Just then one of the masters went to Copenhagen, and related to Collin exactly what I had to bear, and immediately he removed me from the school and from the rector's house. When, in taking leave of him, I thanked him for the kindness which I had received from him, the passionate man cursed me, and ended by saying that I should never become a student, that my verses would grow mouldy on the floor of the bookseller's shop, and that I myself should end my days in a mad-house. I trembled to my innermost being, and left him.
Several years afterwards, when my writings were read, when the Improvisatore first came out, I met him in Copenhagen; he offered me his hand in a conciliatory manner, and said that he had erred respecting me, and had treated me wrong; but it now was all the same to me. The heavy, dark days had also produced their blessing in my life. A young man, who afterwards became celebrated in Denmark for his zeal in the Northern languages and in history, became my teacher. I hired a little garret; it is described in the Fiddler; and in The Picture Book without Pictures, people may see that I often received there visits from the moon. I had a certain sum allowed for my support; but as instruction was to be paid for, I had to make savings in other ways. A few families through the week-days gave me a place at their tables. I was a sort of boarder, as many another poor student in Copenhagen is still: there was a variety in it; it gave an insight into the several kinds of family life, which was not without its influence on me. I studied industriously; in some particular branches I had considerably distinguished myself in Helsing/r, especially in mathematics; these were, therefore, now much more left to myself: everything tended to assist me in my Greek and Latin studies; in one direction, however, and that the one in which it would least have been expected, did my excellent teacher find much to do; namely, in religion. He closely adhered to the literal meaning of the Bible; with this I was acquainted, because from my first entrance in the school I had clearly understood what was said and taught by it. I received gladly, both with feeling and understanding, the doctrine, that God is love: everything which opposed this—a burning hell, therefore, whose fire endured forever—I could not recognize. Released from the distressing existence of the school-bench, I now expressed myself like a free man; and my teacher, who was one of the noblest and most amiable of human beings, but who adhered firmly to the letter, was often quite distressed about me. We disputed, whilst pure flames kindled within our hearts. It was nevertheless good for me that I came to this unspoiled, highly-gifted young man, who was possessed of a nature as peculiar as my own.
That which, on the contrary, was an error in me, and which became very perceptible, was a pleasure which I had, not in jesting with, but in playing with my best feelings, and in regarding the understanding as the most important thing in the world. The rector had completely mistaken my undisguisedly candid and sensitive character; my excitable feelings were made ridiculous, and thrown back upon themselves; and now, when I could freely advance upon the way to my object, this change showed itself in me. From severe suffering I did not rush into libertinism, but into an erroneous endeavor to appear other than I was. I ridiculed feeling, and fancied that I had quite thrown it aside; and yet I could be made wretched for a whole day, if I met with a sour countenance where I expected a friendly one. Every poem which I had formerly written with tears, I now parodied, or gave to it a ludicrous refrain; one of which I called "The Lament of the Kitten," another, "The Sick Poet." The few poems which I wrote at that time were all of a humorous character: a complete change had passed over me; the stunted plant was reset, and now began to put forth new shoots.
Wulff's eldest daughter, a very clever and lively girl, understood and encouraged the humor, which made itself evident in my few poems; she possessed my entire confidence; she protected me like a good sister, and had great influence over me, whilst she awoke in me a feeling for the comic.
At this time, also, a fresh current of life was sent through the Danish literature; for this the people had an interest, and politics played no part in it.
Heiberg, who had gained the acknowledged reputation of a poet by his excellent works, "Psyche" and "Walter the Potter," had introduced the vaudeville upon the Danish stage; it was a Danish vaudeville, blood of our blood, and was therefore received with acclamation, and supplanted almost everything else. Thalia kept carnival on the Danish stage, and Heiberg was her secretary. I made his acquaintance first at Oersted's. Refined, eloquent, and the hero of the day, he pleased me in a high degree; he was most kind to me, and I visited him; he considered one of my humorous poems worthy of a place in his most excellent weekly paper, "The Flying Post." Shortly before I had, after a deal of trouble, got my poem of "The Dying Child" printed in a paper; none of the many publishers of journals, who otherwise accept of the most lamentable trash, had the courage to print a poem by a schoolboy. My best known poem they printed at that time, accompanied by an excuse for it. Heiberg saw it, and gave it in his paper an honorable place. Two humorous poems, signed H., were truly my d but with him.
I remember the first evening when the "Flying Post" appeared with my verses in it. I was with a family who wished me well, but who regarded my poetical talent as quite insignificant, and who found something to censure in every line. The master of the house entered with the "Flying Post" in his hand.
"This evening," said he, "there are two excellent poems: they are by Heiberg; nobody else could write anything like them." And now my poems were received with rapture. The daughter, who was in my secret, exclaimed, in her delight, that I was the author. They were all struck into silence, and were vexed. That wounded me deeply.
One of our least esteemed writers, but a man of rank, who was very hospitable, gave me one day a seat at his table. He told me that a new year's gift would come out, and that he was applied to for a contribution. I said that a little poem of mine, at the wish of the publisher, would appear in the same new year's gift.
"What, then, everybody and anybody are to contribute to this book!" said the man in vexation: "then he will need nothing from me; I certainly can hardly give him anything."
