincial towns. I did not see them; country life firmly withheld me. There is something in the late autumn poetically beautiful; when the leaf is fallen from the tree, and the sun shines still upon the green grass, and the bird twitters, one may often fancy that it is a spring-day; thus certainly also has the old man moments in his autumn in which his heart dreams of spring.
I passed only one day in Odense--I feel myself there more of a stranger than in the great cities of Germany. As a child I was solitary, and had therefore no youthful friend; most of the families whom I knew have died out; a new generation passes along the streets; and the streets even are altered. The later buried have concealed the miserable graves of my parents. Everything is changed. I took one of my childhood's rambles to the Marian-heights which had belonged to the Iversen family; but this family is dispersed; unknown faces looked out from the windows. How many youthful thoughts have been here exchanged!
One of the young girls who at that time sat quietly there with beaming eyes and listened to my first poem, when I came here in the summer time as a scholar from Slagelse, sits now far quieter in noisy Copenhagen, and has thence sent out her first writings into the world. Her German publisher thought that some introductory words from me might be useful to them, and I, the stranger, but the almost too kindly received, have introduced the works of this clever girl into Germany.
It is Henriette Hanck of whom I speak, the authoress of "Aunt Anna," and "An Author's Daughter." [Footnote: Since these pages were written, I have received from home the news of her death, in July, 1846. She was an affectionate daughter to her parents, and was, besides this, possessed of a deeply poetical mind. In her I have lost a true friend from the years of childhood, one who had felt an interest and a sisterly regard for me, both in my good and my evil days.] I visited her birth-place when the first little circle paid me homage and gave me joy. But all was strange there, I myself a stranger.
The ducal family of Augustenburg was now at Castle Gravenstein;
they were informed of my arrival, and all the favor and the kindness which
was shown to me on the former occasion at Augustenburg, was here renewed
in rich abundance. I remained here fourteen days, and it was as if these
were an announcement of all the happiness which should meet me when I
arrived in Germany. The country around here is of the most picturesque
description; vast woods, cultivated uplands in perpetual
Now, no longer the traveller goes at a snail's pace through the deep sand over the heath; the railroad conveys him in a few hours to Altona and Hamburg. The circle of my friends there is increased within the last years. The greater part of my time I spent with my oldest friends Count Hoik, and the resident Minister Bille, and with Zeise, the excellent translator of my stories. Otto Speckter, who is full of genius, surprised me by his bold, glorious drawings for my stories; he had made a whole collection of them, six only of which were known to me. The same natural freshness which shows itself in every one of his works, and makes them all little works of art, exhibits itself in his whole character. He appears to possess a patriarchal family, an affectionate old father, and gifted sisters, who love him with their whole souls. I wished one evening to go to the theatre; it was scarcely a quarter of an hour before the commencement of the opera: Speckter accompanied me, and on our way we came up to an elegant house.
"We must first go in here, dear friend," said
he; "a wealthy family
"But the opera," said I.
"Only for two minutes," returned he; and drew
me into the house,
"And now tell us a tale," said he; "only one."
I told one, and then hastened away to the theatre.
"That was an extraordinary visit," said I.
"An excellent one; one entirely out of the common way; one entirely out of the common way!" said he exultingly; "only think; the children are full of Andersen and his stories; he suddenly makes his appearance amongst them, tells one of them himself, and then is gone! vanished! That is of itself like a fairy-tale to the children, that will remain vividly in their remembrance."
I myself was amused by it.
In Oldenburg my own little room, home-like and comfortable,
Moses, who somewhat resembles Alexander Dumas, with his
half African countenance, and brown sparkling eyes, although he was suffering
in body, was full of life and soul, and we soon understood one another.
A trait of his little son affected me. He had listened to me with great
devotion, as I read one of my stories; and when on the last day I was
there, I took leave, the mother said that he must give me his hand, adding,
that probably a long time must pass before he would see me again, the
boy burst into tears. In the evening, when Mosen came into the theatre,
he said to me, "My little Erick has two tin soldiers; one of them
he has given me for you, that you may take him with you on your
The tin soldier has faithfully accompanied me; he is a Turk: probably some day he may relate his travels.
