The True Story of My Life
By Hans Christian Andersen
Public Domain Books
In the spring of 1844 I had finished a dramatic tale, “The Flower of Fortune.” The idea of this was, that it is not the immortal name of the artist, nor the splendor of a crown which can make man happy; but that happiness is to be found where people, satisfied with little, love and are loved again. The scene was perfectly Danish, an idyllian, sunbright life, in whose clear heaven two dark pictures are reflected as in a dream; the unfortunate Danish poet Ewald and Prince Buris, who is tragically sung of in our heroic ballads. I wished to show, in honor of our times, the middle ages to have been dark and miserable, as they were, but which many poets only represent to us in a beautiful light.
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 will do so.”
“Since then,” continued I, “you have turned me and my Bazaar to ridicule in your poem called Denmark, and spoken about my fanaticism for the beautiful Dardanelles; and yet I have, precisely in that book, described the Dardanelles as not beautiful; it is the Bosphorus which I thought beautiful; you seem not to be aware of that; perhaps you have not read The Bazaar either?”
“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 who wholly loses her own individual I in her husband and children, I must name the wife of Collin; with the sympathy of a mother, she also followed me in sorrow and in gladness. In the latter years of her life she became very deaf, and besides this she had the misfortune of being nearly blind. An operation was performed on her sight, which succeeded so well, that in the course of the winter she was able to read a letter, and this was a cause of grateful joy to her. She longed in an extraordinary manner for the first green of spring, and this she saw in her little garden.
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 The large amount of all thy spiritual bliss; We saw thy slumbers like a little child’s. O death! thou art all brightness and not shadow.
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 uncovered at Skanderburg, in the middle of Jutland. I had, by solicitation, written the cantata for the festival, to which Hartmann had furnished the music, and this was to be sung by Danish students. I had been invited to the festival, which thus was to form the object of my summer excursion.
Skanderburg lies in one of the most beautiful districts of Denmark. Agreeable hills rise covered with vast beech-woods, and a large inland lake of a pleasing form extends among them. On the outside of the city, close by the church, which is built upon the ruins of an old castle, now stands the monument, a work of Thorwaldsen’s. The most beautiful moment to me at this festival was in the evening, after the unveiling of the monument; torches were lighted around it, and threw their unsteady flame over the lake; within the woods blazed thousands of lights, and music for the dance resounded from the tents. Round about upon the hills, between the woods, and high above them, bonfires were lighted at one and the same moment, which burned in the night like red stars. There was spread over lake and land a pure, a summer fragrance which is peculiar to the north, in its beautiful summer nights. The shadows of those who passed between the monument and the church, glided gigantically along its red walls, as if they were spirits who were taking part in the festival.
I returned home. In this year my novel of the Improvisatore was translated into English, by the well-known authoress, Mary Howitt, and was received by her countrymen with great applause. O. T. and the Fiddler soon followed, and met with, as it seemed, the same reception. After that appeared a Dutch, and lastly a Russian translation of the Improvisatore. That which should never have ventured to have dreamed of was accomplished; my writings seem to come forth under a lucky star; they fly over all lands. There is something elevating, but at the same time, a something terrific in seeing one’s thoughts spread so far, and among so many people; it is indeed, almost a fearful thing to belong to so many. The noble and the good in us becomes a blessing; but the bad, one’s errors, shoot forth also, and involuntarily the thought forces itself from us: God! let me never write down a word of which I shall not be able to give an account to thee. A peculiar feeling, a mixture of joy and anxiety, fills my heart every time my good genius conveys my fictions to a foreign people.
Travelling operates like an invigorating bath to the mind; like a Medea-draft which always makes young again. I feel once more an impulse for it–not in order to seek up material, as a critic fancied and said, in speaking of my Bazaar; there exists a treasury of material in my own inner self, and this life is too short to mature this young existence; but there needs refreshment of spirit in order to convey it vigorously and maturely to paper, and travelling is to me, as I have said, this invigorating bath, from which I return as it were younger and stronger.
By prudent economy, and the proceeds of my writings, I was in a condition to undertake several journeys during the last year. That which for me is the most sunbright, is the one in which these pages were written. Esteem, perhaps over-estimation, but especially kindness, in short, happiness and pleasure have flowed towards me in abundant measure.