My teacher dwelt at a considerable distance from me. I went to him twice each day, and on the way there my thoughts were occupied with my lessons. On my return, however, I breathed more freely, and then bright poetical ideas passed through my brain, but they were never committed to paper; only five or six humorous poems were written in the course of the year, and these disturbed me less when they were laid to rest on paper than if they had remained in my mind.
In September, 1828, I was a student; and when the examination was over, the thousand ideas and thoughts, by which I was pursued on the way to my teacher, flew like a swarm of bees out into the world, and, indeed, into my first work, "A Journey on Foot to Amack;" a peculiar, humorous book, but one which fully exhibited my own individual character at that time, my disposition to sport with everything, and to jest in tears over my own feelings—a fantastic, gaily-colored tapestry-work. No publisher had the courage to bring out that little book; I therefore ventured to do it myself, and, in a few days after its appearance, the impression was sold. Publisher Keitzel bought from me the second edition; after a while he had a third; and besides this, the work was reprinted in Sweden.
Everybody read my book; I heard nothing but praise; I was "a student," —I had attained the highest goal of my wishes. I was in a whirl of joy; and in this state I wrote my first dramatic work, "Love on the Nicholas Tower, or, What says the Pit?" It was unsuccessful, because it satirized that which no longer existed amongst us, namely, the shows of the middle ages; besides which, it rather ridiculed the enthusiasm for the vaudeville. The subject of it was, in short, as follows:—The watchman of the Nicholas Tower, who always spoke as a knight of the castle, wished to give his daughter to the watchman of the neighboring church-tower; but she loved a young tailor, who had made a journey to the grave of Eulenspiegel, and was just now returned, as the punch-bowl steamed, and was to be emptied in honor of the young lady's consent being given. The lovers escape together to the tailor's herberg, where dancing and merriment are going forward. The watchman, however, fetches back his daughter; but she had lost her senses, and she assured them that she never would recover them, unless she had her tailor. The old watchman determines that Fate should decide the affair; but, then, who was Fate? The idea then comes into his head that the public shall be his Pythia, and that the public shall decide whether she should have the tailor or the watchman. They determine, therefore, to send to one of the youngest of the poets, and beg him to write the history in the style of the vaudeville, a kind of writing which was the most successful at that time, and when the piece was brought upon the stage, and the public either whistled or hissed, it should be in no wise considered that the work of the young author had been unsuccessful, but that it should be the voice of Fate, which said, "She shall marry the watchman." If, on the contrary, the piece was successful, it indicated that she should have the tailor; and this last, remarked the father, must be said in prose, in order that the public may understand it. Now every one of the characters thought himself on the stage, where in the epilogue the lovers besought the public for their applause, whilst the watchman begged them either to whistle, or at least to hiss.
My fellow students received the piece with acclamation; they were proud of me. I was the second of their body who in this year had brought out a piece on the Danish stage; the other was Arnesen, student at the same time with me, and author of a vaudeville called "The Intrigue in the People's Theatre," a piece which had a great run. We were the two young authors of the October examination, two of the sixteen poets which this year produced, and whom people in jest divided into the four great and the twelve small poets.
I was now a happy human being; I possessed the soul of a poet, and the heart of youth; all houses began to be open to me; I flew from circle to circle. Still, however, I devoted myself industriously to study, so that in September, 1829, I passed my Examen philologicum et philosophicum, and brought out the first collected edition of my poems, which met with great praise. Life lay bright with sunshine before me.
Until now I had only seen a small part of my native land, that is to say, a few points in Funen and Zealand, as well as Moen's Klint, which last is truly one of our most beautiful places; the beechwoods there hang like a garland over the white chalk cliffs, from which a view is obtained far over the Baltic. I wished, therefore, in the summer of 1830, to devote my first literary proceeds to seeing Jutland, and making myself more thoroughly acquainted with my own Funen. I had no idea how much solidity of mind I should derive from this summer excursion, or what a change was about to take place in my inner life.
Jutland, which stretches between the German Ocean and the Baltic, until it ends at Skagen in a reef of quicksands, possesses a peculiar character. Towards the Baltic extend immense woods and hills; towards the North Sea, mountains and quicksands, scenery of a grand and solitary character; and between the two, infinite expanses of brown heath, with their wandering gipsies, their wailing birds, and their deep solitude, which the Danish poet, Steen Blicher, has described in his novels.
This was the first foreign scenery which I had ever seen, and the impression, therefore, which it made upon me was very strong. [Footnote: This impressive and wild scenery, with its characteristic figures, of gipsies etc., is most exquisitely introduced into the author's novel of "O. T."; indeed it gives a coloring and tone to the whole work, which the reader never can forget. In my opinion Andersen never wrote anything finer in the way of description than many parts of this work, though as a story it is not equal to his others.—M. H.] In the cities, where my "Journey on Foot" and my comic poems were known, I met with a good reception. Funen revealed her rural life to me; and, not far from my birth-place of Odense, I passed several weeks at the country seat of the elder Iversen as a welcome guest. Poems sprung forth upon paper, but of the comic fewer and fewer. Sentiment, which I had so often derided, would now be avenged. I arrived, in the course of my journey, at the house of a rich family in a small city; and here suddenly a new world opened before me, an immense world, which yet could be contained in four lines, which I wrote at that time:—
A pair of dark eyes fixed my sight, They were my world, my home, my delight, The soul beamed in them, and childlike peace, And never on earth will their memory cease.