Mosen wrote in the dedication of his "John of Austria," the following lines to me:--
Once a little bird flew over
Here I again met with Mayer, who has described Naples
I can read Danish very well, as it ought to be read, and I can give to it perfectly the expression which ought to be given in reading; there is in the Danish language a power which cannot be transfused into a translation; the Danish language is peculiarly excellent for this species of fiction. The stories have a something strange to me in German; it is difficult for me in reading it to put my Danish soul into it; my pronunciation of the German also is feeble, and with particular words I must, as it were, use an effort to bring them out--and yet people everywhere in Germany have had great interest in hearing me read them aloud. I can very well believe that the foreign pronunciation in the reading of these tales may be easily permitted, because this foreign manner approaches, in this instance, to the childlike; it gives a natural coloring to the reading. I saw everywhere that the most distinguished men and women of the most highly cultivated minds, listened to me with interest; people entreated me to read, and I did so willingly. I read for the first time my stories in a foreign tongue, and at a foreign court, before the Grand Duke of Oldenburg and a little select circle.
The winter soon came on; the meadows which lay under water, and which formed large lakes around the city, were already covered with thick ice; the skaters flew over it, and I yet remained in Oldenburg among my hospitable friends. Days and evenings slid rapidly away; Christmas approached, and this season I wished to spend in Berlin. But what are distances in our days?--the steam-carriage goes from Hanover to Berlin in one day! I must away from the beloved ones, from children and old people, who were near, as it were, to my heart.
I was astonished in the highest degree on taking leave of the Grand Duke, to receive from him, as a mark of his favor and as a keepsake, a valuable ring. I shall always preserve it, like every other remembrance of this country, where I have found and where I possess true friends.
When I was in Berlin on the former occasion, I was invited,
He was in the highest degree captivated by my little stories, pressed me to his breast, and expressed the highest praise, but which was honestly meant. Such a momentary estimation or over-estimation from a man of genius erases many a dark shadow from the mind. I received from Rauch my first welcome in Berlin: he told me what a large circle of friends I had in the capital of Prussia. I must acknowledge that it was so. They were of the noblest in mind as well as the first in rank, in art, and in science. Alexander von Humboldt, Prince Radziwil, Savigny, and many others never to be forgotten.
I had already, on the former occasion, visited the brothers Grimm, but I had not at that time made much progress with the acquaintance. I had not brought any letters of introduction to them with me, because people had told me, and I myself believed it, that if I were known by any body in Berlin, it must be the brothers Grimm. I therefore sought out their residence. The servant-maid asked me with which of the brothers I wished to speak.
"With the one who has written the most," said
I, because I did not
"Jacob is the most learned," said the maidservant.
"Well, then, take me to him."
I entered the room, and Jacob Grimm, with his knowing and strongly- marked countenance, stood before me.
"I come to you," said I, "without letters
of introduction, because I
"Who are you?" asked he.
I told him, and Jacob Grimm said, in a half-embarrassed voice, "I do not remember to have heard this name; what have you written?"
It was now my turn to be embarrassed in a high degree:
but I now
"I do not know them," said he; "but mention to me some other of your writings, because I certainly must have heard them spoken of."
I named the titles of several; but he shook his head.
I felt myself
"But what must you think of me," said I, "that I come to you as a total stranger, and enumerate myself what I have written: you must know me! There has been published in Denmark a collection of the M rchen of all nations, which is dedicated to you, and in it there is at least one story of mine."
"No," said he good-humoredly, but as much embarrassed as myself; "I have not read even that, but it delights me to make your acquaintance; allow me to conduct you to my brother Wilhelm?"
"No, I thank you," said I, only wishing now to get away; I had fared badly enough with one brother. I pressed his hand and hurried from the house.
That same month Jacob Grimm went to Copenhagen; immediately on his arrival, and while yet in his travelling dress, did the amiable kind man hasten up to me. He now knew me, and he came to me with cordiality. I was just then standing and packing my clothes in a trunk for a journey to the country; I had only a few minutes time: by this means my reception of him was just as laconic as had been his of me in Berlin.
Now, however, we met in Berlin as old acquaintance. Jacob Grimm is one of those characters whom one must love and attach oneself to.
One evening, as I was reading one of my little stories at the Countess Bismark-Bohlen's, there was in the little circle one person in particular who listened with evident fellowship of feeling, and who expressed himself in a peculiar and sensible manner on the subject,-- this was Jacob's brother, Wilhelm Grimm.
"I should have known you very well, if you had come to me," said he, "the last time you were here."
I saw these two highly-gifted and amiable brothers almost daily; the circles into which I was invited seemed also to be theirs, and it was my desire and pleasure that they should listen to my little stories, that they should participate in them, they whose names will be always spoken as long as the German _Volks M rchen_ are read.
The fact of my not being known to Jacob Grimm on my first visit to Berlin, had so disconcerted me, that when any one asked me whether I had been well received in this city, I shook my head doubtfully and said, "but Grimm did not know me."
I was told that Tieck was ill--could see no one; I therefore
only sent in my card. Some days afterwards I met at a friend's house,
where Rauch's birthday was being celebrated, Tieck, the sculptor, who
told me that his brother had lately waited two hours for me at dinner.