I wished to visit Italy for the third time, there to spend a summer, that I might become acquainted with the south in its warm season, and probably return thence by Spain and France. At the end of October, 1845, I left Copenhagen. Formerly I had thought when I set out on a journey, God! what wilt thou permit to happen to me on this journey! This time my thoughts were, God, what will happen to my friends at home during this long time! And I felt a real anxiety. In one year the hearse may drive up to the door many times, and whose name may shine upon the coffin! The proverb says, when one suddenly feels a cold shudder, “now death passes over my grave.” The shudder is still colder when the thoughts pass over the graves of our best friends.
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 variety, with the winding shore of the bay and the many quiet inland lakes. Even the floating mists of autumn lent to the landscape a some what picturesque, something strange to the islander. Everything here is on a larger scale than on the island. Beautiful was it without, glorious was it within. I wrote here a new little story. The Girl with the Brimstone-matches; the only thing which I wrote upon this journey. Receiving the invitation to come often to Gravenstein and Augustenburg, I left, with a grateful heart, a place where I had spent such beautiful and such happy days.
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 lives here, friends of mine, and friends of your stories; the children will be happy.”
“But the opera,” said I.
“Only for two minutes,” returned he; and drew me into the house, mentioned my name, and the circle of children collected around me.
“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, was awaiting me. Hofrath von Eisendecker and his well-informed lady, whom, among all my foreign friends I may consider as my most sympathizing, expected me. I had promised to remain with them a fortnight, but I stayed much longer. A house where the best and the most intellectual people of a city meet, is an agreeable place of residence, and such a one had I here. A deal of social intercourse prevailed in the little city, and the theatre, in which certainly either opera or ballet was given, is one of the most excellent in Germany. The ability of Gall, the director, is sufficiently known, and unquestionably the nominationof the poet Mosen has a great and good influence. I have to thank him for enabling me to see one of the classic pieces of Germany, “Nathan the Wise,” the principal part in which was played by Kaiser, who is as remarkable for his deeply studied and excellent tragic acting, as for his readings.
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 journey.”
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 From the north sea’s dreary strand; Singing, flew unto me over, Singing M rchen through the land. Farewell! yet again bring hither Thy warm heart and song together.
Here I again met with Mayer, who has described Naples and the Neapolitans so charmingly. My little stories interested him so much that he had written a little treaties on them for Germany, Kapellmeister Pott, and my countryman Jerndorff, belong to my earlier friends. I made every day new acquaintance, because all houses were open to me through the family with whom I was staying. Even the Grand Duke was so generous as to have me invited to a concert at the palace the day after my arrival, and later I had the honor of being asked to dinner. I received in this foreign court, especially, many unlooked-for favors. At the Eisendeckers and at the house of the parents of my friend Beaulieu–the Privy-Counsellor Beaulieu, at Oldenburg, I heard several times my little stones read in German.
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, as the author of the Improvisatore, to the Italian Society, into which only those who have visited Italy can be admitted. Here I saw Rauch for the first time, who with his white hair and his powerful, manly figure, is not unlike Thorwaldsen. Nobody introduced me to him, and I did not venture to present myself, and therefore walked alone about his studio, like the other strangers. Afterwards I became personally acquainted with him at the house of the Prussian Ambassador, in Copenhagen; I now hastened to him.
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 know, at that time, which of them had most interested himself in the M rchen.
“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 hope that my name is not wholly unknown to you.”
“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 mentioned my little stories.
“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 quite unlucky.
“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 birth-day 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 many years before pressed me to his breast, as if it were to consecrate me, to walk in the same path with himself.
The old friends had all to be visited; but the number of new ones grew with each day. One invitation followed another. It required considerable physical power to support so much good-will. I remained in Berlin about three weeks, and the time seemed to pass more rapidly with each succeeding day. I was, as it were, overcome by kindness. I, at length, had no other prospect for repose than to seat myself in a railway-carriage, and fly away out of the country.