New plans of life occupied me. I would give up writing poetry,—to what could it lead? I would study theology, and become a preacher; I had only one thought, and that was she. But it was self-delusion: she loved another; she married him. It was not till several years later that I felt and acknowledged that it was best, both for her and for myself, that things had fallen out as they were. She had no idea, perhaps, how deep my feeling for her had been, or what an influence it produced in me. She had become the excellent wife of a good man, and a happy mother. God's blessing rest upon her!
In my "Journey on Foot," and in most of my writings, satire had been the prevailing characteristic. This displeased many people, who thought that this bent of mind could lead to no good purpose. The critics now blamed me precisely for that which a far deeper feeling had expelled from my breast. A new collection of Poetry, "Fancies and Sketches," which was published for the new year, showed satisfactorily what my heart suffered. A paraphrase of the history of my own heart appeared in a serious vaudeville, "Parting and Meeting," with this difference only, that here the love was mutual: the piece was not presented on the stage till five years later.
Among my young friends in Copenhagen at that time was Orla Lehmann, who afterwards rose higher in popular favor, on account of his political efforts than any man in Denmark. Full of animation, eloquent and undaunted, his character of mind was one which interested me also. The German language was much studied at his father's; they had received there Heine's poems, and they were very attractive for young Orla. He lived in the country, in the neighborhood of the castle of Fredericksberg. I went there to see him, and he sang as I came one of Heine's verses, "Thalatta, Thalatta, du eviges Meer." We read Heine together; the afternoon and the evening passed, and I was obliged to remain there all night; but I had on this evening made the acquaintance of a poet, who, as it seemed to me, sang from the soul; he supplanted Hoffman, who, as might be seen by my "Journey on Foot," had formerly had the greatest influence on me. In my youth there were only three authors who as it were infused themselves into my blood,—Walter Scott, Hoffman, and Heine.
I betrayed more and more in my writings an unhealthy turn of mind. I felt an inclination to seek for the melancholy in life, and to linger on the dark side of things. I became sensitive and thought rather of the blame than the praise which was lavished on me. My late school education, which was forced, and my impulse to become an author whilst I was yet a student, make it evident that my first work, the "Journey on Foot," was not without grammatical errors. Had I only paid some one to correct the press, which was a work I was unaccustomed to, then no charge of this kind could have been brought against me. Now, on the contrary, people laughed at these errors, and dwelt upon them, passing over carelessly that in the book which had merit. I know people who only read my poems to find out errors; they noted down, for instance, how often I used the word beautiful, or some similar word. A gentleman, now a clergyman, at that time a writer of vaudevilles and a critic, was not ashamed, in a company where I was, to go through several of my poems in this style; so that a little girl of six years old, who heard with amazement that he discovered everything to be wrong, took the book, and pointing out the conjunction and, said, "There is yet a little word about which you have not scolded." He felt what a reproof lay in the remark of the child; he looked ashamed and kissed the little one. All this wounded me; but I had, since my school-days, become somewhat timid, and that caused me to take it all quietly: I was morbidly sensitive, and I was good-natured to a fault. Everybody knew it, and some were on that account almost cruel to me. Everybody wished to teach me; almost everybody said that I was spoiled by praise, and therefore they would speak the truth to me. Thus I heard continually of my faults, the real and the ideal weaknesses. In the mean time, however, my feelings burst forth; and then I said that I would become a poet whom they should see honored. But this was regarded only as the crowning mark of the most unbearable vanity; and from house to house it was repeated. I was a good man, they said, but one of the vainest in existence; and in that very time I was often ready wholly to despair of my abilities, and had, as in the darkest days of my school- life, a feeling, as if my whole talents were a self-deception. I almost believed so; but it was more than I could bear, to hear the same thing said, sternly and jeeringly, by others; and if I then uttered a proud, an inconsiderate word, it was addressed to the scourge with which I was smitten; and when those who smite are those we love, then do the scourges become scorpions.
For this reason Collin thought that I should make a little journey,— for instance, to North Germany,—in order to divert my mind and furnish me with new ideas.
In the spring of 1831, I left Denmark for the first time. I saw L bek and Hamburg. Everything astonished me and occupied my mind. I saw mountains for the first time,—the Harzgebirge. The world expanded so astonishingly before me. My good humor returned to me, as to the bird of passage. Sorrow is the flock of sparrows which remains behind, and builds in the nests of the birds of passage. But I did not feel myself wholly restored.
In Dresden I made acquaintance with Tieck. Ingemann had given me a letter to him. I heard him one evening read aloud one of Shakspeare's plays. On taking leave of him, he wished me a poet's success, embraced and kissed me; which made the deepest impression upon me. The expression of his eyes I shall never forget. I left him with tears, and prayed most fervently to God for strength to enable me to pursue the way after which my whole soul strove—strength, which should enable me to express that which I felt in my soul; and that when I next saw Tieck, I might be known and valued by him. It was not until several years afterwards, when my later works were translated into German, and well received in his country, that we saw each other again; I felt the true hand-pressure of him who had given to me, in my second father- land, the kiss of consecration.
