The True Story of My Life
By Hans Christian Andersen
Public Domain Books
From this day forward, it was as if a more constant sunshine had entered my heart. I felt within myself more repose, more certainty; it was clear to me, as I glanced back over my earlier life, that a loving Providence watched over me, that all was directed for me by a higher Power; and the firmer becomes such a conviction, the more secure does a man feel himself. My childhood lay behind me, my youthful life began properly from this period; hitherto it had been only an arduous swimming against the stream. The spring of my life commenced; but still the spring had its dark days, its storms, before it advanced to settled summer; it has these in order to develop what shall then ripen. That which one of my dearest friends wrote to me on one of my later travels abroad, may serve as an introduction to what I have here to relate. He wrote in his own peculiar style:–"It is your vivid imagination which creates the idea of your being despised in Denmark; it is utterly untrue. You and Denmark agree admirably, and you would agree still better, if there were in Denmark no theatre–Hinc illae lacrymae! This cursed theatre. Is this, then, Denmark? and are you, then, nothing but a writer for the theatre?”
Herein lies a solid truth. The theatre has been the cave out of which most of the evil storms have burst upon me. They are peculiar people, these people of the theatre,–as different, in fact, from others, as Bedouins from Germans; from the first pantomimist to the first lover, everyone places himself systematically in one scale, and puts all the world in the other. The Danish theatre is a good theatre, it may indeed be placed on a level with the Burg theatre in Vienna; but the theatre in Copenhagen plays too great a part in conversation, and possesses in most circles too much importance. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the stage and the actors in other great cities, and therefore cannot compare them with our theatre; but ours has too little military discipline, and this is absolutely necessary where many people have to form a whole, even when that whole is an artistical one. The most distinguished dramatic poets in Denmark–that is to say, in Copenhagen, for there only is a theatre–have their troubles. Those actors and actresses who, through talent or the popular favor, take the first rank, very often place themselves above both the managers and authors. These must pay court to them, or they may ruin a part, or what is still worse, may spread abroad an unfavorable opinion of the piece previous to its being acted; and thus you have a coffee-house criticism before any one ought properly to know anything of the work. It is moreover characteristic of the people of Copenhagen, that when a new piece is announced, they do not say, “I am glad of it,” but, “It will probably be good for nothing; it will be hissed off the stage.” That hissing-off plays a great part, and is an amusement which fills the house; but it is not the bad actor who is hissed, no, the author and the composer only are the criminals; for them the scaffold is erected. Five minutes is the usual time, and the whistles resound, and the lovely women smile and felicitate themselves, like the Spanish ladies at their bloody bullfights. All our most eminent dramatic writers have been whistled down,–as Oehlenschl ger, Heiberg, Oversko, and others; to say nothing of foreign classics, as Moli re. In the mean time the theatre is the most profitable sphere of labor for the Danish writer, whose public does not extend far beyond the frontiers. This had induced me to write the opera-text already spoken of, on account of which I was so severely criticised; and an internal impulse drove me afterwards to add some other works. Collin was no longer manager of the theatre, Councillor of Justice Molbeck had taken his place; and the tyranny which now commenced degenerated into the comic. I fancy that in course of time the manuscript volumes of the censorship, which are preserved in the theatre, and in which Molbeck has certainly recorded his judgments on received and rejected pieces, will present some remarkable characteristics. Over all that I wrote the staff was broken! One way was open to me by which to bring my pieces on the stage; and that was to give them to those actors who in summer gave representations at their own cost. In the summer of 1839 I wrote the vaudeville of “The Invisible One on Sprog÷,” to scenery which had been painted for another piece which fell through; and the unrestrained merriment of the piece gave it such favor with the public, that I obtained its acceptance by the manager; and that light sketch still maintains itself on the boards, and has survived such a number of representations as I had never anticipated.
This approbation, however, procured me no further advantage, for each of my succeeding dramatic works received only rejection, and occasioned me only mortification. Nevertheless, seized by the idea and the circumstances of the little French narrative, ’Les paves,” I determined to dramatise it; and as I had often heard that I did not possess the assiduity sufficient to work my mat riel well, I resolved to labor this drama–"The Mulatto"–from the beginning to the end, in the most diligent manner, and to compose it in alternately rhyming verse, as was then the fashion. It was a foreign subject of which I availed myself; but if verses are music, I at least endeavored to adapt my music to the text, and to let the poetry of another diffuse itself through my spiritual blood; so that people should not be heard to say, as they had done before, regarding the romance of Walter Scott, that the composition was cut down and fitted to the stage.