I went to him and discovered that he had sent me an invitation, which,
however, had been taken to a wrong inn. A fresh invitation was given,
and I passed some delightfully cheerful hours with Raumer the historian,
and with the widow and daughter of Steffens. There is a music in Tieck's
voice, a spirituality in his intelligent eyes, which age cannot lessen,
but, on the contrary, must increase. The Elves, perhaps the most beautiful
story which has been conceived in our time, would alone be sufficient,
had Tieck written nothing else, to make his name immortal. As the author
of _M rchen_, I bow myself before him, the elder and The master, and who
was the first German poet, who
The old friends had all to be visited; but the number
of new ones grew with each day. One invitation followed another. It required
And yet amid these social festivities, with all the amiable
"Father in Heaven," I prayed, as the children do, "what dost thou give to me!"
When the friends heard of my solitary Christmas night, there were on the following evening many Christmas-trees lighted, and on the last evening in the year, there was planted for me alone, a little tree with its lights, and its beautiful presents--and that was by Jenny Lind. The whole company consisted of herself, her attendant, and me; we three children from the north were together on Sylvester-eve, and I was the child for which the Christmas-tree was lighted. She rejoiced with the feeling of a sister in my good fortune in Berlin; and I felt almost pride in the sympathy of such a pure, noble, and womanly being. Everywhere her praise resounded, not merely as a singer, but also as a woman; the two combined awoke a real enthusiasm for her.
It does one good both in mind and heart to see that which is glorious understood and beloved. In one little anecdote contributing to her triumph I was myself made the confidant.
One morning as I looked out of my window unter den
Linden, I saw a man under one of the trees, half hidden, and shabbily
dressed, who took a comb out of his pocket, smoothed his hair, set his
neckerchief straight, and brushed his coat with his hand; I understood
that bashful poverty which feels depressed by its shabby dress. A moment
after this, there was a knock at my door, and this same man entered. It
was W----, the poet of nature, who is only a poor tailor, but who has
a truly poetical mind. Rellstab and others in Berlin have mentioned him
with honor; there is something healthy in his poems, among which several
"I have already heard her," said he smiling;
"I had, it is true, no
With the exception of the theatre, I had very little time
I had the happiness of visiting the Princess of Prussia many times; the wing of the castle in which she resided was so comfortable, and yet like a fairy palace. The blooming winter-garden, where the fountain splashed among the moss at the foot of the statue, was close beside the room in which the kind-hearted children smiled with their soft blue eyes. On taking leave she honored me with a richly bound album, in which, beneath the picture of the palace, she wrote her name. I shall guard this volume as a treasure of the soul; it is not the gift which has a value only, but also the manner in which it is given. One forenoon I read to her several of my little stories, and her noble husband listened kindly: Prince P ckler-Muskau also was present.
A few days after my arrival in Berlin, I had the honor to be invited to the royal table. As I was better acquainted with Humboldt than any one there, and he it was who had particularly interested himself about me, I took my place at his side. Not only on account of his high intellectual character, and his amiable and polite behavior, but also from his infinite kindness towards me, during the whole of my residence in Berlin, is he become unchangeably dear to me.
The King received me most graciously, and said that during
his stay in Copenhagen he had inquired after me, and had heard that I
was travelling. He expressed a great interest in my novel of Only a
It was so deliciously pleasant in the royal apartment,--gentle
I received still one more proof of the favor and kindness of the King of Prussia towards me, on the evening before my departure from the city. The order of the Red Eagle, of the third class, was conferred upon me. Such a mark of honor delights certainly every one who receives it. I confess candidly that I felt myself honored in a high degree. I discerned in it an evident token of the kindness of the noble, enlightened King towards me: my heart is filled with gratitude. I received this mark of honor exactly on the birth-day of my benefactor Collin, the 6th of January; this day has now a twofold festal significance for me. May God fill with gladness the mind of the royal donor who wished to give me pleasure!
The last evening was spent in a warm-hearted circle, for the greater part, of young people. My health was drunk; a poem, Der Marchenknig, declaimed. It was not until late in the night that I reached home, that I might set off early in the morning by railroad.
I have here given in part a proof of the favor and kindness
which was shown to me in Berlin: I feel like some one who has received
After a journey of a day and night I was once more in Weimar, with my noble Hereditary Grand Duke. What a cordial reception! A heart rich in goodness, and a mind full of noble endeavors, live in this young prince. I have no words for the infinite favor, which, during my residence here, I received daily from the family of the Grand Duke, but my whole heart is full of devotion. At the court festival, as well as in the familiar family circle, I had many evidences of the esteem in which I was held. Beaulieu cared for me with the tenderness of a brother. It was to me a month-long Sabbath festival. Never shall I forget the quiet evenings spent with him, when friend spoke freely to friend.