In Berlin, a letter of Oersted's procured me the acquaintance of Chamisso. That grave man, with his long locks and honest eyes, opened the door to me himself, read the letter, and I know not how it was, but we understood each other immediately. I felt perfect confidence in him, and told him so, though it was in bad German. Chamisso understood Danish; I gave him my poems, and he was the first who translated any of them, and thus introduced me into Germany. It was thus he spoke of me at that time in the Morgenblatt: "Gifted with wit, fancy, humor, and a national na vet , Andersen has still in his power tones which awaken deeper echoes. He understands, in particular, how with perfect ease, by a few slight but graphic touches, to call into existence little pictures and landscapes, but which are often so peculiarly local as not to interest those who are unfamiliar with the home of the poet. Perhaps that which may be translated from him, or which is so already, may be the least calculated to give a proper idea of him."
Chamisso became a friend for my whole life. The pleasure which he had in my later writings may be seen by the printed letters addressed to me in the collected edition of his works.
The little journey in Germany had great influence upon me, as my Copenhagen friends acknowledged. The impressions of the journey were immediately written down, and I gave them forth under the title of "Shadow Pictures." Whether I were actually improved or not, there still prevailed at home the same petty pleasure in dragging out my faults, the same perpetual schooling of me; and I was weak enough to endure it from those who were officious meddlers. I seldom made a joke of it; but if I did so, it was called arrogance and vanity, and it was asserted that I never would listen to rational people. Such an instructor once asked me whether I wrote Dog with a little d;—he had found such an error of the press in my last work. I replied, jestingly, "Yes, because I here spoke of a little dog."
But these are small troubles, people will say. Yes, but they are drops which wear hollows in the rock. I speak of it here; I feel a necessity to do so; here to protest against the accusation of vanity, which, since no other error can be discovered in my private life, is seized upon, and even now is thrown at me like an old medal.
From the end of the year 1828, to the beginning of 1839, I maintained myself alone by my writings. Denmark is a small country; but few books at that time went to Sweden and Norway; and on that account the profit could not be great. It was difficult for me to pull through,—doubly difficult, because my dress must in some measure accord with the circles into which I went. To produce, and always to be producing, was destructive, nay, impossible. I translated a few pieces for the theatre,—La Quarantaine, and La Reine de seize ans; and as, at that time, a young composer of the name of Hartmann, a grandson of him who composed the Danish folks-song of "King Christian stood by the tall, tall mast," wished for text to an opera, I was of course ready to write it. Through the writings of Hoffman, my attention had been turned to the masked comedies of Gozzi: I read Il Corvo, and finding that it was an excellent subject, I wrote, in a few weeks, my opera-text of the Raven. It will sound strange to the ears of countrymen when I say that I, at that time, recommended Hartmann; that I gave my word for it, in my letter to the theatrical directors, for his being a man of talent, who would produce something good. He now takes the first rank among the living Danish composers.
I worked up also Walter Scott's "Bride of Lammermoor" for another young composer, Bredal. Both operas appeared on the stage; but I was subjected to the most merciless criticism, as one who had stultified the labors of foreign poets. What people had discovered to be good in me before seemed now to be forgotten, and all talent was denied to me. The composer Weyse, my earliest benefactor, whom I have already mentioned, was, on the contrary, satisfied in the highest degree with my treatment of these subjects. He told me that he had wished for a long time to compose an opera from Walter Scott's "Kenilworth." He now requested me to commence the joint work, and write the text. I had no idea of the summary justice which would be dealt to me. I needed money to live, and, what still more determined me to it, I felt flattered to have to work with Weyse our most celebrated composer. It delighted me that he, who had first spoken in my favor at Siboni's house, now, as artist, sought a noble connection with me. I had scarcely half finished the text, when I was already blamed for having made use of a well-known romance. I wished to give it up; but Weyse consoled me, and encouraged me to proceed. Afterwards, before he had finished the music, when I was about to travel abroad, I committed my fate, as regarded the text, entirely to his hands. He wrote whole verses of it, and the altered conclusion is wholly his own. It was a peculiarity of that singular man that he liked no book which ended sorrowfully. For that reason, Amy must marry Leicester, and Elizabeth say, "Proud England, I am thine." I opposed this at the beginning; but afterwards I yielded, and the piece was really half-created by Weyse. It was brought on the stage, but was not printed, with the exception of the songs. To this followed anonymous attacks: the city post brought me letters in which the unknown writers scoffed at and derided me. That same year I published a new collection of poetry, "The Twelve Months of the Year;" and this book, though it was afterwards pronounced to contain the greater part of my best lyrical poems, was then condemned as bad.