And yet amid these social festivities, with all the amiable zeal and interest that then was felt for me, I had one disengaged evening; one evening on which I suddenly felt solitude in its most oppressive form; Christmas-eve, that very evening of all others on which I would most willingly witness something festal, willingly stand beside a Christmas- tree, gladdening myself with the joy of children, and seeing the parents joyfully become children again. Every one of the many families in which I in truth felt that I was received as a relation, had fancied, as I afterwards discovered, that I must be invited out; but I sat quite alone in my room at the inn, and thought on home. I seated myself at the open window, and gazed up to the starry heavens, which was the Christmas-tree that was lighted for me.
“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 of a sincerely religious character may be found. He had read that I was in Berlin, and wished now to visit me. We sat together on the sofa and conversed: there was such an amiable contentedness, such an unspoiled and good tone of mind about him, that I was sorry not to be rich in order that I might do something for him. I was ashamed of offering him the little that I could give; in any case I wished to put it in as agreeable a form as I could. I asked him whether I might invite him to hear Jenny Lind.
“I have already heard her,” said he smiling; “I had, it is true, no money to buy a ticket; but I went to the leader of the supernumeraries, and asked whether I might not act as a supernumerary for one evening in Norma: I was accepted and habited as a Roman soldier, with a long sword by my side, and thus got to the theatre, where I could hear her better than any body else, for I stood close to her. Ah, how she sung, how she played! I could not help crying; but they were angry at that: the leader forbade and would not let me again make my appearance, because no one must weep on the stage.”
With the exception of the theatre, I had very little time to visit collections of any kind or institutions of art. The able and amiable Olfers, however, the Director of the Museum, enabled me to pay a rapid but extremely interesting visit to that institution. Olfers himself was my conductor; we delayed our steps only for the most interesting objects, and there are here not a few of these; his remarks threw light upon my mind,–for this therefore I am infinitely obliged to him.
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 Fiddler; her Majesty the Queen also showed herself graciously and kindly disposed towards me. I had afterwards the happiness of being invited to spend an evening at the palace at Potsdam; an evening which is full of rich remembrance and never to be forgotten! Besides the ladies and gentlemen in waiting, Humboldt and myself were only invited. A seat was assigned to me at the table of their Majesties, exactly the place, said the Queen, where Oehlenschl ger had sat and read his tragedy of Dina. I read four little stories, the Fir-Tree, the Ugly Duckling, the Ball and the Top, and The Swineherd. The King listened with great interest, and expressed himself most wittily on the subject. He said, how beautiful he thought the natural scenery of Denmark, and how excellently he had seen one of Holberg’s comedies performed.
It was so deliciously pleasant in the royal apartment,–gentle eyes were gazing at me, and I felt that they all wished me well. When at night I was alone in my chamber, my thoughts were so occupied with this evening, and my mind in such a state of excitement, that I could not sleep. Everything seemed to me like a fairy tale. Through the whole night the chimes sounded in the tower, and the aerial music mingled itself with my thoughts.
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 M rchenk¸nig, 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 a considerable sum for a certain object from a large assembly, and now would give an account thereof. I might still add many other names, as well from the learned world, as Theodor, M gge, Geibel, H ring, etc., as from the social circle;–the reckoning is too large. God give me strength for that which I now have to perform, after I have, as an earnest of good will, received such a richly abundant sum.
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.
M rchen rose, which has so often Charmed me with thy fragrant breath; Where the prince, the poets slumber, Thou hast wreathed the hall of death.
And with thee beside each coffin, In the death-hushed chamber pale, I beheld a grief-enchanted, Sweetly dreaming nightingale.
I rejoiced amid the stillness; Gladness through my bosom past, That the gloomy poets’ coffins Such a magic crowned at last.
And thy rose’s summer fragrance Floated round that chamber pale, With the gentle melancholy Of the grief-hushed nightingale.
It was in the evening circle of the intellectual Froriep that I met, for the first time, with Auerbach, who then chanced to be staying in Weimar. His “Village Tales” interested me in the highest degree; I regard them as the most poetical, most healthy, and joyous production of the young German literature. He himself made the same agreeable impression upon me; there is something so frank and straightforward, and yet so sagacious, in his whole appearance, I might almost say, that he looks himself like a village tale, healthy to the core, body and soul, and his eyes beaming with honesty. We soon became friends–and I hope forever.