My old friends were also unchanged; the wise and able Sch/ll, as well as Schober, joined them also. Jenny Lind came to Weimar; I heard her at the court concerts and at the theatre; I visited with her the places which are become sacred through Goethe and Schiller: we stood together beside their coffins, where Chancellor von M ller led us. The Austrian poet, Rollet, who met us here for the first time, wrote on this subject a sweet poem, which will serve me as a visible remembrance of this hour and this place. People lay lovely flowers in their books, and as such, I lay in here this verse of his:--
Weimar, 29th January, 1846.
Marchen rose, which has so often
And with thee beside each coffin,
I rejoiced amid the stillness;
And thy rose's summer fragrance
It was in the evening circle of the intellectual Froriep
that I met,
My stay in Weimar was prolonged; it became ever more difficult to tear myself away. The Grand Duke's birth-day occurred at this time, and after attending all the festivities to which I was invited, I departed. I would and must be in Rome at Easter. Once more in the early morning, I saw the Hereditary Grand Duke, and, with a heart full of emotion, bade him farewell. Never, in presence of the world, will I forget the high position which his birth gives him, but I may say, as the very poorest subject may say of a prince, I love him as one who is dearest to my heart. God give him joy and bless him in his noble endeavors! A generous heart beats beneath the princely star.
Beaulieu accompanied me to Jena. Here a hospitable home awaited me, and filled with beautiful memories from the time of Goethe, the house of the publisher Frommann. It was his kind, warm-hearted sister, who had shown me such sympathy in Berlin; the brother was not here less kind.
The Holstener Michelsen, who has a professorship at Jena, assembled a number of friends one evening, and in a graceful and cordial toast for me, expressed his sense of the importance of Danish literature, and the healthy and natural spirit which flourished in it.
In Michelsen's house I also became acquainted with Professor Hase, who, one evening having heard some of my little stories, seemed filled with great kindness towards me. What he wrote in this moment of interest on an album leaf expresses this sentiment:
"Schelling--not he who now lives in Berlin, but he
who lives an
It is also to Hase and the gifted improvisatore, Professor
This was all arranged on my arrival at Leipzig: several
I also met again my excellent countryman Gade, whose compositions
have been so well received in Germany. I took him the text for a new opera
which I had written, and which I hope to see brought out on the German
stage. Gade had written the music to my drama of Agnete and the Merman,
compositions which were very successful. Auerbach, whom I again found
here, introduced me to many agreeable circles. I met with the composer
Kalliwoda, and with K hne, whose charming little son immediately won my
On my arrival at Dresden I instantly hastened to my motherly friend, the Baroness von Decken. That was a joyous hearty welcome! One equally cordial I met with from Dahl. I saw once more my Roman friend, the poet with word and color, Reineck, and met the kind-hearted Bendemann. Professor Grahl painted me. I missed, however, one among my olden friends, the poet Brunnow. With life and cordiality he received me the last time in his room, where stood lovely flowers; now these grew over his grave. It awakens a peculiar feeling, thus for once to meet on the journey of life, to understand and love each other, and then to part-- until the journey for both is ended.
I spent, to me, a highly interesting evening, with the
My story of Holger Danske led the conversation to the rich stores of legends which the north possesses. I related several, and explained the peculiar spirit of the fine scenery of Denmark. Neither in this royal palace did I feel the weight of ceremony; soft, gentle eyes shone upon me. My last morning in Dresden was spent with the Minister von K/nneritz, where I equally met with the most friendly reception.
The sun shone warm: it was spring who was celebrating her arrival, as I rolled out of the dear city. Thought assembled in one amount all the many who had rendered my visits so rich and happy: it was spring around me, and spring in my heart.
In Prague I had only one acquaintance, Professor Wiesenfeldt. But a letter from Dr. Carus in Dresden opened to me the hospitable house of Count Thun. The Archduke Stephan received me also in the most gracious manner; I found in him a young man full of intellect and heart. Besides it was a very interesting point of time when I left Prague. The military, who had been stationed there a number of years, were hastening to the railway, to leave for Poland, where disturbances had broken out. The whole city seemed in movement to take leave of its military friends; it was difficult to get through the streets which led to the railway. Many thousand soldiers were to be accommodated; at length the train was set in motion. All around the whole hill-side was covered with people; it looked like the richest Turkey carpet woven of men, women and children, all pressed together, head to head, and waving hats and handkerchiefs. Such a mass of human beings I never saw before, or at least, never at one moment surveyed them: such a spectacle could not be painted.