The piece was ready, and declared by able men, old friends, and actors who were to appear in it, to be excellent; a rich dramatic capacity lay in the mat riel, and my lyrical composition clothed this with so fresh a green, that people appeared satisfied. The piece was sent in, and was rejected by Molbeck. It was sufficiently known that what he cherished for the boards, withered there the first evening; but what he cast away as weeds were flowers for the garden–a real consolation for me. The assistant-manager, Privy Counsellor of State, Adler, a man of taste and liberality, became the patron of my work; and since a very favorable opinion of it already prevailed with the public, after I had read it to many persons, it was resolved on for representation. I had the honor to read it before my present King and Queen, who received me in a very kind and friendly manner, and from whom, since that time, I have experienced many proofs of favor and cordiality. The day of representation arrived; the bills were posted; I had not closed my eyes through the whole night from excitement and expectation; the people already stood in throngs before the theatre, to procure tickets, when royal messengers galloped through the streets, solemn groups collected, the minute guns pealed,–Frederick VI. had died this morning!
For two months more was the theatre closed, and was opened under Christian VIII., with my drama–"The Mulatto;” which was received with the most triumphant acclamation; but I could not at once feel the joy of it, I felt only relieved from a state of excitement, and breathed more freely.
This piece continued through a series of representations to receive the same approbation; many placed this work far above all my former ones, and considered that with it began my proper poetical career. It was soon translated into the Swedish, and acted with applause at the royal theatre in Stockholm. Travelling players introduced it into the smaller towns in the neighboring country; a Danish company gave it in the original language, in the Swedish city Malm÷, and a troop of students from the university town of Lund, welcomed it with enthusiasm. I had been for a week previous on a visit at some Swedish country houses, where I was entertained with so much cordial kindness that the recollection of it will never quit my bosom; and there, in a foreign country, I received the first public testimony of honor, and which has left upon me the deepest and most inextinguishable impression. I was invited by some students of Lund to visit their ancient town. Here a public dinner was given to me; speeches were made, toasts were pronounced; and as I was in the evening in a family circle, I was informed that the students meant to honor me with a serenade.
I felt myself actually overcome by this intelligence; my heart throbbed feverishly as I descried the thronging troop, with their blue caps, and arm-in-arm approaching the house. I experienced a feeling of humiliation; a most lively consciousness of my deficiencies, so that I seemed bowed to the very earth at the moment others were elevating me. As they all uncovered their heads while I stepped forth, I had need of all my thoughts to avoid bursting into tears. In the feeling that I was unworthy of all this, I glanced round to see whether a smile did not pass over the face of some one, but I could discern nothing of the kind; and such a discovery would, at that moment, have inflicted on me the deepest wound.
After an hurrah, a speech was delivered, of which I clearly recollect the following words:–"When your native land, and the natives of Europe offer you their homage, then may you never forget that the first public honors were conferred on you by the students of Lund.”
When the heart is warm, the strength of the expression is not weighed. I felt it deeply, and replied, that from this moment I became aware that I must assert a name in order to render myself worthy of these tokens of honor. I pressed the hands of those nearest to me, and returned them thanks so deep, so heartfelt,–certainly never was an expression of thanks more sincere. When I returned to my chamber, I went aside, in order to weep out this excitement, this overwhelming sensation. “Think no more of it, be joyous with us,” said some of my lively Swedish friends; but a deep earnestness had entered my soul. Often has the memory of this time come back to me; and no noble-minded man, who reads these pages will discover a vanity in the fact, that I have lingered so long over this moment of life, which scorched the roots of pride rather than nourished them.
My drama was now to be brought on the stage at Malm÷; the students wished to see it; but I hastened my departure, that I might not be in the theatre at the time. With gratitude and joy fly my thoughts towards the Swedish University city, but I myself have not been there again since. In the Swedish newspapers the honors paid me were mentioned, and it was added that the Swedes were not unaware that in my own country there was a clique which persecuted me; but that this should not hinder my neighbors from offering me the honors which they deemed my due.
It was when I had returned to Copenhagen that I first truly felt how cordially I had been received by the Swedes; amongst some of my old and tried friends I found the most genuine sympathy. I saw tears in their eyes, tears of joy for the honors paid me; and especially, said they, for the manner in which I had received them. There is but one manner for me; at once, in the midst of joy, I fly with thanks to God.
There were certain persons who smiled at the enthusiasm; certain voices raised themselves already against “The Mulatto;"–"the mat riel was merely borrowed;” the French narrative was scrupulously studied. That exaggerated praise which I had received, now made me sensitive to the blame; I could bear it less easily than before, and saw more clearly, that it did not spring out of an interest in the matter, but was only uttered in order to mortify me. For the rest, my mind was fresh and elastic; I conceived precisely at this time the idea of “The Picture- Book without Pictures,” and worked it out. This little book appears, to judge by the reviews and the number of editions, to have obtained an extraordinary popularity in Germany; it was also translated into Swedish, and dedicated to myself; at home, it was here less esteemed; people talked only of The Mulatto; and finally, only of the borrowed mat riel of it. I determined, therefore to produce a new dramatic work, in which both subject and development, in fact, everything should be of my own conception. I had the idea, and now wrote the tragedy of The Moorish Maiden, hoping through this to stop the mouths of all my detractors, and to assert my place as a dramatic poet. I hoped, too, through the income from this, together with the proceeds of The Mulatto, to be able to make a fresh journey, not only to Italy, but to Greece and Turkey. My first going abroad had more than all besides operated towards my intellectual development; I was therefore full of the passion for travel, and of the endeavor to acquire more knowledge of nature and of human life.