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 immortal hero in the world of mind–once said: ’Nature is the visible spirit.’ This spirit, this unseen nature, last evening was again rendered visible to me through your little tales. If on the one hand you penetrate deeply into the mysteries of nature; know and understand the language of birds, and what are the feelings of a fir-tree or a daisy, so that each seems to be there on its own account, and we and our children sympathize with them in their joys and sorrows; yet, on the other hand, all is but the image of mind; and the human heart in its infinity, trembles and throbs throughout. May this fountain in the poet’s heart, which God has lent you, still for a time pour forth this refreshingly, and may these stories in the memories of the Germanic nations, become the legends of the people!” That object, for which as a writer of poetical fictions, I must strive after, is contained in these last lines.
It is also to Hase and the gifted improvisatore, Professor Wolff of Jena, to whom I am most indebted for the appearance of a uniform German edition of my writings.
This was all arranged on my arrival at Leipzig: several hours of business were added to my traveller’s mode of life. The city of bookselling presented me with her bouquet, a sum of money; but she presented me with even more. I met again with Brockhaus, and passed happy hours with Mendelssohn, that glorious man of genius. I heard him play again and again; it seemed to me that his eyes, full of soul, looked into the very depths of my being. Few men have more the stamp of the inward fire than he. A gentle, friendly wife, and beautiful children, make his rich, well-appointed house, blessed and pleasant. When he rallied me about the Stork, and its frequent appearance in my writings, there was something so childlike and amiable revealed in this great artist!
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 heart.
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 royal family, who received me with extraordinary favor. Here also the most happy domestic life appeared to reign–a number of amiable children, all belonging to Prince Johann, were present. The least of the Princesses, a little girl, who knew that I had written the history of the Fir-tree, began very confidentially with–"Last Christmas we also had a Fir-tree, and it stood here in this room!” Afterwards, when she was led out before the other children, and had bade her parents and the King and Queen good night, she turned round at the half-closed door, and nodding to me in a friendly and familiar manner, said I was her Fairy-tale Prince.
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 Olm tz, 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, From far shall recall the smile of thy friend; For thou, dearest Dane, ’tis a pleasure to meet thee, Thou art one to be loved and esteemed to the end.
Castelli introduced me to Seidl and Bauernfeld. At the Danisti ambassador’s, Baron von L¸wenstern, I met Zedlitz. Most of the shining stars of Austrian literature I saw glide past me, as people on a railway see church towers; you can still say you have seen them; and still retaining the simile of the stars, I can say, that in the Concordia Society I saw the entire galaxy. Here was a host of young growing intellects, and here were men of importance. At the house of Count Szechenye, who hospitably invited me, I saw his brother from Pest, whose noble activity in Hungary is known. This short meeting I account one of the most interesting events of my stay in Vienna; the man revealed himself in all his individuality, and his eye said that you must feel confidence in him.
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 imperial palace.
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 Italian language sounded in our ears, but yet for me it was not Italy, the land of my desire. Meanwhile I was only a stranger here for a few hours; our Danish consul, as well as the consuls of Prussia and Oldenburg, to whom I was recommended, received me in the best possible manner. Several interesting acquaintances were made, especially with the Counts O’Donnell and Waldstein, the latter for me as a Dane having a peculiar interest, as being the descendant of that unfortunate Confitz Ulfeld and the daughter of Christian IV., Eleanore, the noblest of all Danish women. Their portraits hung in his room, and Danish memorials of that period were shown me. It was the first time I had ever seen Eleanore Ulfeld’s portrait, and the melancholy smile on her lips seemed to say, “Poet, sing and free from chains which a hard age had cast upon him, for whom to live and to suffer was my happiness!” Before Oehlenschl ger wrote his Dina, which treats of an episode in Ulfeld’s life, I was at work on this subject, and wished to bring it on the stage, but it was then feared this would not be allowed, and I gave it up–since then I have only written four lines on Ulfeld:–
Thy virtue was concealed, not so thy failings, Thus did the world thy greatness never know, Yet still love’s glorious monument proclaims it, That the best wife from thee would never go.
On the Adriatic sea I, in thought, was carried back to Ulfeld’s time and the Danish islands. This meeting with Count Waldstein and his ancestor’s portrait brought me back to my poet’s world, and I almost forgot that the following day I could be in the middle of Italy. In beautiful mild weather I went with the steam-boat to Ancona.