We travelled the whole night through wide Bohemia: at every town stood groups of people; it was as though all the inhabitants had assembled themselves. Their brown faces, their ragged clothes, the light of their torches, their, to me, unintelligible language, gave to the whole a stamp of singularity. We flew through tunnel and over viaduct; the windows rattled, the signal whistle sounded, the steam horses snorted-- I laid back my head at last in the carriage, and fell asleep under the protection of the god Morpheus.
At Olmtz, where we had fresh carnages, a voice spoke my name--it was Walter Goethe! We had travelled together the whole night without knowing it. In Vienna we met often. Noble powers, true genius, live in Goethe's grandsons, in the composer as well as in the poet; but it is as if the greatness of their grandfather pressed upon them. Liszt was in Vienna, and invited me to his concert, in which otherwise it would have been impossible to find a place. I again heard his improvising of Robert! I again heard him, like a spirit of the storm, play with the chords: he is an enchanter of sounds who fills the imagination with astonishment. Ernst also was here; when I visited him he seized the violin, and this sang in tears the secret of a human heart.
I saw the amiable Grillparzer again, and was frequently with the kindly Castelli, who just at this time had been made by the King of Denmark Knight of the Danebrog Order. He was full of joy at this, and begged me to tell my countrymen that every Dane should receive a hearty welcome from him. Some future summer he invited me to visit his grand country seat. There is something in Castelli so open and honorable, mingled with such good-natured humor, that one must like him: he appears to me the picture of a thorough Viennese. Under his portrait, which he gave me, he wrote the following little improvised verse in the style so peculiarly his own:
This portrait shall ever with loving eyes greet thee,
Castelli introduced me to Seidl and Bauernfeld. At the
At my departure from Dresden her Majesty the Queen of
Saxony had asked me whether I had introductions to any one at the Court
of Vienna, and when I told her that I had not, the Queen was so gracious
as to write a letter to her sister, the Archduchess Sophia of Austria.
Her imperial Highness summoned me one evening, and received me in the
most gracious manner. The dowager Empress, the widow of the Emperor Francis
I., was present, and full of kindness and friendship towards me; also
Prince Wasa, and the hereditary Archduchess of Hesse-Darmstadt. The remembrance
of this evening will always remain dear and interesting to me. I read
several of my little stories aloud--when I wrote them, I thought least
of all that I should some day read them aloud in the
Before my departure I had still another visit to make, and this was to the intellectual authoress, Frau von Weissenthurn. She had just left a bed of sickness and was still suffering, but wished to see me. As though she were already standing on the threshold of the realm of shades, she pressed my hand and said this was the last time we should ever see each other. With a soft motherly gaze she looked at me, and at parting her penetrating eye followed me to the door.
With railway and diligence my route now led towards Triest. With steam the long train of carriages flies along the narrow rocky way, following all the windings of the river. One wonders that with all these abrupt turnings one is not dashed against the rock, or flung down into the roaring stream, and is glad when the journey is happily accomplished. But in the slow diligence one wishes its more rapid journey might recommence, and praise the powers of the age.
At length Triest and the Adriatic sea lay before us; the
Thy virtue was concealed, not so thy failings,
On the Adriatic sea I, in thought, was carried back to
It was a quiet starlight night, too beautiful to be spent
in sleep. In
It was the 31st of March, 1846, when I again saw Rome,
and for the third time in my life should reach this city of the world.
I felt so
The first time I travelled to Italy I had no eyes for
Among the many clever and beautiful things which I saw
exhibited in the studios of the young artists, two pieces of sculpture
were what most deeply impressed themselves on my memory; and these were
in the studio of my countryman Jerichau. I saw his group of Hercules and
Hebe, which had been spoken of with such enthusiasm in the Allgemeine
Zeitung and other German papers, and which, through its antique repose,
I have known him from the time when he was almost a boy.
We were both of us born on the same island: he is from the little town
of Assens. We met in Copenhagen. No one, not even he himself, knew what
lay within him; and half in jest, half in earnest, he spoke of the combat
with himself whether he should go to America and become a savage, or to
Rome and become an artist--painter or sculptor; that he did not yet know.
His pencil was meanwhile thrown away: he modelled in clay, and my bust
was the first which he made. He received no travelling stipendium from
I also met in Rome, Kolberg, another Danish sculptor, until now only known in Denmark, but there very highly thought of, a scholar of Thorwaldsen's and a favorite of that great master. He honored me by making my bust. I also sat once more with the kindly K chler, and saw the forms fresh as nature spread themselves over the canvas.