My new piece did not please Heiberg, nor indeed my dramatic endeavors at all; his wife–for whom the chief part appeared to me especially to be written–refused, and that not in the most friendly manner, to play it. Deeply wounded, I went forth. I lamented this to some individuals. Whether this was repeated, or whether a complaint against the favorite of the public is a crime, enough: from this hour Heiberg became my opponent,–he whose intellectual rank I so highly estimated,–he with whom I would so willingly have allied myself,–and he who so often–I will venture to say it–I had approached with the whole sincerity of my nature. I have constantly declared his wife to be so distinguished an actress, and continue still so entirely of this opinion, that I would not hesitate one moment to assert that she would have a European reputation, were the Danish language as widely diffused as the German or the French. In tragedy she is, by the spirit and the geniality with which she comprehends and fills any part, a most interesting object; and in comedy she stands unrivalled.
The wrong may be on my side or not,–no matter: a party was opposed to me. I felt myself wounded, excited by many coincident annoyances there. I felt uncomfortable in my native country, yes, almost ill. I therefore left my piece to its fate, and, suffering and disconcerted, I hastened forth. In this mood I wrote a prologue to The Moorish Maiden; which betrayed my irritated mind far too palpably. If I would represent this portion of my life more clearly and reflectively it would require me to penetrate into the mysteries of the theatre, to analyze our aesthetic cliques, and to drag into conspicuous notice many individuals, who do not belong to publicity. Many persons in my place would, like me, have fallen ill, or would have resented it vehemently: perhaps the latter would have been the most sensible.
At my departure, many of my young friends amongst the students prepared a banquet for me; and amongst the elder ones who were present to receive me were Collin, Oehlenschl ger and Oersted. This was somewhat of sunshine in the midst of my mortification; songs by Oehlenschl ger and Hillerup were sung; and I found cordiality and friendship, as I quitted my country in distress. This was in October of 1840.
For the second time I went to Italy and Rome, to Greece and Constantinople–a journey which I have described after my own manner in A Poet’s Bazaar.
In Holstein I continued some days with Count Rantzau-Breitenburg, who had before invited me, and whose ancestral castle I now for the first time visited. Here I became acquainted with the rich scenery of Holstein, heath and moorland, and then hastened by Nuremberg to Munich, where I again met with Cornelius and Schelling, and was kindly received by Kaulbach and Schelling. I cast a passing glance on the artistic life in Munich, but for the most part pursued my own solitary course, sometimes filled with the joy of life, but oftener despairing of my powers. I possessed a peculiar talent, that of lingering on the gloomy side of life, of extracting the bitter from it, of tasting it; and understood well, when the whole was exhausted, how to torment myself.
In the winter season I crossed the Brenner, remained some days in Florence, which I had before visited for a longer time, and about Christmas reached Rome. Here again I saw the noble treasures of art, met old friends, and once more passed a Carnival and Moccoli. But not alone was I bodily ill; nature around me appeared likewise to sicken; there was neither the tranquillity nor the freshness which attended my first sojourn in Rome. The rocks quaked, the Tiber twice rose into the streets, fever raged, and snatched numbers away. In a few days Prince Borghese lost his wife and three sons. Rain and wind prevailed; in short, it was dismal, and from home cold lotions only were sent me. My letters told me that The Moorish Maiden had several times been acted through, and had gone quietly off the stage; but, as was seen beforehand, a small public only had been present, and therefore the manager had laid the piece aside. Other Copenhagen letters to our countrymen in Rome spoke with enthusiasm of a new work by Heiberg; a satirical poem–A Soul after Death. It was but just out, they wrote; all Copenhagen was full of it, and Andersen was famously handled in it. The book was admirable, and I was made ridiculous in it. That was the whole which I heard,–all that I knew. No one told me what really was said of me; wherein lay the amusement and the ludicrous. It is doubly painful to be ridiculed when we don’t know wherefore we are so. The information operated like molten lead dropped into a wound, and agonized me cruelly. It was not till after my return to Denmark that I read this book, and found that what was said of me in it, was really nothing in itself which was worth laying to heart. It was a jest over my celebrity “from Schonen to Hundsr ck”, which did not please Heiberg; he therefore sent my Mulatto and The Moorish Maiden to the infernal regions, where–and that was the most witty conceit–the condemned were doomed to witness the performance of both pieces in one evening; and then they could go away and lay themselves down quietly. I found the poetry, for the rest, so excellent, that I was half induced to write to Heiberg, and to return him my thanks for it; but I slept upon this fancy, and when I awoke and was more composed, I feared lest such thanks should be misunderstood; and so I gave it up.