At that time "The Monthly Review of Literature," though it is now gone to its grave, was in its full bloom. At its first appearance, it numbered among its co-workers some of the most distinguished names. Its want, however, was men who were qualified to speak ably on aesthetic works. Unfortunately, everybody fancies himself able to give an opinion upon these; but people may write excellently on surgery or pedagogical science, and may have a name in those things, and yet be dolts in poetry: of this proofs may be seen. By degrees it became more and more difficult for the critical bench to find a judge for poetical works. The one, however, who, through his extraordinary zeal for writing and speaking, was ready at hand, was the historian and states-councillor Molbeck, who played, in our time, so great a part in the history of Danish criticism, that I must speak of him rather more fully. He is an industrious collector, writes extremely correct Danish, and his Danish dictionary, let him be reproached with whatever want he may, is a most highly useful work; but, as a judge of aesthetic works, he is one- sided, and even fanatically devoted to party spirit. He belongs, unfortunately, to the men of science, who are only one sixty-fourth of a poet, and who are the most incompetent judges of aesthetics. He has, for example, by his critiques on Ingemann's romances, shown how far he is below the poetry which he censures. He has himself published a volume of poems, which belong to the common run of books, "A Ramble through Denmark," written in the fade, flowery style of those times, and "A Journey through Germany, France, and Italy," which seems to be made up out of books, not out of life. He sate in his study, or in the Royal Library, where he has a post, when suddenly he became director of the theatre and censor of the pieces sent in. He was sickly, one-sided in judgment, and irritable: people may imagine the result. He spoke of my first poems very favorably; but my star soon sank for another, who was in the ascendant, a young lyrical poet, Paludan M ller; and, as he no longer loved, he hated me. That is the short history; indeed, in the selfsame Monthly Review the very poems which had formerly been praised were now condemned by the same judge, when they appeared in a new increased edition. There is a Danish proverb, "When the carriage drags, everybody pushes behind;" and I proved the truth of it now.
It happened that a new star in Danish literature ascended at this time. Heinrich Hertz published his "Letters from the Dead" anonymously: it was a mode of driving all the unclean things out of the temple. The deceased Baggesen sent polemical letters from Paradise, which resembled in the highest degree the style of that author. They contained a sort of apotheosis of Heiberg, and in part attacks upon Oehlenschl ger and Hauch. The old story about my orthographical errors was again revived; my name and my school-days in Slagelse were brought into connection with St. Anders.
I was ridiculed, or if people will, I was chastised. Hertz's book went through all Denmark; people spoke of nothing but him. It made it still more piquant that the author of the work could not be discovered. People were enraptured, and justly. Heiberg, in his "Flying Post," defended a few aesthetical insignificants, but not me. I felt the wound of the sharp knife deeply. My enemies now regarded me as entirely shut out from the world of spirits. I however in a short time published a little book, "Vignettes to the Danish Poets," in which I characterized the dead and the living authors in a few lines each, but only spoke of that which was good in them. The book excited attention; it was regarded as one of the best of my works; it was imitated, but the critics did not meddle with it. It was evident, on this occasion, as had already been the case, that the critics never laid hands on those of my works which were the most successful.
My affairs were now in their worst condition; and precisely in that same year in which a stipend for travelling had been conferred upon Hertz, I also had presented a petition for the same purpose. The universal opinion was that I had reached the point of culmination, and if I was to succeed in travelling it must be at this present time. I felt, what since then has become an acknowledged fact, that travelling would be the best school for me. In the mean time I was told that to bring it under consideration I must endeavor to obtain from the most distinguished poets and men of science a kind of recommendation; because this very year there were so many distinguished young men who were soliciting a stipend, that it would be difficult among these to put in an available claim. I therefore obtained recommendations for myself; and I am, so far as I know, the only Danish poet who was obliged to produce recommendations to prove that he was a poet.
And here also it is remarkable, that the men who recommended me have each one made prominent some very different qualification which gave me a claim: for instance, Oehlenschl ger, my lyrical power, and the earnestness that was in me; Ingemann, my skill in depicting popular life; Heiberg declared that, since the days of Wessel, no Danish poet had possessed so much humor as myself; Oersted remarked, every one, they who were against me as well as those who were for me, agreed on one subject, and this was that I was a true poet. Thiele expressed himself warmly and enthusiastically about the power which he had seen in me, combating against the oppression and the misery of life. I received a stipend for travelling; Hertz a larger and I a smaller one: and that also was quite in the order of things.
"Now be happy," said my friends, "make yourself aware of your unbounded good fortune! Enjoy the present moment, as it will probably be the only time in which you will get abroad. You shall hear what people say about you while you are travelling, and how we shall defend you; sometimes, however, we shall not be able to do that."
It was painful to me to hear such things said; I felt a compulsion of soul to be away, that I might, if possible, breathe freely; but sorrow is firmly seated on the horse of the rider. More than one sorrow oppressed my heart, and although I opened the chambers of my heart to the world, one or two of them I keep locked, nevertheless. On setting out on my journey, my prayer to God was that I might die far away from Denmark, or return strengthened for activity, and in a condition to produce works which should win for me and my beloved ones joy and honor.
