The True Story of My Life: A Sketch by Hans Christian Andersen
The True Story of My Life: A Sketch
IN the summer of 1842, I wrote a little piece for the summer theatre, called, "The Bird in the Pear-tree," in which several scenes were acted up in the pear-tree. I had called it a dramatic trifle, in order that no one might expect either a great work or one of a very elaborate character. It was a little sketch, which, after being performed a few times, was received with so much applause, that the directors of the theatre accepted it; nay, even Mrs. Heiberg, the favorite of the public, desired to take a part in it. People had amused themselves; had thought the selection of the music excellent. I knew that the piece had stood its rehearsal--and then suddenly it was hissed. Some young men, who gave the word to hiss, had said to some others, who inquired from them their reasons for doing so, that the trifle had too much luck, and then Andersen would be getting too mettlesome.
I was not, on this evening, at the theatre myself, and had not the least idea of what was going on. On the following I went to the house of one of my friends. I had head-ache, and was looking very grave. The lady of the house met me with a sympathizing manner, took my hand, and said, "Is it really worth while to take it so much to heart? There were only two who hissed, the whole house beside took your part."
"Hissed! My part! Have I been hissed?" exclaimed I.
It was quite comic; one person assured me that this hissing had been a triumph for me; everybody had joined in acclamation, and "there was only one who hissed."
After this, another person came, and I asked him of the number of those who hissed. "Two," said he. The next person said "three," and said positively there were no more. One of my most veracious friends now made his appearance, and I asked him upon his conscience, how many he had heard; he laid his hand upon his heart, and said that, at the very highest, they were five.
"No," said I, "now I will ask nobody more; the number grows just as with Falstaff; here stands one who asserts that there was only one person who hissed."
Shocked, and yet inclined to set it all right again, he replied, "Yes, that is possible, but then it was a strong, powerful hiss."
By my last works, and through a rational economy, I had now saved a small sum of money, which I destined to the purposes of a new journey to Paris, where I arrived in the winter of 1843, by way of Dusseldorf, through Belgium.
Marmier had already, in the _Revue de Paris_, written an article on me, _La Vie d'un Porte_. He had also translated several of my poems into French, and had actually honored me with a poem which is printed in the above-named _Revue_. My name had thus reached, like a sound, the ears of some persons in the literary world, and I here met with a surprisingly friendly reception.
At Victor Hugo's invitation, I saw his abused _Burggraves_. Mr. and Mrs. Ancelot opened their house to me, and there I met Martinez della Rosa and other remarkable men of these times. Lamart ne seemed to me, in his domestic, and in his whole personal appearance, as the prince of them all. On my apologizing because I spoke such bad French, he replied, that he was to blame, because he did not understand the northern languages, in which, as he had discovered in late years, there existed a fresh and vigorous literature, and where the poetical ground was so peculiar that you had only to stoop down to find an old golden horn. He asked about the Trollh tta canal, and avowed a wish to visit Denmark and Stockholm. He recollected also our now reigning king, to whom, when as prince he was in Castellamare, he had paid his respects; besides this, he exhibited for a Frenchman, an extraordinary acquaintance with names and places in Denmark. On my departure he wrote a little poem for me, which I preserve amongst my dearest relics.
I generally found the jovial Alexander Dumas in bed, even long after mid-day: here he lay, with paper, pen, and ink, and wrote his newest drama. I found him thus one day; he nodded kindly to me, and said, "Sit down a minute; I have just now a visit from my muse; she will be going directly." He wrote on; spoke aloud; shouted a _viva!_ sprang out of bed, and said, "The third act is finished!"
One evening he conducted me round into the various theatres, that I might see the life behind the scenes. We wandered about, arm in arm, along the gay Boulevard.
I also have to thank him for my acquaintance with Rachel. I had not seen her act, when Alexander Dumas asked me whether I had the desire to make her acquaintance. One evening, when she was to come out as Phedra he led me to the stage of the Th atre Fran ais. The Representation had begun, and behind the scenes, where a folding screen had formed a sort of room, in which stood a table with refreshments, and a few ottomans, sate the young girl who, as an author has said, understands how to chisel living statues out of Racine's and Corneille's blocks of marble. She was thin and slenderly formed, and looked very young. She looked to me there, and more particularly so afterwards in her own house, as an image of mourning; as a young girl who has just wept out her sorrow, and will now let her thoughts repose in quiet. She accosted us kindly in a deep powerful voice. In the course of conversation with Dumas, she forgot me. I stood there quite superfluous. Dumas observed it, said something handsome of me, and on that I ventured to take part in the discourse, although I had a depressing feeling that I stood before those who perhaps spoke the most beautiful French in all France. I said that I truly had seen much that was glorious and interesting, but that I had never yet seen a Rachel, and that on her account especially had I devoted the profits of my last work to a journey to Paris; and as, in conclusion, I added an apology on account of my French, she smiled and said, "When you say anything so polite as that which you have just said to me, to a Frenchwoman, she will always think that you speak well."
When I told her that her fame had resounded to the North, she declared that it was her intention to go to Petersburg and Copenhagen: "and when I come to your city", she said, "you must be my defender, as you are the only one there whom I know; and in order that we may become acquainted, and as you, as you say, are come to Paris especially on my account, we must see each other frequently. You will be welcome to me. I see my friends at my house every Thursday. But duty calls," said she, and offering us her hand, she nodded kindly, and then stood a few paces from us on the stage, taller, quite different, and with the expression of the tragic muse herself. Joyous acclamations ascended to where we sat.
As a Northlander I cannot accustom myself to the French mode of acting tragedy. Rachel plays in this same style, but in her it appears to be nature itself; it is as if all the others strove to imitate her. She is herself the French tragic muse, the others are only poor human beings. When Rachel plays people fancy that all tragedy must be acted in this manner. It is in her truth and nature, but under another revelation to that with which we are acquainted in the north.
At her house everything is rich and magnificent, perhaps too _recherch _. The innermost room was blue-green, with shaded lamps and statuettes of French authors. In the salon, properly speaking, the color which prevailed principally in the carpets, curtains, and bookcases was crimson. She herself was dressed in black, probably as she is represented in the well-known English steel engraving of her. Her guests consisted of gentlemen, for the greater part artists and men of learning. I also heard a few titles amongst them. Richly apparelled servants announced the names of the arrivals; tea was drunk and refreshments handed round, more in the German than the French style.