It was a quiet starlight night, too beautiful to be spent in sleep. In the early morning the coast of Italy lay before us, the beautiful blue mountains with glittering snow. The sun shone warmly, the grass and the trees were so splendidly green. Last evening in Trieste, now in Ancona, in a city of the papal states,–that was almost like enchantment! Italy in all its picturesque splendor lay once more before me; spring had ripened all the fruit trees so that they had burst forth into blossom; every blade of grass in the field was filled with sunshine, the elm trees stood like caryatides enwreathed with vines, which shot forth green leaves, and above the luxuriance of foliage rose the wavelike blue mountains with their snow covering. In company with Count Paar from Vienna, the most excellent travelling companion, and a young nobleman from Hungary, I now travelled on with a vetturino for five days: solitary, and more picturesque than habitable inns among the Apennines were our night’s quarters. At length the Campagna, with its thought-awakening desolation, lay before us.
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 happy, so penetrated with thankfulness and joy; how much more God had given me than a thousand others–nay, than to many thousands! And even in this very feeling there is a blessing–where joy is very great, as in the deepest grief, there is only God on whom one can lean! The first impression was–I can find no other word for it–adoration. When day unrolled for me my beloved Rome, I felt what I cannot express more briefly or better than I did in a letter to a friend: “I am growing here into the very ruins, I live with the petrified gods, and the roses are always blooming, and the church bells ringing–and yet Rome is not the Rome it was thirteen years ago when I first was here. It is as if everything were modernized, the ruins even, grass and bushes are cleared away. Everything is made so neat; the very life of the people seems to have retired; I no longer hear the tamborines in the streets, no longer see the young girls dancing their Saltarella, even in the Campagna intelligence has entered by invisible railroads; the peasant no longer believes as he used to do. At the Easter festival I saw great numbers of the people from the Campagna standing before St. Peters whilst the Pope distributed his blessing, just as though they had been Protestant strangers. This was repulsive to my feelings, I felt an impulse to kneel before the invisible saint. When I was here thirteen years ago, all knelt; now reason had conquered faith. Ten years later, when the railways will have brought cities still nearer to each other, Rome will be yet more changed. But in all that happens, everything is for the best; one always must love Rome; it is like a story book, one is always discovering new wonders, and one lives in imagination and reality.”
The first time I travelled to Italy I had no eyes for sculpture; in Paris the rich pictures drew me away from the statues; for the first time when I came to Florence and stood before the Venus de Medicis, I felt as Thorwaldsen expressed, “the snow melted away from my eyes;” and a new world of art rose before me. And now at my third sojourn in Rome, after repeated wanderings through the Vatican, I prize the statues far higher than the paintings. But at what other places as at Rome, and to some degree in Naples, does this art step forth so grandly into life! One is carried away by it, one learns to admire nature in the work of art, the beauty of form becomes spiritual.
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, and its glorious beauty, powerfully seized upon me. My imagination was filled by it, and yet I must place Jerichau’s later group, the Fighting Hunter, still higher. It is formed after the model, as though it had sprung from nature. There lies in it a truth, a beauty, and a grandeur which I am convinced will make his name resound through many lands!
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 the Academy. As far as I know, it was a noble-minded woman, an artist herself, unprovided with means, who, from the interest she felt for the spark of genius she observed in him, assisted him so far that he reached Italy by means of a trading vessel. In the beginning he worked in Thorwaldsen’s atelier. During a journey of several years, he has doubtless experienced the struggles of genius and the galling fetters of want; but now the star of fortune shines upon him. When I came to Rome, I found him physically suffering and melancholy. He was unable to bear the warm summers of Italy; and many people said he could not recover unless he visited the north, breathed the cooler air, and took sea-baths. His praises resounded through the papers, glorious works stood in his atelier; but man does not live on heavenly bread alone. There came one day a Russian Prince, I believe, and he gave a commission for the Hunter. Two other commissions followed on the same day. Jerichau came full of rejoicing and told this to me. A few days after he travelled with his wife, a highly gifted painter, to Denmark, from whence, strengthened body and soul, he returned, with the winter, to Rome, where the strokes of his chisel will resound so that, I hope, the world will hear them. My heart will beat joyfully with them!