In Rome, as I have said, I did not see the book; I only heard the arrows whizz and felt their wound, but I did not know what the poison was which lay concealed in them. It seemed to me that Rome was no joy- bringing city; when I was there before, I had also passed dark and bitter days. I was ill, for the first time in my life, truly and bodily ill, and I made haste to get away.
The Danish poet Holst was then in Rome; he had received this year a travelling pension. Hoist had written an elegy on King Frederick VI., which went from mouth to mouth, and awoke an enthusiasm, like that of Becker’s contemporaneous Rhine song in Germany. He lived in the same house with me in Rome, and showed me much sympathy: with him I made the journey to Naples, where, notwithstanding it was March, the sun would not properly shine, and the snow lay on the hills around. There was fever in my blood; I suffered in body and in mind; and I soon lay so severely affected by it, that certainly nothing but a speedy blood- letting, to which my excellent Neapolitan landlord compelled me, saved my life.
In a few days I grew sensibly better; and I now proceeded by a French war steamer to Greece. Holst accompanied me on board. It was now as if a new life had risen for me; and in truth this was the case; and if this does not appear legibly in my later writings, yet it manifested itself in my views of life, and in my whole inner development. As I saw my European home lie far behind me, it seemed to me as if a stream of forgetfulness flowed of all bitter and rankling remembrances: I felt health in my blood, health in my thoughts, and freshly and courageously I again raised my head.
Like another Switzerland, with a loftier and clearer heaven than the Italian, Greece lay before me; nature made a deep and solemn impression upon me; I felt the sentiment of standing on the great battle field of the world, where nation had striven with nation, and had perished. No single poem can embrace such greatness; every scorched-up bed of a stream, every height, every stone, has mighty memoirs to relate. How little appear the inequalities of daily life in such a place! A kingdom of ideas streamed through me, and with such a fulness, that none of them fixed themselves on paper. I had a desire to express the idea, that the godlike was here on earth to maintain its contest, that it is thrust backward, and yet advances again victoriously through all ages; and I found in the legend of the Wandering Jew an occasion for it. For twelve months this fiction had been emerging from the sea of my thoughts; often did it wholly fill me; sometimes I fancied with the alchemists that I had dug up the treasure; then again it sank suddenly, and I despaired of ever being able to bring it to the light. I felt what a mass of knowledge of various kinds I must first acquire. Often at home, when I was compelled to hear reproofs on what they call a want of study, I had sat deep into the night, and had studied history in Hegel’s Philosophy of History. I said nothing of this, or other studies, or they would immediately have been spoken of, in the manner of an instructive lady, who said, that people justly complained that I did not possess learning enough. “You have really no mythology” said she; “in all your poems there appears no single God. You must pursue mythology; you must read Racine and Corneille.” That she called learning; and in like manner every one had something peculiar to recommend. For my poem of Ahasuerus I had read much and noted much, but yet not enough; in Greece, I thought, the whole will collect itself into clearness. The poem is not yet ready, but I hope that it will become so to my honor; for it happens with the children of the spirit, as with the earthly ones,–they grow as they sleep.
In Athens I was heartily welcomed by Professor Ross, a native of Holstein, and by my countrymen. I found hospitality and a friendly feeling in the noble Prokesch-Osten; even the king and queen received me most graciously. I celebrated my birthday in the Acropolis.
From Athens I sailed to Smyrna, and with me it was no childish pleasure to be able to tread another quarter of the globe. I felt a devotion in it, like that which I felt as a child when I entered the old church at Odense. I thought on Christ, who bled on this earth; I thought on Homer, whose song eternally resounds hence over the earth. The shores of Asia preached to me their sermons, and were perhaps more impressive than any sermon in any church can be.
In Constantinople I passed eleven interesting days; and according to my good fortune in travel, the birthday of Mahomet itself fell exactly during my stay there. I saw the grand illumination, which completely transported me into the Thousand and One Nights.
Our Danish ambassador lived several miles from Constantinople, and I had therefore no opportunity of seeing him; but I found a cordial reception with the Austrian internuntius, Baron von St rmer. With him I had a German home and friends. I contemplated making my return by the Black Sea and up the Danube; but the country was disturbed; it was said there had been several thousand Christians murdered. My companions of the voyage, in the hotel where I resided, gave up this route of the Danube, for which I had the greatest desire, and collectively counselled me against it. But in this case I must return again by Greece and Italy–it was a severe conflict.