Victor Hugo had told me that he found she understood the German language. I asked her, and she replied in German, "ich kann es lesen; ich bin ja in Lothringen geboren; ich habe deutsche B cher, sehn Sie hier!" and she showed me Grillparzer's "Sappho," and then immediately continued the conversation in French. She expressed her pleasure in acting the part of Sappho, and then spoke of Schiller's "Maria Stuart," which character she has personated in a French version of that play. I saw her in this part, and she gave the last act especially with such a composure and tragic feeling, that she might have been one of the best of German actresses; but it was precisely in this very act that the French liked her least.
"My countrymen," said she, "are not accustomed to this manner, and in this manner alone can the part be given. No one should be raving when the heart is almost broken with sorrow, and when he is about to take an everlasting farewell of his friends."
Her drawing-room was, for the most part, decorated with books which were splendidly bound and arranged in handsome book-cases behind glass. A painting hung on the wall, which represented the interior of the theatre in London, where she stood forward on the stage, and flowers and garlands were thrown to her across the orchestra. Below this picture hung a pretty little book-shelf, holding what I call "the high nobility among the poets,"--Goethe, Schiller, Calderon, Shakspeare, &c.
She asked me many questions respecting Germany and Denmark, art, and the theatre; and she encouraged me with a kind smile around her grave mouth, when I stumbled in French and stopped for a moment to collect myself, that I might not stick quite fast.
"Only speak," said she. "It is true that you do not speak French well. I have heard many foreigners speak my native language better; but their conversation has not been nearly as interesting as yours. I understand the sense of your words perfectly, and that is the principal thing which interests me in you."
The last time we parted she wrote the following words in my album: "L'art c'est le vrai! J'esp re que cet aphorisme ne semblera pas paradoxal un crivain si distingu comme M. Andersen."
I perceived amiability of character in Alfred de Vigny. He has married an English lady, and that which is best in both nations seemed to unite in his house. The last evening which I spent in Paris, he himself, who is possessed of intellectual status and worldly wealth, came almost at midnight to my lodging in the Rue Richelieu, ascended the many steps, and brought me his works under his arm. So much cordiality beamed in his eyes and he seemed to be so full of kindness towards me, that I felt affected by our separation.
I also became acquainted with the sculptor David. There was a something in his demeanor and in his straightforward manner that reminded me of Thorwaldsen and Bissen, especially of the latter. We did not meet till towards the conclusion of my residence in Paris. He lamented it, and said that he would execute a bust of me if I would remain there longer.
When I said, "But you know nothing of me as a poet, and cannot tell whether I deserve it or not," he looked earnestly in my face, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, "I have, however, read you yourself before your books. You are a poet."
At the Countess ----'s, where I met with Balzac, I saw
an old lady, the expression of whose countenance attracted my attention.
There was something so animated, so cordial in it, and everybody gathered
about her. The Countess introduced me to her, and I heard that she was
Madame Reybaud, the authoress of Les Epaves, the little story which I
had made use of for my little drama of The Mulatto. I told her all about
it, and of the representation of the piece, which interested her so much,
that she became from this evening my especial protectress. We went out
one evening together and exchanged ideas. She corrected my French and
I also again met with Heine. He had married since I was last here. I found him in indifferent health; but full of energy, and so friendly and so natural in his behavior towards me, that I felt no timidity in exhibiting myself to him as I was. One day he had been relating to his wife my story of the Constant Tin Soldier, and, whilst he said that I was the author of this story, he introduced me to her. She was a lively, pretty young lady. A troop of children, who, as Heine says, belonged to a neighbor, played about in their room. We two played with them whilst Heine copied out one of his last poems for me.
I perceived in him no pain-giving, sarcastic smile; I only heard the pulsation of a German heart, which is always perceptible in the songs, and which _must_ live.
Through the means of the many people I was acquainted with here, among whom I might enumerate many others, as, for instance, Kalkbrenner, Gathy, &c., my residence in Paris was made very cheerful and rich in pleasure. I did not feel myself like a stranger there: I met with a friendly reception among the greatest and best. It was like a payment by anticipation of the talent which was in me, and through which they expected that I would some time prove them not to have been mistaken.
Whilst I was in Paris, I received from Germany, where already several of my works were translated and read, a delightful and encouraging proof of friendship. A German family, one of the most highly cultivated and amiable with whom I am acquainted, had read my writings with interest, especially the little biographical sketch prefixed to Only a Fiddler, and felt the heartiest goodwill towards me, with whom they were then not personally acquainted. They wrote to me, expressed their thanks for my works and the pleasure they had derived from them, and offered me a kind welcome to their house if I would visit it on my return home. There was a something extremely cordial and natural in this letter, which was the first that I received of this kind in Paris, and it also formed a remarkable contrast to that which was sent to me from my native land in the year 1833, when I was here for the first time.
In this way I found myself, through my writings, adopted, as it were, into a family to which since then I gladly betake myself, and where I know that it is not only as the poet, but as the man, that I am beloved. In how many instances have I not experienced the same kindness in foreign countries! I will mention one for the sake of its peculiarity.
There lived in Saxony a wealthy and benevolent family; the lady of the house read my romance of Only a Fiddler, and the impression of this book was such that she vowed that, if ever, in the course of her life, she should meet with a poor child which was possessed of great musical talents, she would not allow it to perish as the poor Fiddler had done. A musician who had heard her say this, brought to her soon after, not one, but two poor boys, assuring her of their talent, and reminding her of her promise. She kept her word: both boys were received into her house, were educated by her, and are now in the Conservatorium; the youngest of them played before me, and I saw that his countenance was happy and joyful. The same thing perhaps might have happened; the same excellent lady might have befriended these children without my book having been written: but notwithstanding this, my book is now connected with this as a link in the chain.
On my return home from Paris, I went along the Rhine; I knew that the poet Frieligrath, to whom the King of Prussia had given a pension, was residing in one of the Rhine towns. The picturesque character of his poems had delighted me extremely, and I wished to talk with him. I stopped at several towns on the Rhine, and inquired after him. In St. Goar, I was shown the house in which he lived. I found him sitting at his writing table, and he appeared annoyed at being disturbed by a stranger. I did not mention my name; but merely said that I could not pass St. Goar without paying my respects to the poet Frieligrath.