I sat once again with the Roman people in the amusing
puppet theatre, and heard the children's merriment. Among the German artists,
as well as among the Swedes and my own countrymen, I met with a hearty
reception. My birth-day was joyfully celebrated. Frau von Goethe, who
was in Rome, and who chanced to be living in the very house where I brought
my Improvisatore into the world, and made him spend his first years of
childhood, sent me from thence a large, true Roman bouquet, a fragrant
mosaic. The Swedish painter, S/dermark, proposed my health to the company
whom the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians had invited me to
The Hanoverian minister, K stner, to whose friendship I am indebted for many pleasant hours, is an extremely agreeable man, possessed of no small talent for poetry, music, and painting. At his house I really saw for the first time flower-painting elevated by a poetical idea. In one of his rooms he has introduced an arabesque of flowers which presents us with the flora of the whole year. It commences with the first spring flowers, the crocus, the snow drop, and so on; then come the summer flowers, then the autumn, and at length the garland ends with the red berries and yellow-brown leaves of December.
Constantly in motion, always striving to employ every
moment and to see everything, I felt myself at last very much affected
by the unceasing sirocco. The Roman air did not agree with me, and I hastened,
therefore, as soon as I had seen the illumination of the dome and the
girandola, immediately after the Easter festival, through Terracina
to Naples. Count Paar travelled with me. We entered St. Lucia: the sea
lay before us; Vesuvius blazed. Those were glorious evenings! moonlight
nights! It was as if the heavens had elevated themselves above and the
stars were withdrawn. What effect of light! In the north the moon scatters
silver over the water: here it was gold. The circulating lanterns of the
lighthouse now exhibited their dazzling light, now were totally extinguished.
The torches of the fishing-boats threw their obelisk-formed blaze along
the surface of the water, or else the boat concealed them like a black
shadow, below which the surface of the water was illuminated. One fancied
one could see to the
I visited the islands of Capri and Ischia once more; and, as the heat of the sun and the strong sirocco made a longer residence in Naples oppressive to me, I went to Sarrento, Tasso's city, where the foliage of the vine cast a shade, and where the air appears to me lighter. Here I wrote these pages. In Rome, by the bay of Naples and amid the Pyrenees, I put on paper the story of my life.
The well-known festival of the Madonna dell' Arco called me again to Naples, where I took up my quarters at an hotel in the middle of the city, near the Toledo Street, and found an excellent host and hostess. I had already resided here, but only in the winter. I had now to see Naples in its summer heat and with all its wild tumult, but in what degree I had never imagined. The sun shone down with its burning heat into the narrow streets, in at the balcony door. It was necessary to shut up every place: not a breath of air stirred. Every little corner, every spot in the street on which a shadow fell was crowded with working handicraftsmen, who chattered loudly and merrily; the carriages rolled past; the drivers screamed; the tumult of the people roared like a sea in the other streets; the church bells sounded every minute; my opposite neighbor, God knows who he was, played the musical scale from morning till evening. It was enough to make one lose one's senses!
The sirocco blew its boiling-hot breath and I was perfectly overcome. There was not another room to be had at St. Lucia, and the sea-bathing seemed rather to weaken than to invigorate me. I went therefore again into the country; but the sun burned there with the same beams; yet still the air there was more elastic, yet for all that it was to me like the poisoned mantle of Hercules, which, as it were, drew out of me strength and spirit. I, who had fancied that I must be precisely a child of the sun, so firmly did my heart always cling to the south, was forced to acknowledge that the snow of the north was in my body, that the snow melted, and that I was more and more miserable.
Most strangers felt as I myself did in this, as the Neapolitans
I took a berth in the steam-boat Castor for Marseilles;
the vessel was full to overflowing with passengers; the whole quarter-deck,
even the best place, was occupied by travelling carriages; under one of
these I had my bed laid; many people followed my example, and the quarter-deck
was soon covered with mattresses and carpets. It blew strongly; the wind
increased, and in the second and third night raged to a perfect storm;
the ship rolled from side to side like a cask in the open sea; the waves
dashed on the ship's side and lifted up their broad heads above the bulwarks
as if they would look in upon us. It was as if the carriages under which
we lay would crush us to pieces, or else would be washed away by the sea.
There was a lamentation, but I lay quiet, looked up at the driving clouds,
and thought upon God and my beloved. When at length we reached Genoa most
of the passengers went on land: I
Before leaving Marseilles, chance favored me with a short meeting with one of my friends from the North, and this was Ole Bull! He came from America, and was received in France with jubilees and serenades, of which I was myself a witness. At the table d'haute in the Hotel des Empereurs, where we both lodged, we flew towards each other. He told me what I should have expected least of all, that my works had also many friends in America, that people had inquired from him about me with the greatest interest, and that the English translations of my romances had been reprinted, and spread through the whole country in cheap editions. My name flown over the great ocean! I felt myself at this thought quite insignificant, but yet glad and happy; wherefore should I, in preference to so many thousand others, receive such happiness?