I do not belong to the courageous; I feel fear, especially in little dangers; but in great ones, and when an advantage is to be won, then I have a will, and it has grown firmer with years. I may tremble, I may fear; but I still do that which I consider the most proper to be done. I am not ashamed to confess my weakness; I hold that when out of our own true conviction we run counter to our inborn fear, we have done our duty. I had a strong desire to become acquainted with the interior of the country, and to traverse the Danube in its greatest expansion. I battled with myself; my imagination pointed to me the most horrible circumstances; it was an anxious night. In the morning I took counsel with Baron St rmer; and as he was of opinion that I might undertake the voyage, I determined upon it. From the moment that I had taken my determination, I had the most immovable reliance on Providence, and flung myself calmly on my fate. Nothing happened to me. The voyage was prosperous, and after the quarantine on the Wallachian frontier, which was painful enough to me, I arrived at Vienna on the twenty-first day of the journey. The sight of its towers, and the meeting with numerous Danes, awoke in me the thought of being speedily again at home. The idea bowed down my heart, and sad recollections and mortifications rose up within me once more.
In August, 1841, I was again in Copenhagen. There I wrote my recollections of travel, under the title of A Poet’s Bazaar, in several chapters, according to the countries. In various places abroad I had met with individuals, as at home, to whom I felt myself attached. A poet is like the bird; he gives what he has, and he gives a song. I was desirous to give every one of those dear ones such a song. It was a fugitive idea, born, may I venture to say, in a grateful mood. Count Rantzau-Breitenburg, who had resided in Italy, who loved the land, and was become a friend and benefactor to me through my Improvisatore, must love that part of the book which treated of his country. To Liszt and Thalberg, who had both shown me the greatest friendship, I dedicated the portion which contained the voyage up the Danube, because one was a Hungarian and the other an Austrian. With these indications, the reader will easily be able to trace out the thought which influenced me in the choice of each dedication. But these appropriations were, in my native country, regarded as a fresh proof of my vanity;–"I wished to figure with great names, to name distinguished people as my friends.”
The book has been translated into several languages, and the dedications with it. I know not how they have been regarded abroad; if I have been judged there as in Denmark, I hope that this explanation will change the opinion concerning them. In Denmark my Bazaar procured me the most handsome remuneration that I have as yet received,–a proof that I was at length read there. No regular criticism appeared upon it, if we except notices in some daily papers, and afterwards in the poetical attempt of a young writer who, a year before, had testified to me in writing his love, and his wish to do me honor; but who now, in his first public appearance, launched his satirical poem against his friend. I was personally attached to this young man, and am so still. He assuredly thought more on the popularity he would gain by sailing in the wake of Heiberg, than on the pain he would inflict on me. The newspaper criticism in Copenhagen was infinitely stupid. It was set down as exaggerated, that I could have seen the whole round blue globe of the moon in Smyrna at the time of the new moon. That was called fancy and extravagance, which there every one sees who can open his eyes. The new moon has a dark blue and perfectly round disk.
The Danish critics have generally no open eye for nature: even the highest and most cultivated monthly periodical of literature in Denmark censured me once because, in a poem I had described a rainbow by moonlight. That too was my fancy, which, said they, carried me too far. When I said in the Bazaar, “if I were a painter, I would paint this bridge; but, as I am no painter, but a poet, I must therefore speak," &c. Upon this the critic says, “He is so vain, that he tells us himself that he is a poet.” There is something so pitiful in such criticism, that one cannot be wounded by it; but even when we are the most peaceable of men, we feel a desire to flagellate such wet dogs, who come into our rooms and lay themselves down in the best place in them. There might be a whole Fool’s Chronicle written of all the absurd and shameless things which, from my first appearance before the public till this moment, I have been compelled to hear.
In the meantime the Bazaar was much read, and made what is called a hit. I received, connected with this book, much encouragement and many recognitions from individuals of the highest distinction in the realms of intellect in my native land.
The journey had strengthened me both in mind and body; I began to show indications of a firmer purpose, a more certain judgment. I was now in harmony with myself and with mankind around me.