"That is very kind of you," said he, in a very cold tone; and then asked who I was."We have both of us one and the same friend, Chamisso!" replied I, and at these words he leapt up exultantly.
"You are then Andersen!" he exclaimed; threw his arms around my neck, and his honest eyes beamed with joy.
"Now you will stop several days here," said he. I told him that I could only stay a couple of hours, because I was travelling with some of my countrymen who were waiting for me.
"You have a great many friends in little St. Goar," said he; "it is but a short time since I read aloud your novel of O. T. to a large circle; one of these friends I must, at all events, fetch here, and you must also see my wife. Yes, indeed, you do not know that you had something to do in our being married."
He then related to me how my novel, Only a Fiddler, had caused them to exchange letters, and then led to their acquaintance, which acquaintance had ended in their being a married couple. He called her, mentioned to her my name, and I was regarded as an old friend. Such moments as these are a blessing; a mercy of God, a happiness--and how many such, how various, have I not enjoyed!
I relate all these, to me, joyful occurrences; they are facts in my life: I relate them, as I formerly have related that which was miserable, humiliating, and depressing; and if I have done so, in the spirit which operated in my soul, it will not be called pride or vanity;--neither of them would assuredly be the proper name for it. But people may perhaps ask at home, Has Andersen then never been attacked in foreign countries? I must reply,--no!
No regular attack has been made upon me, at least they have never at home called my attention to any such, and therefore there certainly cannot have been anything of the kind;--with the exception of one which made its appearance in Germany, but which originated in Denmark, at the very moment when I was in Paris.
A certain Mr. Boas made a journey at that time through Scandinavia, and wrote a book on the subject. In this he gave a sort of survey of Danish literature, which he also published in the journal called Die Grenzboten; in this I was very severely handled as a man and as a poet. Several other Danish poets also, as for instance, Christian Winter, have an equally great right to complain. Mr. Boas had drawn his information out of the miserable gossip of every-day life; his work excited attention in Copenhagen, and nobody there would allow themselves to be considered as his informants; nay even Holst the poet, who, as may be seen from the work, travelled with him through Sweden, and had received him at his house in Copenhagen, on this occasion published, in one of the most widely circulated of our papers, a declaration that he was in no way connected with Mr. Boas.
Mr. Boas had in Copenhagen attached himself to a particular clique consisting of a few young men; he had heard them full of lively spirits, talking during the day, of the Danish poets and their writings; he had then gone home, written down what he had heard and afterwards published it in his work. This was, to use the mildest term, inconsiderate. That my Improvisatore and Only a Fiddler did not please him, is a matter of taste, and to that I must submit myself. But when he, before the whole of Germany, where probably people will presume that what he has written is true, if he declare it to be, as is the case, the universal judgment against me in my native land; when he, I say, declared me before the whole of Germany, to be the most haughty of men, he inflicts upon me a deeper wound than he perhaps imagined. He conveyed the voice of a party, formerly hostile to me, into foreign countries. Nor is he true even in that which he represents; he gives circumstances as facts, which never took place.
In Denmark what he has written could not injure me, and many have declared themselves afraid of coming into contact with any one, who printed everything which he heard. His book was read in Germany, the public of which is now also mine; and I believe, therefore, that I may here say how faulty is his view of Danish literature and Danish poets; in what manner his book was received in my native land and that people there know in what way it was put together. But after I have expressed myself thus on this subject I will gladly offer Mr. Boas my hand; and if, in his next visit to Denmark, no other poet will receive him, I will do my utmost for him; I know that he will not be able to judge me more severely when we know each other, than when we knew each other not. His judgment would also have been quite of another character had he come to Denmark but one year later; things changed very much in a year's time. Then the tide had turned in my favor; I then had published my new children's stories, of which from that moment to the present there prevailed, through the whole of my native land, but one unchanging honorable opinion. When the edition of my collection of stories came out at Christmas 1843, the reaction began; acknowledgment of my merits were made, and favor shown me in Denmark, and from that time I have no cause for complaint. I have obtained and I obtain in my own land that which I deserve, nay perhaps, much more.
I will now turn to those little stories which in Denmark have been placed by every one, without any hesitation, higher than anything else I had hitherto written.
In the year 1835, some months after I published the Improvisatore, I brought out my first volume of Stories for Children, [Footnote: I find it very difficult to give a correct translation of the original word. The Danish is _Eventyr_, equivalent to the German _Abentheur_, or adventure; but adventures give in English a very different idea to this class of stories. The German word _M rchen,_ gives the meaning completely, and this we may English by _fairy tale_ or _legend,_ but then neither of these words are fully correct with regard to Andersen's stories. In my translation of his "Eventyr fortalte for Born," I gave as an equivalent title, "Wonderful Stories for Children," and perhaps this near as I could come.--M. H.] which at that time was not so very much thought of. One monthly critical journal even complained that a young author who had just published a work like the Improvisatore, should immediately come out with anything so childish as the tales. I reaped a harvest of blame, precisely where people ought to have acknowledged the advantage of my mind producing something in a new direction. Several of my friends, whose judgment was of value to me, counselled me entirely to abstain from writing tales, as these were a something for which I had no talent. Others were of opinion that I had better, first of all, study the French fairy tale. I would willingly have discontinued writing them, but they forced themselves from me.
In the volume which I first published, I had, like Mus us, but in my own manner, related old stories, which I had heard as a child. The volume concluded with one which was original, and which seemed to have given the greatest pleasure, although it bore a tolerably near affinity to a story of Hoffman's. In my increasing disposition for children's stories, I therefore followed my own impulse, and invented them mostly myself. In the following year a new volume came out, and soon after that a third, in which the longest story, The Little Mermaid, was my own invention. This story, in an especial manner, created an interest which was only increased by the following volumes. One of these came out every Christmas, and before long no Christmas tree could exist without my stones.
Some of our first comic actors made the attempt of relating my little stories from the stage; it was a complete change from the declamatory poetry which had been heard to satiety. The Constant Tin Soldier, therefore, the Swineherd, and the Top and Ball, were told from the Royal stage, and from those of private theatres, and were well received. In order that the reader might be placed in the proper point of view, with regard to the manner in which I told the stories, I had called my first volume Stories told for Children. I had written my narrative down upon paper, exactly in the language, and with the expressions in which I had myself related them, by word of mouth, to the little ones, and I had arrived at the conviction that people of different ages were equally amused with them. The children made themselves merry for the most part over what might be called the actors, older people, on the contrary, were interested in the deeper meaning. The stories furnished reading for children and grown people, and that assuredly is a difficult task for those who will write children's stories. They met with open doors and open hearts in Denmark; everybody read them. I now removed the words "told for children," from my title, and published three volumes of "New Stories," all of which were of my own invention, and which were received in my own country with the greatest favor. I could not wish it greater; I felt a real anxiety in consequence, a fear of not being able to justify afterwards such an honorable award of praise.