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 meet. From my friends I received some pretty pictures and friendly keepsakes.
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 bottom, where fishes and plants were in motion. Along the street itself thousands of lights were burning in the shops of the dealers in fruit and fish. Now came a troop of children with lights, and went in procession to the church of St. Lucia. Many fell down with their lights; but above the whole stood, like the hero of this great drama of light, Vesuvius with his blood-red flame and his illumined cloud of smoke.
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 themselves said, unusually hot summer; the greater number went away. I also would have done the same, but I was obliged to wait several days for a letter of credit; it had arrived at the right time, but lay forgotten in the hands of my banker. Yet there was a deal for me to see in Naples; many houses were open to me. I tried whether the will were not stronger than the Neapolitan heat, but I fell into such a nervous state in consequence, that till the time of my departure I was obliged to lie quietly in my hot room, where the night brought no coolness. From the morning twilight to midnight roared the noise of bells, the cry of the people, the trampling of horses on the stone pavement, and the before-mentioned practiser of the scale–it was like being on the rack; and this caused me to give up my journey to Spain, especially as I was assured, for my consolation, that I should find it just as warm there as here. The physician said that, at this season of the year, I could not sustain the journey.
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 should have been willing enough to have followed their example, that I might go by Milan to Switzerland, but my letter of credit was drawn upon Marseilles and some Spanish sea-ports. I was obliged to go again on board. The sea was calm; the air fresh; it was the most glorious voyage along the charming Sardinian coast. Full of strength and new life I arrived at Marseilles, and, as I here breathed more easily, my longing to see Spain was again renewed. I had laid the plan of seeing this country last, as the bouquet of my journey. In the suffering state in which I had been I was obliged to give it up, but I was now better. I regarded it therefore as a pointing of the finger of heaven that I should be compelled to go to Marseilles, and determined to venture upon the journey. The steam-vessel to Barcelona had, in the meantime, just sailed, and several days must pass before another set out. I determined therefore to travel by short days’ journeys through the south of France across the Pyrenees.
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’h te in the H tel 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 Quar e 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 him in the afternoon, when he should be able to entertain me better. When I came again I found him in a little room which might be called almost elegant, adorned with pictures, casts and books, not alone French literature, but translations of the Greek classics. A picture on the wall represented his most celebrated poem, “The Dying Child,” from Marmier’s Chansons du Nord. He knew I had treated the same subject, and I told him that this was written in my school days. If in the morning I had found him the industrious baker, he now was the poet completely; he spoke with animation of the literature of his country, and expressed a wish to see the north, the scenery and intellectual life of which seemed to interest him. With great respect I took leave of a man whom the Muses have not meanly endowed, and who yet has good sense enough, spite of all the homage paid him, to remain steadfast to his honest business, and prefer being the most remarkable baker of Nismes to losing himself in Paris, after a short triumph, among hundreds of other poets.
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 sun’s rays had changed the whole sea into a heaving world of animal life; I had never before seen anything like it. In the Languedoc canal we had all to get into a large boat which had been constructed more for goods than for passengers. The deck was coveted with boxes and trunks, and these again occupied by people who sought shade under umbrellas. It was impossible to move; no railing surrounded this pile of boxes and people, which was drawn along by three or four horses attached by long ropes. Beneath in the cabins it was as crowded; people sat close to each other, like flies in a cup of sugar. A lady who had fainted from the heat and tobacco smoke, was carried in and laid upon the only unoccupied spot on the floor; she was brought here for air, but here there was none, spite of the number of fans in motion; there were no refreshments to be had, not even a drink of water, except the warm, yellow water which the canal afforded. Over the cabin windows hung booted legs, which at the same time that they deprived the cabin of light, seemed to give a substance to the oppressive air. Shut up in this place one had also the torment of being forced to listen to a man who was always trying to say something witty; the stream of words played about his lips as the canal water about the boat. I made myself a way through boxes, people, and umbrellas, and stood in a boiling hot air; on either side the prospect was eternally the same, green grass, a green tree, flood-gates–green grass, a green tree, flood-gates–and then again the same; it was enough to drive one insane.