Political life in Denmark had, at that time, arrived at a higher development, producing both good and evil fruits. The eloquence which had formerly accustomed itself to the Demosthenic mode, that of putting little pebbles in the mouth, the little pebbles of every day life, now exercised itself more freely on subjects of greater interest. I felt no call thereto, and no necessity to mix myself up in such matters; for I then believed that the politics of our times were a great misfortune to many a poet. Madame, politics are like Venus; they whom she decoys into her castle perish. It fares with the writings of these poets as with the newspapers: they are seized upon, read, praised, and forgotten. In our days every one wishes to rule; the subjective makes its power of value; people forget that that which is thought of cannot always be carried out, and that many things look very different when contemplated from the top of the tree, to what they did when seen from its roots. I will bow myself before him who is influenced by a noble conviction, and who only desires that which is conducive to good, be he prince or man of the people. Politics are no affair of mine. God has imparted to me another mission: that I felt, and that I feel still. I met in the so-called first families of the country a number of friendly, kind-hearted men, who valued the good that was in me, received me into their circles, and permitted me to participate in the happiness of their opulent summer residences; so that, still feeling independent, I could thoroughly give myself up to the pleasures of nature, the solitude of woods, and country life. There for the first time I lived wholly among the scenery of Denmark, and there I wrote the greater number of my fairy tales. On the banks of quiet lakes, amid the woods, on the green grassy pastures, where the game sprang past me and the stork paced along on his red legs, I heard nothing of politics, nothing of polemics; I heard no one practising himself in Hagel’s phraseology. Nature, which was around me and within me, preached to me of my calling. I spent many happy days at the old house of Gisselfeld, formerly a monastery, which stands in the deepest solitude of the woods, surrounded with lakes and hills. The possessor of this fine place, the old Countess Danneskjold, mother of the Duchess of Augustenburg, was an agreeable and excellent lady, I was there not as a poor child of the people, but as a cordially-received guest. The beeches now overshadow her grave in the midst of that pleasant scenery to which her heart was allied.
Close by Gisselfeld, but in a still finer situation, and of much greater extent, lies the estate of Bregentoed, which belongs to Count Moltke, Danish Minister of Finance. The hospitality which I met with in this place, one of the richest and most beautiful of our country, and the happy, social life which surrounded me here, have diffused a sunshine over my life.
It may appear, perhaps, as if I desired to bring the names of great people prominently forward, and make a parade of them; or as if I wished in this way to offer a kind of thanks to my benefactors. They need it not, and I should be obliged to mention many other names still if this were my intention. I speak, however, only of these two places, and of Nys÷, which belongs to Baron Stampe, and which has become celebrated through Thorwaldsen. Here I lived much with the great sculptor, and here I became acquainted with one of my dearest young friends, the future possessor of the place.
Knowledge of life in these various circles has had great influence on me: among princes, among the nobility, and among the poorest of the people, I have met with specimens of noble humanity. We all of us resemble each other in that which is good and best.
Winter life in Denmark has likewise its attractions and its rich variety. I spent also some time in the country during this season, and made myself acquainted with its peculiar characteristics. The greatest part of my time, however, I passed in Copenhagen. I felt myself at home with the married sons and daughters of Collin, where a number of amiable children were growing up. Every year strengthened the bond of friendship between myself and the nobly-gifted composer, Hartmann: art and the freshness of nature prospered in his house. Collin was my counsellor in practical life, and Oersted in my literary affairs. The theatre was, if I may so say, my club. I visited it every evening, and in this very year I had received a place in the so-called court stalls. An author must, as a matter of course, work himself up to it. After the first accepted piece he obtains admission to the pit; after the second greater work, in the stalls, where the actors have their seats; and after three larger works, or a succession of lesser pieces, the poet is advanced to the best places. Here were to be found Thorwaldsen, Oehlenschl ger, and several older poets; and here also, in 1840,1 obtained a place, after I had given in seven pieces. Whilst Thorwaldsen lived, I often, by his own wish, sate at his side. Oehlenschl ger was also my neighbor, and in many an evening hour, when no one dreamed of it, my soul was steeped in deep humility, as I sate between these great spirits. The different periods of my life passed before me; the time when I sate on the hindmost bench in the box of the female figurantes, as well as that in which, full of childish superstition, I knelt down there upon the stage and repeated the Lord’s Prayer, just before the very place where I now sate among the first and the most distinguished men. At the time, perhaps, when a countryman of mine thus thought of and passed judgment upon me,–"there he sits, between the two great spirits, full of arrogance and pride;” he may now perceive by this acknowledgment how unjustly he has judged me. Humility, and prayer to God for strength to deserve my happiness, filled my heart. May He always enable me to preserve these feelings? I enjoyed the friendship of Thorwaldsen as well as of Oehlenschl ger, those two most distinguished stars in the horizon of the North. I may here bring forward their reflected glory in and around me.