A refreshing sunshine streamed into my heart; I felt courage and joy, and was filled, with a living desire of still more and more developing my powers in this direction,--of studying more thoroughly this class of writing, and of observing still more attentively the rich wells of nature out of which I must create it. If attention be paid to the order in which my stories are written, it certainly will be seen that there is in them a gradual progression, a clearer working out of the idea, a greater discretion in the use of agency, and, if I may so speak, a more healthy tone and a more natural freshness may be perceived.
At this period of my life, I made an acquaintance which was of great moral and intellectual importance to me. I have already spoken of several persons and public characters who have had influence on me as the poet; but none of these have had more, nor in a nobler sense of the word, than the lady to whom I here turn myself; she, through whom I, at the same time, was enabled to forget my own individual self, to feel that which is holy in art, and to become acquainted with the command which God has given to genius.
I now turn back to the year 1840. One day in the hotel in which I lived in Copenhagen, I saw the name of Jenny Lind among those of the strangers from Sweden. I was aware at that time that she was the first singer in Stockholm. I had been that same year, in this neighbor country, and had there met with honor and kindness: I thought, therefore, that it would not be unbecoming in me to pay a visit to the young artist. She was, at this time, entirely unknown out of Sweden, so that I was convinced that, even in Copenhagen, her name was known only by few. She received me very courteously, but yet distantly, almost coldly. She was, as she said, on a journey with her father to South Sweden, and was come over to Copenhagen for a few days in order that she might see this city. We again parted distantly, and I had the impression of a very ordinary character which soon passed away from my mind.
In the autumn of 1843, Jenny Lind came again to Copenhagen. One of my friends, our clever ballet-master, Bournonville, who has married a Swedish lady, a friend of Jenny Lind, informed me of her arrival here and told me that she remembered me very kindly, and that now she had read my writings. He entreated me to go with him to her, and to employ all my persuasive art to induce her to take a few parts at the Theatre Royal; I should, he said, be then quite enchanted with what I should hear.
I was not now received as a stranger; she cordially extended to me her hand, and spoke of my writings and of Miss Fredrika Bremer, who also was her affectionate friend. The conversation was soon turned to her appearance in Copenhagen, and of this Jenny Lind declared that she stood in fear.
"I have never made my appearance," said she, "out of Sweden; everybody in my native land is so affectionate and kind to me, and if I made my appearance in Copenhagen and should be hissed!--I dare not venture on it!"
I said, that I, it was true, could not pass judgment on her singing, because I had never heard it, neither did I know how she acted, but nevertheless, I was convinced that such was the disposition at this moment in Copenhagen, that only a moderate voice and some knowledge of acting would be successful; I believed that she might safely venture.
Bournonville's persuasion obtained for the Copenhageners the greatest enjoyment which they ever had.
Jenny Lind made her first appearance among them as Alice in Robert le Diable--it was like a new revelation in the realms of art, the youthfully fresh voice forced itself into every heart; here reigned truth and nature; everything was full of meaning and intelligence. At one concert Jenny Lind sang her Swedish songs; there was something so peculiar in this, so bewitching; people thought nothing about the concert room; the popular melodies uttered by a being so purely feminine, and bearing the universal stamp of genius, exercised their omnipotent sway--the whole of Copenhagen was in raptures. Jenny Lind was the first singer to whom the Danish students gave a serenade: torches blazed around the hospitable villa where the serenade was given: she expressed her thanks by again singing some Swedish songs, and I then saw her hasten into the darkest corner and weep for emotion.
"Yes, yes," said she, "I will exert myself; I will endeavor, I will be better qualified than I am when I again come to Copenhagen."
On the stage, she was the great artiste, who rose above all those around her; at home, in her own chamber, a sensitive young girl with all the humility and piety of a child.
Her appearance in Copenhagen made an epoch in the history of our opera; it showed me art in its sanctity--I had beheld one of its vestals. She journeyed back to Stockholm, and from there Fredrika Bremer wrote to me:--"With regard to Jenny Lind as a singer, we are both of us perfectly agreed; she stands as high as any artist of our time can stand; but as yet you do not know her in her full greatness. Speak to her about her art, and you will wonder at the expansion of her mind, and will see her countenance beaming with inspiration. Converse then with her of God, and of the holiness of religion, and you will see tears in those innocent eyes; she is great as an artist, but she is still greater in her pure human existence!"
In the following year I was in Berlin; the conversation with Meyerbeer turned upon Jenny Lind; he had heard her sing the Swedish songs, and was transported by them.
"But how does she act?" asked he.
I spoke in raptures of her acting, and gave him at the same time some idea of her representation of Alice. He said to me that perhaps it might be possible for him to determine her to come to Berlin.
It is sufficiently well known that she made her appearance there, threw every one into astonishment and delight, and won for herself in Germany a European name. Last autumn she came again to Copenhagen, and the enthusiasm was incredible; the glory of renown makes genius perceptible to every one. People bivouacked regularly before the theatre, to obtain a ticket. Jenny Lind appeared still greater than ever in her art, because they had an opportunity of seeing her in many and such extremely different parts. Her Norma is plastic; every attitude might serve as the most beautiful model to a sculptor, and yet people felt that these were the inspiration of the moment, and had not been studied before the glass; Norma is no raving Italian; she is the suffering, sorrowing woman--the woman possessed of a heart to sacrifice herself for an unfortunate rival--the woman to whom, in the violence of the moment, the thought may suggest itself of murdering the children of a faithless lover, but who is immediately disarmed when she gazes into the eyes of the innocent ones.