I had and still have a feeling as though I were a poor peasant lad over whom a royal mantle is thrown. Yet I was and am made happy by all this! Is this vanity, or does it show itself in these expressions of my joy?
Ole Bull went to Algiers, I towards the Pyrenees. Through Provence, which looked to me quite Danish, I reached Nismes, where the grandeur of the splendid Roman amphitheatre at once carried me back to Italy. The memorials of antiquity in the south of France I have never heard praised as their greatness and number deserve; the so-called Maison Quare is still standing in all its splendor, like the Theseus Temple at Athens: Rome has nothing so well preserved.
In Nismes dwells the baker Reboul, who writes the most
charming poems: whoever may not chance to know him from these is, however,
well acquainted with him through Lamartine's Journey to the East. I found
him at the house, stepped into the bakehouse, and addressed myself to
a man in shirt sleeves who was putting bread into the oven; it was Reboul
himself! A noble countenance which expressed a manly character greeted
me. When I mentioned my name, he was courteous enough to say he was acquainted
with it through the Revue de Paris, and begged me to visit
By railway I now travelled by way of Montpelier to Cette, with that rapidity which a train possesses in France; you fly there as though for a wager with the wild huntsman. I involuntarily remembered that at Basle, at the corner of a street where formerly the celebrated Dance of Death was painted, there is written up in large letters "Dance of Death," and on the opposite corner "Way to the Railroad." This singular juxtaposition just at the frontiers of France, gives play to the fancy; in this rushing flight it came into my thoughts; it seemed as though the steam whistle gave the signal to the dance. On German railways one does not have such wild fancies.
The islander loves the sea as the mountaineer loves his mountains!
Every sea-port town, however small it may be, receives
in my eyes a peculiar charm from the sea. Was it the sea, in connexion
perhaps with the Danish tongue, which sounded in my ears in two houses
in Cette, that made this town so homelike to me? I know not, but I felt
more in Denmark than in the south of France. When far from your country
you enter a house where all, from the master and mistress to the servants,
speak your own language, as was here the case, these home tones have a
real power of enchantment: like the mantle of Faust, in a moment they
transport you, house and all, into your own land. Here, however, there
was no northern summer, but the hot sun of Naples; it might even have
burnt Faust's cap. The sun's rays destroyed all strength. For many years
there had not been such a summer, even here; and from the country round
about arrived accounts of people who had died from the heat: the very
nights were hot. I was told beforehand I should be unable to bear the
journey in Spain. I felt this myself, but then Spain was to be the bouquet
of my journey. I already saw the Pyrenees; the blue mountains enticed
me--and one morning early I found myself on the steam-boat. The sun rose
higher; it burnt above, it burnt from the expanse of waters, myriads of
jelly-like medusas filled the river; it was as though the
At the distance of a half-hour's journey from Beziers
we were put on land; I felt almost ready to faint, and there was no carriage
here, for the omnibus had not expected us so early; the sun burnt infernally.
People say the south of France is a portion of Paradise; under the present
circumstances it seemed to me a portion of hell with all its heat. In
Beziers the diligence was waiting, but all the best places were already
taken; and I here for the first, and I hope for the last time, got into
the hinder part of such a conveyance. An ugly woman in slippers, and with
a head-dress a yard high, which she hung up, took her seat beside me;
and now came a singing sailor who had certainly drunk too many healths;
then a couple of dirty fellows, whose first manoeuvre was to pull off
their boots and coats and sit upon them, hot and dirty, whilst the thick
clouds of dust whirled into the vehicle, and the sun burnt and blinded
me. It was impossible to endure this farther than Narbonne; sick and suffering,
I sought rest, but then came
I reached Perpignan. The sun had here also swept the streets
of people, it was only when night came that they came forth, but then
it was like a roaring stream, as though a real tumult were about to destroy
the town. The human crowd moved in waves beneath my windows, a loud shout
resounded; it pierced through my sick frame. What was that?--what did
it mean? "Good evening, Mr. Arago!" resounded from the strongest
voices, thousands repeated it, and music sounded; it was the celebrated
Arago, who was staying in the room next to mine: the people gave him a
serenade. Now this was the third I had witnessed on my journey. Arago
addressed them from the balcony, the shouts of the people filled the streets.