There is in the character of Oehlenschl ger, when he is not seen in the circles of the great, where he is quiet and reserved, something so open and child-like, that no one can help becoming attached to him. As a poet, he holds in the North a position of as great importance as Goethe did in Germany. He is in his best works so penetrated by the spirit of the North, that through him it has, as it were, ascended upon all nations. In foreign countries he is not so much appreciated. The works by which he is best known are “Correggio” and “Aladdin;” but assuredly his masterly poem of “The Northern Gods” occupied a far higher rank: it is our “Iliad.” It possesses power, freshness–nay, any expression of mine is poor. It is possessed of grandeur; it is the poet Oehlenschl ger in the bloom of his soul. Hakon, Jarl, and Palnatoke will live in the poetry of Oehlenschl ger as long as mankind endures. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have fully appreciated him, and have shown him that they do so, and whenever it is asked who occupies the first place in the kingdom of mind, the palm is always awarded to him. He is the true-born poet; he appears always young, whilst he himself, the oldest of all, surpasses all in the productiveness of his mind. He listened with friendly disposition to my first lyrical outpourings; and he acknowledged with earnestness and cordiality the poet who told the fairy-tales. My Biographer in the Danish Pantheon brought me in contact with Oehlenschl ger, when he said, “In our days it is becoming more and more rare for any one, by implicitly following those inborn impulses of his soul, which make themselves irresistibly felt, to step forward as an artist or a poet. He is more frequently fashioned by fate and circumstances than apparently destined by nature herself for this office. With the greater number of our poets an early acquaintance with passion, early inward experience, or outward circumstances, stand instead of the original vein of nature, and this cannot in any case be more incontestably proved in our own literature than by instancing Oehlenschl ger and Andersen. And in this way it may be explained why the former has been so frequently the object for the attacks of the critics, and why the latter was first properly appreciated as a poet in foreign countries where civilization of a longer date has already produced a disinclination for the compulsory rule of schools, and has occasioned a reaction towards that which is fresh and natural; whilst we Danes, on the contrary, cherish a pious respect for the yoke of the schools and the worn-out wisdom of maxims.”
Thorwaldsen, whom, as I have already said, I had become acquainted with in Rome in the years 1833 and 1834, was expected in Denmark in the autumn of 1838, and great festive preparations were made in consequence. A flag was to wave upon one of the towers of Copenhagen as soon as the vessel which brought him should come in sight. It was a national festival. Boats decorated with flowers and flags filled the Rhede; painters, sculptors, all had their flags with emblems; the students’ bore a Minerva, the poets’ a Pegasus. It was misty weather, and the ship was first seen when it was already close by the city, and all poured out to meet him. The poets, who, I believe, according to the arrangement of Heiberg, had been invited, stood by their boat; Oehlenschl ger and Heiberg alone had not arrived. And now guns were fired from the ship, which came to anchor, and it was to be feared that Thorwaldsen might land before we had gone out to meet him. The wind bore the voice of singing over to us: the festive reception had already begun.
I wished to see him, and therefore cried out to the others, “Let us put off!”
“Without Oehlenschl ger and Heiberg?” asked some one.
“But they are not arrived, and it will be all over.”
One of the poets declared that if these two men were not with us, I should not sail under that flag, and pointed up to Pegasus.
“We will throw it in the boat,” said I, and took it down from the staff; the others now followed me, and came up just as Thorwaldsen reached land. We met with Oehlenschl ger and Heiberg in another boat, and they came over to us as the enthusiasm began on shore.
The people drew Thorwaldsen’s carriage through the streets to his house, where everybody who had the slightest acquaintance with him, or with the friends of a friend of his, thronged around him. In the evening the artists gave him a serenade, and the blaze of the torches illumined the garden under the large trees, there was an exultation and joy which really and truly was felt. Young and old hastened through the open doors, and the joyful old man clasped those whom he knew to his breast, gave them his kiss, and pressed their hands. There was a glory round Thorwaldsen which kept me timidly back: my heart beat for joy of seeing him who had met me when abroad with kindness and consolation, who had pressed me to his heart, and had said that we must always remain friends. But here in this jubilant crowd, where thousands noticed every movement of his, where I too by all these should be observed and criticised–yes, criticised as a vain man who now only wished to show that he too was acquainted with Thorwaldsen, and that this great man was kind and friendly towards him–here, in this dense crowd, I drew myself back, and avoided being recognized by him. Some days afterwards, and early in the morning, I went to call upon him, and found him as a friend who had wondered at not having seen me earlier.
In honor of Thorwaldsen a musical-poetic academy was established, and the poets, who were invited to do so by Heiberg, wrote and read each one a poem in praise of him who had returned home. I wrote of Jason who fetched the golden fleece–that is to say, Jason-Thorwaldsen, who went forth to win golden art. A great dinner and a ball closed the festival, in which, for the first time in Denmark, popular life and a subject of great interest in the realms of art were made public.
From this evening I saw Thorwaldsen almost daily in company or in his studio: I often passed several weeks together with him at Nys÷, where he seemed to have firmly taken root, and where the greater number of his works, executed in Denmark, had their origin. He was of a healthful and simple disposition of mind, not without humor, and, therefore, he was extremely attached to Holberg the poet: he did not at all enter into the troubles and the disruptions of the world.