"Norma, thou holy priestess," sings the chorus, and Jenny Lind has comprehended and shows to us this holy priestess in the aria, _Casta diva_. In Copenhagen she sang all her parts in Swedish, and the other singers sang theirs in Danish, and the two kindred languages mingled very beautifully together; there was no jarring; even in the Daughter of the Regiment where there is a deal of dialogue, the Swedish had something agreeable--and what acting! nay, the word itself is a contradiction--it was nature; anything as true never before appeared on the stage. She shows us perfectly the true child of nature grown up in the camp, but an inborn nobility pervades every movement. The Daughter of the Regiment and the Somnambule are certainly Jenny Land's most unsurpassable parts; no second can take their places in these beside her. People laugh,--they cry; it does them as much good as going to church; they become better for it. People feel that God is in art; and where God stands before us face to face there is a holy church.
"There will not in a whole century," said Mendelssohn, speaking to me of Jenny Lind, "be born another being so gifted as she;" and his words expressed my full conviction; one feels as she makes her appearance on the stage, that she is a pure vessel, from which a holy draught will be presented to us.
There is not anything which can lessen the impression which Jenny Lind's greatness on the stage makes, except her own personal character at home. An intelligent and child-like disposition exercises here its astonishing power; she is happy; belonging, as it were, no longer to the world, a peaceful, quiet home, is the object of her thoughts--and yet she loves art with her whole soul, and feels her vocation in it. A noble, pious disposition like hers cannot be spoiled by homage. On one occasion only did I hear her express her joy in her talent and her self-consciousness. It was during her last residence in Copenhagen. Almost every evening she appeared either in the opera or at concerts; every hour was in requisition. She heard of a society, the object of which was, to assist unfortunate children, and to take them out of the hands of their parents by whom they were misused, and compelled either to beg or steal, and to place them in other and better circumstances. Benevolent people subscribed annually a small sum each for their support, nevertheless the means for this excellent purpose were small.
"But have I not still a disengaged evening?" said she; "let me give a night's performance for the benefit of these poor children; but we will have double prices!"
Such a performance was given, and returned large proceeds; when she was informed of this, and, that by this means, a number of poor children would be benefited for several years, her countenance beamed, and the tears filled her eyes.
"It is however beautiful," said she, "that I can sing so!"
I value her with the whole feeling of a brother, and I regard myself as happy that I know and understand such a spirit. God give to her that peace, that quiet happiness which she wishes for herself!
Through Jenny Lind I first became sensible of the holiness there is in art; through her I learned that one must forget oneself in the service of the Supreme. No books, no men have had a better or a more ennobling influence on me as the poet, than Jenny Lind, and I therefore have spoken of her so long and so warmly here.
I have made the happy discovery by experience, that inasmuch as art and life are more clearly understood by me, so much more sunshine from without has streamed into my soul. What blessings have not compensated me for the former dark days! Repose and certainty have forced themselves into my heart. Such repose can easily unite itself with the changing life of travel; I feel myself everywhere at home, attach myself easily to people, and they give me in return confidence and cordiality.
In the summer of 1844 I once more visited North Germany. An intellectual and amiable family in Oldenburg had invited me in the most friendly manner to spend some time at their house. Count von Rantzau- Breitenburg repeated also in his letters how welcome I should be to him. I set out on the journey, and this journey was, if not one of my longest, still one of my most interesting.
I saw the rich marsh-land in its summer luxuriance, and
made with Rantzau several interesting little excursions. Breitenburg lies
in the middle of woods on the river St/r; the steam-voyage to Hamburg
gives animation to the little river; the situation is picturesque, and
life in the castle itself is comfortable and pleasant. I could devote
myself perfectly to reading and poetry, because I was just as free as
the bird in the air, and I was as much cared for as if I had been a beloved
relation of the family. Alas it was the last time that I came hither;
Count Rantzau had, even then, a presentiment of his approaching death.
One day we met in the garden; he seized my hand, pressed it warmly, expressed
his pleasure in my talents being acknowledged abroad, and his friendship
for me, adding, in conclusion, "Yes, my dear young friend, God only
knows but I have the firm belief that this year is the last time when
we two shall meet here; my days will soon have run out their full course."
He looked at me with so grave an expression, that it touched my heart
deeply, but I knew not what to say. We were near to the chapel; he opened
a little gate between some thick hedges, and we
"Here you will find me, when you come the next time to Breitenburg," said he, and his sorrowful words were true. He died the following winter in Wiesbaden. I lost in him a friend, a protector, a noble excellent heart.
When I, on the first occasion, went to Germany, I visited the Hartz and the Saxon Switzerland. Goethe was still living. It was my most heartfelt wish to see him. It was not far from the Hartz to Weimar, but I had no letters of introduction to him, and, at that time, not one line of my writings was translated. Many persons had described Goethe to me as a very proud man, and the question arose whether indeed he would receive me. I doubted it, and determined not to go to Weimar until I should have written some work which would convey my name to Germany. I succeeded in this, but alas, Goethe was already dead.
I had made the acquaintance of his daughter-in-law Mrs. von Goethe, born at Pogwitsch, at the house of Mendelssohn Bartholdy, in Leipsig, on my return from Constantinople; this _spirituelle_ lady received me with much kindness. She told me that her son Walter had been my friend for a long time; that as a boy he had made a whole play out of my Improvisatore; that this piece had been performed in Goethe's house; and lastly, that Walter, had once wished to go to Copenhagen to make my acquaintance. I thus had now friends in Weimar.
An extraordinary desire impelled me to see this city where Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, and Herder had lived, and from which so much light had streamed forth over the world. I approached that land which had been rendered sacred by Luther, by the strife of the Minnesingers on the Wartburg, and by the memory of many noble and great events.
On the 24th of June, the birthday of the Grand Duke, I arrived a stranger in the friendly town. Everything indicated the festivity which was then going forward, and the young prince was received with great rejoicing in the theatre, where a new opera was being given. I did not think how firmly, the most glorious and the best of all those whom I here saw around me, would grow into my heart; how many of my future friends sat around me here--how dear this city would become to me--in Germany my second home. I was invited by Goethe's worthy friend, the excellent Chancellor M ller, and I met with the most cordial reception from him. By accident I here met on my first call, with the Kammerherr Beaulieu de Marconnay, whom I had known in Oldenburg; he was now placed in Weimar. He invited me to remove to his house. In the course of a few minutes I was his stationary guest, and I felt "it is good to be here."
There are people whom it only requires a few days to know and to love; I won in Beaulieu, in these few days, a friend, as I believe, for my whole life. He introduced me into the family circle, the amiable chancellor received me equally cordially; and I who had, on my arrival, fancied myself quite forlorn, because Mrs. von Goethe and her son Walter were in Vienna, was now known in Weimar, and well received in all its circles.