Precisely at the moment of setting out on my journey, the form of my beloved arose in my heart. Among the few whom I have already named, there are two who exercised a great influence upon my life and my poetry, and these I must more particularly mention. A beloved mother, an unusually liberal-minded and well educated lady, Madame L ss c, had introduced me into her agreeable circle of friends; she often felt the deepest sympathy with me in my troubles; she always turned my attention to the beautiful in nature and the poetical in the details of life, and as almost everyone regarded me as a poet, she elevated my mind; yes, and if there be tenderness and purity in anything which I have written, they are among those things for which I have especially to be thankful to her. Another character of great importance to me was Collin's son Edward. Brought up under fortunate circumstances of life, he was possessed of that courage and determination which I wanted. I felt that he sincerely loved me, and I full of affection, threw myself upon him with my whole soul; he passed on calmly and practically through the business of life. I often mistook him at the very moment when he felt for me most deeply, and when he would gladly have infused into me a portion of his own character,—to me who was as a reed shaken by the wind. In the practical part of life, he, the younger, stood actively by my side, from the assistance which he gave in my Latin exercises, to the arranging the business of bringing out editions of my works. He has always remained the same; and were I to enumerate my friends, he would be placed by me as the first on the list. When the traveller leaves the mountains behind him, then for the first time he sees them in their true form: so is it also with friends.
I arrived at Paris by way of Cassel and the Rhine. I retained a vivid impression of all that I saw. The idea for a poem fixed itself firmer and firmer in my mind; and I hoped, as it became more clearly worked out, to propitiate by it my enemies. There is an old Danish folks-song of Agnete and the Merman, which bore an affinity to my own state of mind, and to the treatment of which I felt an inward impulse. The song tells that Agnete wandered solitarily along the shore, when a merman rose up from the waves and decoyed her by his speeches. She followed him to the bottom of the sea, remained there seven years, and bore him seven children. One day, as she sat by the cradle, she heard the church bells sounding down to her in the depths of the sea, and a longing seized her heart to go to church. By her prayers and tears she induced the merman to conduct her to the upper world again, promising soon to return. He prayed her not to forget his children, more especially the little one in the cradle; stopped up her ears and her mouth, and then led her upwards to the sea-shore. When, however, she entered the church, all the holy images, as soon as they saw her, a daughter of sin and from the depths of the sea, turned themselves round to the walls. She was affrighted, and would not return, although the little ones in her home below were weeping.
I treated this subject freely, in a lyrical and dramatic manner. I will venture to say that the whole grew out of my heart; all the recollections of our beechwoods and the open sea were blended in it.
In the midst of the excitement of Paris I lived in the spirit of the Danish folks-songs. The most heartfelt gratitude to God filled my soul, because I felt that all which I had, I had received through his mercy; yet at the same time I took a lively interest in all that surrounded me. I was present at one of the July festivals, in their first freshness; it was in the year 1833. I saw the unveiling of Napoleon's pillar. I gazed on the world-experienced King Louis Philippe, who is evidently defended by Providence. I saw the Duke of Orleans, full of health and the enjoyment of life, dancing at the gay people's ball, in the gay Maison de Ville. Accident led in Paris to my first meeting with Heine, the poet, who at that time occupied the throne in my poetical world. When I told him how happy this meeting and his kind words made me, he said that this could not very well be the case, else I should have sought him out. I replied, that I had not done so precisely because I estimated him so highly. I should have feared that he might have thought it ridiculous in me, an unknown Danish poet, to seek him out; "and," added I, "your sarcastic smile would deeply have wounded me." In reply, he said something friendly.
Several years afterwards, when we again met in Paris, he gave me a cordial reception, and I had a view into the brightly poetical portion of his soul.
Paul D port met me with equal kindness. Victor Hugo also received me.
During my journey to Paris, and the whole month that I spent there, I heard not a single word from home. Could my friends perhaps have nothing agreeable to tell me? At length, however, a letter arrived; a large letter, which cost a large sum in postage. My heart beat with joy and yearning impatience; it was, indeed, my first letter. I opened it, but I discovered not a single written word, nothing but a Copenhagen newspaper, containing a lampoon upon me, and that was sent to me all that distance with postage unpaid, probably by the anonymous writer himself. This abominable malice wounded me deeply. I have never discovered who the author was, perhaps he was one of those who afterwards called me friend, and pressed my hand. Some men have base thoughts: I also have mine.
It is a weakness of my country-people, that commonly, when abroad, during their residence in large cities, they almost live exclusively in company together; they must dine together, meet at the theatre, and see all the lions of the place in company. Letters are read by each other; news of home is received and talked over, and at last they hardly know whether they are in a foreign land or their own. I had given way to the same weakness in Paris; and in leaving it, therefore, determined for one month to board myself in some quiet place in Switzerland, and live only among the French, so as to be compelled to speak their language, which was necessary to me in the highest degree.
In the little city of Lodi, in a valley of the Jura mountains, where the snow fell in August, and the clouds floated below us, was I received by the amiable family of a wealthy watchmaker. They would not hear a word about payment. I lived among them and their friends as a relation, and when we parted the children wept. We had become friends, although I could not understand their patois; they shouted loudly into my ear, because they fancied I must be deaf, as I could not understand them. In the evenings, in that elevated region, there was a repose and a stillness in nature, and the sound of the evening bells ascended to us from the French frontier. At some distance from the city, stood a solitary house, painted white and clean; on descending through two cellars, the noise of a millwheel was heard, and the rushing waters of a river which flowed on here, hidden from the world. I often visited this place in my solitary rambles, and here I finished my poem of "Agnete and the Merman," which I had begun in Paris.