One morning at Nys÷–at the time when he was working at his own statue –I entered his work-room and bade him good morning; he appeared as if he did not wish to notice me, and I stole softly away again. At breakfast he was very parsimonious in the use of words, and when somebody asked him to say something at all events, he replied in his dry way:–
“I have said more during this morning than in many whole days, but nobody heard me. There I stood, and fancied that Andersen was behind me, for he came, and said good morning–so I told him a long story about myself and Byron. I thought that he might give one word in reply, and turned myself round; and there had I been standing a whole hour and chattering aloud to the bare walls.”
We all of us besought him to let us hear the whole story yet once more; but we had it now very short.
“Oh, that was in Rome,” said he, “when I was about to make Byron’s statue; he placed himself just opposite to me, and began immediately to assume quite another countenance to what was customary to him. ’Will not you sit still?’ said I; ’but you must not make these faces.’ ’It is my expression,’ said Byron. ’Indeed?’ said I, and then I made him as I wished, and everybody said, when it was finished, that I had hit the likeness. When Byron, however, saw it, he said, ’It does not resemble me at all; I look more unhappy.’”
“He was, above all things, so desirous of looking extremely unhappy," added Thorwaldsen, with a comic expression.
It afforded the great sculptor pleasure to listen to music after dinner with half-shut eyes, and it was his greatest delight when in the evening the game of lotto began, which the whole neighborhood of Nys÷ was obliged to learn; they only played for glass pieces, and on this account I am able to relate a peculiar characteristic of this otherwise great man–that he played with the greatest interest on purpose to win. He would espouse with warmth and vehemence the part of those from whom he believed that he had received an injustice; he opposed himself to unfairness and raillery, even against the lady of the house, who for the rest had the most childlike sentiments towards him, and who had no other thought than how to make everything most agreeable to him. In his company I wrote several of my tales for children–for example, “Ole Luck Oin,” ("Ole Shut Eye,”) to which he listened with pleasure and interest. Often in the twilight, when the family circle sate in the open garden parlor, Thorwaldsen would come softly behind me, and, clapping me on the shoulder, would ask, “Shall we little ones hear any tales tonight?”
In his own peculiarly natural manner he bestowed the most bountiful praise on my fictions, for their truth; it delighted him to hear the same stories over and over again. Often, during his most glorious works, would he stand with laughing countenance, and listen to the stories of the Top and the Ball, and the Ugly Duckling. I possess a certain talent of improvising in my native tongue little poems and songs. This talent amused Thorwaldsen very much; and as he had modelled, at Nys÷, Holberg’s portrait in clay, I was commissioned to make a poem for his work, and he received, therefore, the following impromptu:–
“No more shall Holberg live,” by Death was said, “I crush the clay, his soul’s bonds heretofore." “And from the formless clay, the cold, the dead," Cried Thorwaldsen, “shall Holberg live once more.”
One morning, when he had just modelled in clay his great bas-relief of the Procession to Golgotha, I entered his study.
“Tell me,” said he, “does it seem to you that I have dressed Pilate properly?”
“You must not say anything to him,” said the Baroness, who was always with him: “it is right; it is excellent; go away with you!”
Thorwaldsen repeated his question.
“Well, then,” said I, “as you ask me, I must confess that it really does appear to me as if Pilate were dressed rather as an Egyptian than as a Roman.”
“It seems to me so too,” said Thorwaldsen, seizing the clay with his hand, and destroying the figure.
“Now you are guilty of his having annihilated an immortal work," exclaimed the Baroness to me with warmth.
“Then we can make a new immortal work,” said he, in a cheerful humor, and modelled Pilate as he now remains in the bas-relief in the Ladies’ Church in Copenhagen.
His last birth-day was celebrated there in the country. I had written a merry little song, and it was hardly dry on the paper, when we sang it, in the early morning, before his door, accompanied by the music of jingling fire-irons, gongs, and bottles rubbed against a basket. Thorwaldsen himself, in his morning gown and slippers, opened his door, and danced round his chamber; swung round his Raphael’s cap, and joined in the chorus. There was life and mirth in the strong old man.
On the last day of his life I sate by him at dinner; he was unusually good-humored; repeated several witticisms which he had just read in the Corsair, a well-known Copenhagen newspaper, and spoke of the journey which he should undertake to Italy in the summer. After this we parted; he went to the theatre, and I home.
On the following morning the waiter at the hotel where I lived said, “that it was a very remarkable thing about Thorwaldsen–that he had died yesterday.”
“Thorwaldsen!” exclaimed I; “he is not dead, I dined with him yesterday.”
“People say that he died last evening at the theatre,” returned the waiter. I fancied that he might be taken ill; but still I felt a strange anxiety, and hastened immediately over to his house. There lay his corpse stretched out on the bed; the chamber was filled with strangers; the floor wet with melted snow; the air stifling; no one said a word: the Baroness Stampe sate on the bed and wept bitterly. I stood trembling and deeply agitated.
A farewell hymn, which I wrote, and to which Hartmann composed the music, was sung by Danish students over his coffin.