The reigning Grand Duke and Duchess gave me so gracious and kind a reception as made a deep impression upon me. After I had been presented, I was invited to dine, and soon after received an invitation to visit the hereditary Grand Duke and his lady, at the hunting seat of Ettersburg, which stands high, and close to an extensive forest. The old fashioned furniture within the house, and the distant views from the park into the Hartz mountains, produced immediately a peculiar impression. All the young peasants had assembled at the castle to celebrate the birthday of their beloved young Duke; climbing-poles, from which fluttered handkerchiefs and ribbons, were erected; fiddles sounded, and people danced merrily under the branches of the large and flowering limetrees. Sabbath splendor, contentment and happiness were diffused over the whole.
The young and but new married princely pair seemed to be united by true heartfelt sentiment. The heart must be able to forget the star on the breast under which it beats, if its possessor wish to remain long free and happy in a court; and such a heart, certainly one of the noblest and best which beats, is possessed by Karl Alexander of Saxe-Weimar. I had the happiness of a sufficient length of time to establish this belief. During this, my first residence here, I came several times to the happy Ettersburg. The young Duke showed me the garden and the tree on the trunk of which Goethe, Schiller, and Wieland had cut their names; nay even Jupiter himself had wished to add his to theirs, for his thunder-bolt had splintered it in one of the branches.
The intellectual Mrs. von Gross (Amalia Winter), Chancellor von M ller, who was able livingly to unroll the times of Goethe and to explain his Faust, and the soundly honest and child-like minded Eckermann belonged to the circle at Ettersburg. The evenings passed like a spiritual dream; alternately some one read aloud; even I ventured, for the first time in a foreign language to me, to read one of my own tales--the Constant Tin Soldier.
Chancellor von M ller accompanied me to the princely burial-place, where Karl August sleeps with his glorious wife, not between Schiller and Goethe, as I believed when I wrote--"the prince has made for himself a rainbow glory, whilst he stands between the sun and the rushing waterfall." Close beside the princely pair, who understood and valued that which was great, repose these their immortal friends. Withered laurel garlands lay upon the simple brown coffins, of which the whole magnificence consists in the immortal names of Goethe and Schiller. In life the prince and the poet walked side by side, in death they slumber under the same vault. Such a place as this is never effaced from the mind; in such a spot those quiet prayers are offered which God alone hears.
I remained above eight days in Weimar; it seemed to me as if I had formerly lived in this city; as if it were a beloved home which I must now leave. As I drove out of the city, over the bridge and past the mill, and for the last time looked back to the city and the castle, a deep melancholy took hold on my soul, and it was to me as if a beautiful portion of my life here had its close; I thought that the journey, after I had left Weimar, could afford me no more pleasure. How often since that time has the carrier pigeon, and still more frequently, the mind, flown over to this place! Sunshine has streamed forth from Weimar upon my poet-life.
From Weimar I went to Leipzig where a truly poetical evening awaited me with Robert Schumann. This great composer had a year before surprised me by the honor of dedicating to me the music which he had composed to four of my songs; the lady of Dr. Frege whose singing, so full of soul, has pleased and enchanted so many thousands, accompanied Clara Schumann, and the composer and the poet were alone the audience: a little festive supper and a mutual interchange of ideas shortened the evening only too much. I met with the old, cordial reception at the house of Mr. Brockhaus, to which from former visits I had almost accustomed myself. The circle of my friends increased in the German cities; but the first heart is still that to which we most gladly turn again.
I found in Dresden old friends with youthful feelings; my gifted half- countryman Dahl, the Norwegian, who knows how upon canvas to make the waterfall rush foaming down, and the birch-tree to grow as in the valleys of Norway, and Vogel von Vogelstein, who did me the honor of painting my portrait, which was included in the royal collection of portraits. The theatre intendant, Herr von L ttichau, provided me every evening with a seat in the manager's box; and one of the noblest ladies, in the first circles of Dresden, the worthy Baroness von Decken, received me as a mother would receive her son. In this character I was ever afterwards received in her family and in the amiable circle of her friends.
How bright and beautiful is the world! How good are human beings! That it is a pleasure to live becomes ever more and more clear to me.
Beaulieu's younger brother Edmund, who is an officer in the army, came one day from Tharand, where he had spent the summer months. I accompanied him to various places, spent some happy days among the pleasant scenery of the hills, and was received at the same time into various families.
I visited with the Baroness Decken, for the first time, the celebrated and clever painter Retsch, who has published the bold outlines of Goethe, Shakspeare, &c. He lives a sort of Arcadian life among lowly vineyards on the way to Meissen. Every year he makes a present to his wife, on her birthday, of a new drawing, and always one of his best; the collection has grown through a course of years to a valuable album, which she, if he die before her, is to publish. Among the many glorious ideas there, one struck me as peculiar; the Flight into Egypt. It is night; every one sleeps in the picture,--Mary, Joseph, the flowers and the shrubs, nay even the ass which carries her--all, except the child Jesus, who, with open round countenance, watches over and illumines all. I related one of my stories to him, and for this I received a lovely drawing,--a beautiful young girl hiding herself behind the mask of an old woman; thus should the eternally youthful soul, with its blooming loveliness, peep forth from behind the old mask of the fairy- tale. Retsch's pictures are rich in thought, full of beauty, and a genial spirit.
I enjoyed the country-life of Germany with Major Serre and his amiable wife at their splendid residence of Maren; it is not possible for any one to exercise greater hospitality than is done by these two kind- hearted people. A circle of intelligent, interesting individuals, were here assembled; I remained among them above eight days, and there became acquainted with Kohl the traveller, and the clever authoress, the Countess Hahn-Hahn, in whom I discerned a woman by disposition and individual character in whom confidence may be placed. Where one is well received there one gladly lingers. I found myself unspeakably happy on this little journey in Germany, and became convinced that I was there no stranger. It was heart and truth to nature which people valued in my writings; and, however excellent and praiseworthy the exterior beauty may be, however imposing the maxims of this world's wisdom, still it is heart and nature which have least changed by time, and which everybody is best able to understand.
I returned home by way of Berlin, where I had not been for several years; but the dearest of my friends there--Chamisso, was dead.