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 gensdarmes and demanded my passport, and then just as night began, a fire must needs break out in the neighboring village; the fire alarm resounded, the fire-engines rolled along, it was just as though all manner of tormenting spirits were let loose. From here as far as the Pyrenees there followed repeated demands for your passport, so wearisome that you know nothing like it even in Italy: they gave you as a reason, the nearness to the Spanish frontiers, the number of fugitives from thence, and several murders which had taken place in the neighborhood: all conduced to make the journey in my then state of health a real torment.
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 me, my pen flies again over the paper, and my thoughts towards that wonderful Spain. I stand like Moses and see the land before me, yet may not tread upon it. But if God so wills it, I will at some future time in the winter fly from the north hither into this rich beautiful land, from which the sun with his sword of flame now holds me back.
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 tr s 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 sample card of corn fields and green meadows, where the hay stands in cocks; from another you will only see the naked, metallic rocks with strange crags jutting forth from them, long and narrow as though they were broken statues or pillars; now you walk under poplar trees, through small meadows, where the balm-mint grows, as thoroughly Danish a production as though it were cut out of Zealand; now you stand under shelter of the rock, where cypresses and figs spring forth among vine leaves, and see a piece of Italy. But the soul of the whole, the pulses which beat audibly in millions through the mountain chain, are the springs. There is a life, a babbling in the ever-rushing waters! It springs forth everywhere, murmurs in the moss, rushes over the great stones. There is a movement, a life which it is impossible for words to give; you hear a constant rushing chorus of a million strings; above and below you, and all around, you hear the babbling of the river nymphs.
High on the cliff, at the edge of a steep precipice, lie the remains of a Moorish castle; the clouds hang where hung the balcony; the path along which the ass now goes, leads through the hall. From here you can enjoy the view over the whole valley, which, long and narrow, seems like a river of trees, which winds among the red scorched rocks; and in the middle of this green valley rises terrace-like on a hill, the little town of Vernet, which only wants minarets to look like a Bulgarian town. A miserable church with two long holes as windows, and close to it a ruined tower, form the upper portion, then come the dark brown roofs, and the dirty grey houses with opened shutters instead of windows–but picturesque it certainly is.
But if you enter the town itself–where the apothecary’s shop is, is also the bookseller’s–poverty is the only impression. Almost all the houses are built of unhewn stones, piled one upon another, and two or three gloomy holes form door and windows through which the swallows fly out and in. Wherever I entered, I saw through the worn floor of the first story down into a chaotic gloom beneath. On the wall hangs generally a bit of fat meat with the hairy skin attached; it was explained to me that this was used to rub their shoes with. The sleeping-room is painted in the most glaring manner with saints, angels, garlands, and crowns al fresco, as if done when the art of painting was in its greatest state of imperfection.
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 company, the well-known painter Dauzats, a friend of Alexander Dumas’s, led the train. The forts, the barracks, and the caves were seen; the little town of Cornelia also, with its interesting church, was not passed over. Everywhere were found traces of the power and art of the Moors; everything in this neighborhood speaks more of Spain than France, the very language wavers between the two.
And here in this fresh mountain nature, on the frontiers of a land whose beauty and defects I am not yet to become acquainted with, I will close these pages, which will make in my life a frontier to coming years, with their beauty and defects. Before I leave the Pyrenees these written pages will fly to Germany, a great section of my life; I myself shall follow, and a new and unknown section will begin.–What may it unfold?–I know not, but thankfully, hopefully, I look forward. My whole life, the bright as well as the gloomy days, led to the best. It is like a voyage to some known point,–I stand at the rudder, I have chosen my path,–but God rules the storm and the sea. He may direct it otherwise; and then, happen what may, it will be the best for me. This faith is firmly planted in my breast, and makes me happy.
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 was desired from me for the collected edition of my works, but because, as has been already said, the history of my life will be the best commentary to all my works.
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 so. A star of good fortune shines upon me; there are thousands who deserve it far more than I; I often myself cannot conceive why I, in preference to numberless others, should receive so much joy: may it continue to shine! But should it set, perhaps whilst I conclude these lines, still it has shone, I have received my rich portion; let it set! From this also the best will spring. To God and men my thanks, my love!
Vernet (Department of the East Pyrenees), July, 1846.
H. C. Andersen.