I sent home this poem from Lodi; and never, with my earlier or my later works, were my hopes so high as they were now. But it was received coldly. People said I had done it in imitation of Oehlenschl ger, who at one time sent home masterpieces. Within the last few years, I fancy, this poem has been somewhat more read, and has met with its friends. It was, however, a step forwards, and it decided, as it were, unconsciously to me, my pure lyrical phasis. It has been also of late critically adjudged in Denmark, that, notwithstanding that on its first appearance it excited far less attention than some of my earlier and less successful works, still that in this the poetry is of a deeper, fuller, and more powerful character than anything which I had hitherto produced.
This poem closes one portion of my life.
On the 5th of September, 1833, I crossed the Simplon on my way to Italy. On the very day, on which, fourteen years before, I had arrived poor and helpless in Copenhagen, did I set foot in this country of my longing and of my poetical happiness. It happened in this case, as it often does, by accident, without any arrangement on my part, as if I had preordained lucky days in the year; yet good fortune has so frequently been with me, that I perhaps only remind myself of its visits on my own self-elected days.
All was sunshine—all was spring! The vine hung in long trails from tree to tree; never since have I seen Italy so beautiful. I sailed on Lago Maggiore; ascended the cathedral of Milan; passed several days in Genoa, and made from thence a journey, rich in the beauties of nature, along the shore to Carrara. I had seen statues in Paris, but my eyes were closed to them; in Florence, before the Venus de Medici, it was for the first time as if scales fell from my eyes; a new world of art disclosed itself before me; that was the first fruit of my journey. Here it was that I first learned to understand the beauty of form—the spirit which reveals itself in form. The life of the people—nature— all was new to me; and yet as strangely familiar as if I were come to a home where I had lived in my childhood. With a peculiar rapidity did I seize upon everything, and entered into its life, whilst a deep northern melancholy—it was not home-sickness, but a heavy, unhappy feeling—filled my breast. I received the news in Rome, of how little the poem of Agnete, which I had sent home, was thought of there; the next letter in Rome brought me the news that my mother was dead. I was now quite alone in the world.
It was at this time, and in Rome, that my first meeting with Hertz took place. In a letter which I had received from Collin, he had said that it would give him pleasure to hear that Hertz and I had become friends; but even without this wish it would have happened, for Hertz kindly offered me his hand, and expressed sympathy with my sorrow. He had, of all those with whom I was at that time acquainted, the most variously cultivated mind. We had often disputations together, even about the attacks which had been made upon me at home as a poet. He, who had himself given me a wound, said the following words, which deeply impressed themselves on my memory: "Your misfortune is, that you have been obliged to print everything; the public has been able to follow you step by step. I believe that even, a Goethe himself must have suffered the same fate, had he been in your situation." And then he praised my talent for seizing upon the characteristics of nature, and giving, by a few intuitive sketches, pictures of familiar life. My intercourse with him was very instructive to me, and I felt that I had one merciful judge more. I travelled in company with him to Naples, where we dwelt together in one house.
In Rome I also became first acquainted with Thorwaldsen. Many years before, when I had not long been in Copenhagen, and was walking through the streets as a poor boy, Thorwaldsen was there too: that was on his first return home. We met one another in the street. I knew that he was a distinguished man in art; I looked at him, I bowed; he went on, and then, suddenly turning round, came back to me, and said, "Where have I seen you before? I think we know one another." I replied, "No, we do not know one another at all." I now related this story to him in Rome; he smiled, pressed my hand, and said, "Yet we felt at that time that we should become good friends." I read Agnete to him; and that which delighted me in his judgment upon it was the assertion, "It is just," said he, "as if I were walking at home in the woods, and heard the Danish lakes;" and then he kissed me.
One day, when he saw how distressed I was, and I related to him about the pasquinade which I had received from home in Paris, he gnashed his teeth violently, and said, in momentary anger, "Yes, yes, I know the people; it would not have gone any better with me if I had remained there; I should then, perhaps, not even have obtained permission to set up a model. Thank God that I did not need them, for then they know how to torment and to annoy." He desired me to keep up a good heart, and then things could not fail of going well; and with that he told me of some dark passages in his own life, where he in like manner had been mortified and unjustly condemned.
After the Carnival, I left Rome for Naples; saw at Capri the blue Grotto, which was at that time first discovered; visited the temple at Paestum, and returned in the Easter week to Rome, from whence I went through Florence and Venice to Vienna and Munich; but I had at that time neither mind nor heart for Germany; and when I thought on Denmark, I felt fear and distress of mind about the bad reception which I expected to find there. Italy, with its scenery and its people's life, occupied my soul, and towards this land I felt a yearning. My earlier life, and what I had now seen, blended themselves together into an image—into poetry, which I was compelled to write down, although I was convinced that it would occasion me more trouble than joy, if my necessities at home should oblige me to print it. I had written already in Rome the first chapter. It was my novel of "The Improvisatore."
At one of my first visits to the theatre at Odense, as a little boy, where, as I have already mentioned, the representations were given in the German language, I saw the Donauweibchen, and the public applauded the actress of the principal part. Homage was paid to her, and she was honored; and I vividly remember thinking how happy she must be.