The fair wild swan which flew far o'er the earth,
was now flown to a more glorious hemisphere; I saw his children, who were now fatherless and motherless. From the young who here surround me, I discover that I am grown older; I feel it not in myself. Chamisso's sons, whom I saw the last time playing here in the little garden with bare necks, came now to meet me with helmet and sword: they were officers in the Prussian service. I felt in a moment how the years had rolled on, how everything was changed and how one loses so many.
Yet is it not so hard as people deem,
I met with the most cordial reception, and have since then always met with the same, in the house of the Minister Savigny, where I became acquainted with the clever, singularly gifted Bettina and her lovely spiritual-minded daughter. One hour's conversation with Bettina during which she was the chief speaker, was so rich and full of interest, that I was almost rendered dumb by all this eloquence, this firework of wit. The world knows her writings, but another talent which she is possessed of, is less generally known, namely her talent for drawing. Here again it is the ideas which astonish us. It was thus, I observed, she had treated in a sketch an accident which had occurred just before, a young man being killed by the fumes of wine. You saw him descending half- naked into the cellar, round which lay the wine casks like monsters: Bacchanals and Bacchantes danced towards him, seized their victim and destroyed him! I know that Thorwaldsen, to whom she once showed all her drawings, was in the highest degree astonished by the ideas they contained.
It does the heart such good when abroad to find a house, where, when immediately you enter, eyes flash like festal lamps, a house where you can take peeps into a quiet, happy domestic life--such a house is that of Professor Weiss. Yet how many new acquaintance which were found, and old acquaintance which were renewed, ought I not to mention! I met Cornelius from Rome, Schelling from Munich, my countryman I might almost call him; Steffens, the Norwegian, and once again Tieck, whom I had not seen since my first visit to Germany. He was very much altered, yet his gentle, wise eyes were the same, the shake of his hand was the same. I felt that he loved me and wished me well. I must visit him in Potsdam, where he lived in ease and comfort. At dinner I became acquainted with his brother the sculptor.
From Tieck I learnt how kindly the King and Queen of Prussia were disposed towards me; that they had read my romance of Only a Fiddler, and inquired from Tieck about me. Meantime their Majesties were absent from Berlin. I had arrived the evening before their departure, when that abominable attempt was made upon their lives.
I returned to Copenhagen by Stettin in stormy weather, full of the joy of life, and again saw my dear friends, and in a few days set off to Count Moltke's in Funen, there to spend a few lovely summer days. I here received a letter from the Minister Count Rantzau-Breitenburg, who was with the King and Queen of Denmark at the watering-place of F/hr. He wrote, saying that he had the pleasure of announcing to me the most gracious invitation of their Majesties to F/hr. This island, as is well known, lies in the North Sea, not far from the coast of Sleswick, in the neighborhood of the interesting Halligs, those little islands which Biernatzky described so charmingly in his novels. Thus, in a manner wholly unexpected by me, I should see scenery of a very peculiar character even in Denmark.
The favor of my king and Queen made me happy, and I rejoiced to be once more in close intimacy with Rantzau. Alas, it was for the last time!
It was just now five and twenty years since I, a poor lad, travelled alone and helpless to Copenhagen. Exactly the five and twentieth anniversary would be celebrated by my being with my king and queen, to whom I was faithfully attached, and whom I at that very time learned to love with my whole soul. Everything that surrounded me, man and nature, reflected themselves imperishably in my soul. I felt myself, as it were, conducted to a point from which I could look forth more distinctly over the past five and twenty years, with all the good fortune and happiness which they had evolved for me. The reality frequently surpasses the most beautiful dream.
I travelled from Funen to Flensborg, which, lying in its great bay, is picturesque with woods and hills, and then immediately opens out into a solitary heath. Over this I travelled in the bright moonlight. The journey across the heath was tedious; the clouds only passed rapidly. We went on monotonously through the deep sand, and monotonous was the wail of a bird among the shrubby heath. Presently we reached moorlands. Long-continued rain had changed meadows and cornfields into great lakes; the embankments along which we drove were like morasses; the horses sank deeply into them. In many places the light carriage was obliged to be supported by the peasants, that it might not fall upon the cottages below the embankment. Several hours were consumed over each mile (Danish). At length the North Sea with its islands lay before me. The whole coast was an embankment, covered for miles with woven straw, against which the waves broke. I arrived at high tide. The wind was favorable, and in less than an hour I reached F/hr, which, after my difficult journey, appeared to me like a real fairy land.
The largest city, Wyck, in which are the baths, is exactly built like a Dutch town. The houses are only one story high, with sloping roofs and gables turned to the street. The many strangers there, and the presence of the court, gave a peculiar animation to the principal street. Well- known faces looked out from almost every house; the Danish flag waved, and music was heard. I was soon established in my quarters, and every day, until the departure of their Majesties, had I the honor of an invitation from them to dinner, as well as to pass the evening in their circle. On several evenings I read aloud my little stories (M rchen) to the king and queen, and both of them were gracious and affectionate towards me. It is so good when a noble human nature will reveal itself where otherwise only the king's crown and the purple mantle might be discovered. Few people can be more amiable in private life than their present Majesties of Denmark. May God bless them and give them joy, even as they filled my breast with happiness and sunshine!
I sailed in their train to the largest of the Halligs, those grassy runes in the ocean, which bear testimony to a sunken country. The violence of the sea has changed the mainland into islands, has riven these again, and buried men and villages. Year after year are new portions rent away, and, in half a century's time, there will be nothing here but sea. The Halligs are now only low islets covered with a dark turf, on which a few flocks graze. When the sea rises these are driven into the garrets of the houses, and the waves roll over this little region, which is miles distant from the shore. Oland, which we visited, contains a little town. The houses stand closely side by side, as if, in their sore need they would all huddle together. They are all erected upon a platform, and have little windows, as in the cabin of a ship. There, in the little room, solitary through half the year, sit the wife and her daughters spinning. There, however, one always finds a little collection of books. I found books in Danish, German, and Frieslandish. The people read and work, and the sea rises round the houses, which lie like a wreck in the ocean. Sometimes, in the night, a ship, having mistaken the lights, drives on here and is stranded.
In the year 1825, a tempestuous tide washed away men and houses. The people sat for days and nights half naked upon the roofs, till these gave way; nor from F/hr nor the mainland could help be sent to them. The church-yard is half washed away; coffins and corpses were frequently exposed to view by the breakers: it is an appalling sight. And yet the inhabitants of the Halligs are attached to their little home. They cannot remain on the mainland, but are driven thence by home sickness.