There are few evenings in my life when I have felt so ill as on this one,
the tumult went through my nerves; the beautiful singing which followed
could not refresh me. Ill as I was, I gave up every thought of travelling
into Spain; I felt it would be impossible for me. Ah, if I could only
recover strength enough to reach Switzerland! I was filled with horror
at the idea of the journey back. I was advised to hasten as quickly as
possible to the Pyrenees, and there breathe the strengthening mountain
air: the baths of Vernet were recommended as cool and excellent, and I
had a letter of introduction to the head of the establishment there. After
an exhausting journey of a night and some hours in the morning, I have
reached this place, from whence I sent these last sheets. The air is so
cool, so strengthening, such as I have not breathed for months. A few
days here have entirely restored
Vernet as yet is not one of the well-known bathing places, although it possesses the peculiarity of being visited all the year round. The most celebrated visitor last winter was Ibrahim Pacha; his name still lives on the lips of the hostess and waiter as the greatest glory of the establishment; his rooms were shown first as a curiosity. Among the anecdotes current about him is the story of his two French words, merci and tres bien, which he pronounced in a perfectly wrong manner.
In every respect, Vernet among baths is as yet in a state
of innocence; it is only in point of great bills that the Commandant has
been able to raise it on a level with the first in Europe. As for the
rest, you live here in a solitude, and separated from the world as in
no other bathing place: for the amusement of the guests nothing in the
least has been done; this must be sought in wanderings on foot or on donkey-back
among the mountains; but here all is so peculiar and full of variety,
that the want of artificial pleasures is the less felt. It is here as
though the most opposite natural productions had been mingled together,--
northern and southern, mountain and valley vegetation. From one point
you will look over vineyards, and up to a mountain which appears a
High on the cliff, at the edge of a steep precipice, lie
the remains of
But if you enter the town itself--where the apothecary's
shop is, is
The people are unusually ugly; the very children are real gnomes; the expression of childhood does not soften the clumsy features. But a few hours' journey on the other side of the mountains, on the Spanish side, there blooms beauty, there flash merry brown eyes. The only poetical picture I retain of Vernet was this. In the market-place, under a splendidly large tree, a wandering pedlar had spread out all his wares,--handkerchiefs, books and pictures,--a whole bazaar, but the earth was his table; all the ugly children of the town, burnt through by the sun, stood assembled round these splendid things; several old women looked out from their open shops; on horses and asses the visitors to the bath, ladies and gentlemen, rode by in long procession, whilst two little children, half hid behind a heap of planks; played at being cocks, and shouted all the time, "kekkeriki!"
Far more of a town, habitable and well-appointed, is the
garrison town of Villefranche, with its castle of the age of Louis XIV.,
which lies a few hours' journey from this place. The road by Olette to
Spain passes through it, and there is also some business; many houses
attract your eye by their beautiful Moorish windows carved in marble.
The church is built half in the Moorish style, the altars are such as
are seen in Spanish churches, and the Virgin stands there with the Child,
all dressed in gold and silver. I visited Villefranche one of the first
days of my sojourn here; all the visitors made the excursion with me,
to which end all the horses and asses far and near were brought together;
horses were put into the Commandant's venerable coach, and it was occupied
by people within and without, just as though it had been a French public
vehicle. A most amiable Holsteiner, the best rider of the
And here in this fresh mountain nature, on the frontiers
of a land
The story of my life, up to the present hour, lies unrolled
before me, so rich and beautiful that I could not have invented it. I
feel that I am a child of good fortune; almost every one meets me full
of love and candor, and seldom has my confidence in human nature been
deceived. From the prince to the poorest peasant I have felt the noble
human heart beat. It is a joy to live and to believe in God and man. Openly
and full of confidence, as if I sat among dear friends, I have here related
the story of my life, have spoken both of my sorrows and joys, and have
expressed my pleasure at each mark of applause and recognition, as I believe
I might even express it before God himself. But then, whether this may
be vanity? I know not: my heart was affected and humble at the same time,
my thought was gratitude to God. That I have related it is not alone because
such a biographical sketch as this
In a few days I shall say farewell to the Pyrenees, and
return through Switzerland to dear, kind Germany, where so much joy has
flowed into my life, where I possess so many sympathizing friends, where
my writings have been so kindly and encouragingly received, and where
also these sheets will be gently criticized, When the Christmas-tree is
lighted,-- when, as people say, the white bees swarm,--I shall be, God
willing, again in Denmark with my dear ones, my heart filled with the
flowers of travel, and strengthened both in body and mind: then will new
works grow upon paper; may God lay his blessing upon them! He will do
Vernet (Department of the East Pyrenees), July, 1846.
H. C. ANDERSEN.
Andersen, Hans Christian. The True Story of My Life: A Sketch. Mary Howitt, translator. Boston: James Munroe, 1847.