We found only one man upon the island, and he had only
lately arisen from a sick bed. The others were out on long voyages. We
were received by girls and women. They had erected before the church a
triumphal arch with flowers which they had fetched from F/hr; but it was
so small and low, that one was obliged to go round it; nevertheless they
showed by it their good will. The queen was deeply affected by their having
cut down their only shrub, a rose bush, to lay over a marshy place which
she would have to cross. The girls are pretty, and are dressed in a half
Oriental fashion. The people trace their descent from Greeks. They
On our return, dinner was served on board the royal steamer; and afterwards, as we sailed in a glorious sunset through this archipelago, the deck of the vessel was changed to a dancing room. Young and old danced; servants flew hither and thither with refreshments; sailors stood upon the paddle-boxes and took the soundings, and their deep- toned voices might be heard giving the depth of the water. The moon rose round and large, and the promontory of Amrom assumed the appearance of a snow-covered chain of Alps.
I visited afterwards these desolate sand hills: the king went to shoot rabbits there. Many years ago a ship was wrecked here, on board of which were two rabbits, and from this pair Amrom is now stored with thousands of their descendants. At low tide the sea recedes wholly from between Amrom and F/hr, and then people drive across from one island to another; but still the time must be well observed and the passage accurately known, or else, when the tide comes, he who crosses will be inevitably lost. It requires only a few minutes, and then where dry land was large ships may sail. We saw a whole row of wagons driving from F/hr to Amrom. Seen upon the white sand and against the blue horizon, they seem to be twice as large as they really were. All around were spread out, like a net, the sheets of water, as if they held firmly the extent of sand which belonged to the ocean and which would be soon overflowed by it. This promontory brings to one's memory the mounds of ashes at Vesuvius; for here one sinks at every step, the wiry moor-grass not being able to bind together the loose sand. The sun shone burningly hot between the white sand hills: it was like a journey through the deserts of Africa.
A peculiar kind of rose, and the heath were in flower in the valleys between the hills; in other places there was no vegetation whatever; nothing but the wet sand on which the waves had left their impress; the sea had inscribed on its receding strange hieroglyphics. I gazed from one of the highest points over the North Sea; it was ebb-tide; the sea had retired above a mile; the vessels lay like dead fishes upon the sand, and awaiting the returning tide. A few sailors had clambered down and moved about on the sandy ground like black points. Where the sea itself kept the white level sand in movement, a long bank elevated itself, which, during the time of high-water, is concealed, and upon which occur many wrecks. I saw the lofty wooden tower which is here erected, and in which a cask is always kept filled with water, and a basket supplied with bread and brandy, that the unfortunate human beings, who are here stranded, may be able in this place, amid the swelling sea, to preserve life for a few days until it is possible to rescue them.
To return from such a scene as this to a royal table, a charming court- concert, and a little ball in the bath-saloon, as well as to the promenade by moonlight, thronged with guests, a little Boulevard, had something in it like a fairy tale,--it was a singular contrast.
As I sat on the above-mentioned five-and-twentieth anniversary, on the 5th of September, at the royal dinner-table, the whole of my former life passed in review before my mind. I was obliged to summon all my strength to prevent myself bursting into tears. There are moments of thankfulness in which, as it were, we feel a desire to press God to our hearts. How deeply I felt, at this time, my own nothingness; how all, all, had come from him. Rantzau knew what an interesting day this was to me. After dinner the king and the queen wished me happiness, and that so--_graciously_, is a poor word,--so cordially, so sympathizingly! The king wished me happiness in that which I had endured and won. He asked me about my first entrance into the world, and I related to him some characteristic traits.
In the course of conversation he inquired if I had not some certain yearly income; I named the sum to him.
"That is not much," said the king.
"But I do not require much," replied I, "and my writings procure me something."
The king, in the kindest manner, inquired farther into my circumstances, and closed by saying,
"If I can, in any way, be serviceable to your literary labors, then come to me."
In the evening, during the concert, the conversation was renewed, and some of those who stood near me reproached me for not having made use of my opportunity.
"The king," said they, "put the very words into your mouth."
But I could not, I would not have done it. "If the king," I said, "found that I required something more, he could give it to me of his own will."
And I was not mistaken. In the following year King Christian VIII. increased my annual stipend, so that with this and that which my writings bring in, I can live honorably and free from care. My king gave it to me out of the pure good-will of his own heart. King Christian is enlightened, clear-sighted, with a mind enlarged by science; the gracious sympathy, therefore, which he has felt in my fate is to me doubly cheering and ennobling.
The 5th of September was to me a festival-day; even the German visitors at the baths honored me by drinking my health in the pump-room.
So many flattering circumstances, some people argue, may easily spoil a man, and make him vain. But, no; they do not spoil him, they make him on the contrary--better; they purify his mind, and he must thereby feel an impulse, a wish, to deserve all that he enjoys. At my parting- audience with the queen, she gave me a valuable ring as a remembrance of our residence at F/hr; and the king again expressed himself full of kindness and noble sympathy. God bless and preserve this exalted pair!
The Duchess of Augustenburg was at this time also at F/hr with her two eldest daughters. I had daily the happiness of being with them, and received repeated invitations to take Augustenburg on my return. For this purpose I went from F/hr to Als, one of the most beautiful islands in the Baltic. That little region resembles a blooming garden; luxuriant corn and clover-fields are enclosed, with hedges of hazels and wild roses; the peasants' houses are surrounded by large apple- orchards, full of fruit. Wood and hill alternate. Now we see the ocean, and now the narrow Lesser Belt, which resembles a river. The Castle of Augustenburg is magnificent, with its garden full of flowers, extending down to the very shores of the serpentine bay. I met with the most cordial reception, and found the most amiable family-life in the ducal circle. I spent fourteen days here, and was present at the birth-day festivities of the duchess, which lasted three days; among these festivities was racing, and the town and the castle were filled with people.
Happy domestic life is like a beautiful summer's evening; the heart is filled with peace; and everything around derives a peculiar glory. The full heart says "it is good to be here;" and this I felt at Augustenburg.
Andersen, Hans Christian. The True Story of My Life: A Sketch. Mary Howitt, translator. Boston: James Munroe, 1847.