Many years afterwards, when, as a student, I visited Odense, I saw, in one of the chambers of the hospital where the poor widows lived and where one bed stood by another, a female portrait hanging over one bed in a gilt frame. It was Lessing's Emilia Galotti, and represented her as pulling the rose to pieces; but the picture was a portrait. It appeared singular in contrast with the poverty by which it was surrounded.
"Whom does it represent?" asked I.
"Oh!" said one of the old women, "it is the face of the German lady, the poor lady who once was an actress!" And then I saw a little delicate woman, whose face was covered with wrinkles, and in an old silk gown that once had been black. That was the once celebrated Singer, who, as the Donauweibchen, had been applauded by every one. This circumstance made an indelible impression upon me, and often occurred to my mind.
In Naples I heard Malibran for the first time. Her singing and acting surpassed anything which I had hitherto either heard or seen; and yet I thought the while of the miserably poor singer in the hospital of Odense: the two figures blended into the Annunciata of the novel. Italy was the back ground for that which had been experienced and that which was imagined. In August of 1834 I returned to Denmark. I wrote the first part of the book at Ingemann's, in Sor/, in a little chamber in the roof, among fragrant lime-trees. I finished it in Copenhagen.
At this time my best friends, even, had almost given me up as a poet; they said that they had erred with regard to my talents. It was with difficulty that I found a publisher for the book. I received a miserable sum of money for it, and the "Improvisatore" made its appearance; was read, sold out, and again published. The critics were silent; the newspapers said nothing; but I heard all around me of the interest which was felt for the work, and the delight that it occasioned. At length the poet Carl Bagger, who was at that time the editor of a newspaper, wrote the first critique upon it, and began ironically, with the customary tirade against me—"that it was all over with this author, who had already passed his heyday;"—in short, he went the whole length of the tobacco and tea criticism, in order suddenly to dash out, and to express his extremely warm enthusiasm for me; and my book. People now laughed at me, but I wept. This was my mood of mind. I wept freely, and felt gratitude to God and man.
"To the Conference Councillor Collin and to his noble wife, in whom I found parents, whose children were brethren and sisters to me, whose house was my home, do I here present the best of which I am possessed."—So ran the dedication. Many who formerly had been my enemy, now changed their opinion; and among these one became my friend, who, I hope, will remain so through the whole of my life. That was Hauch the poet, one of the noblest characters with whom I am acquainted. He had returned home from Italy after a residence of several years abroad, just at the time when Heiberg's vaudevilles were intoxicating the inhabitants of Copenhagen, and when my "Journey on Foot" was making me a little known. He commenced a controversy with Heiberg, and somewhat scoffed at me. Nobody called his attention to my better lyrical writings; I was described to him as a spoiled, petulant child of fortune. He now read my Improvisatore, and feeling that there was something good in me, his noble character evinced itself by his writing a cordial letter to me, in which he said, that he had done me an injustice, and offered me now the hand of reconciliation. From that time we became friends. He used his influence for me with the utmost zeal, and has watched my onward career with heartfelt friendship. But so little able have many people been to understand what is excellent in him, or the noble connection of heart between us two, that not long since, when he wrote a novel, and drew in it the caricature of a poet, whose vanity ended in insanity, the people in Denmark discovered that he had treated me with the greatest injustice, because he had described in it my weakness. People must not believe that this was the assertion of one single person, or a misapprehension of my character; no; and Hauch felt himself compelled to write a treatise upon me as a poet, that he might show what a different place he assigned to me.
But to return to the "Improvisatore." This book raised my sunken fortunes; collected my friends again around me, nay, even obtained for me new ones. For the first time I felt that I had obtained a due acknowledgment. The book was translated into German by Kruse, with a long title, "Jugendleben und Tr ume eines italienischen Dichter's." I objected to the title; but he declared that it was necessary in order to attract attention to the book.
Bagger had, as already stated, been the first to pass judgment on the work; after an interval of some time a second critique made its appearance, more courteous, it is true, than I was accustomed to, but still passing lightly over the best things in the book and dwelling on its deficiencies, and on the number of incorrectly written Italian words. And, as Nicolai's well-known book, "Italy as it really is," came out just then, people universally said, "Now we shall be able to see what it is about which Andersen has written, for from Nicolai a true idea of Italy may be obtained for the first time."
It was from Germany that resounded the first decided acknowledgment of the merits of my work, or rather perhaps its over estimation. I bow myself in joyful gratitude, like a sick man toward the sunshine, when my heart is grateful. I am not, as the Danish Monthly Review, in its critique of the "Improvisatore," condescended to assert, an unthankful man, who exhibits in his work a want of gratitude towards his benefactors. I was indeed myself poor Antonio who sighed under the burden which I had to bear,—I, the poor lad who ate the bread of charity. From Sweden also, later, resounded my praise, and the Swedish newspapers contained articles in praise of this work, which within the last two years has been equally warmly received in England, where Mary Howitt, the poetess, has translated it into English; the same good fortune also is said to have attended the book in Holland and Russia. Everywhere abroad resounded the loudest acknowledgments of its excellence.
There exists in the public a power which is stronger than all the critics and cliques. I felt that I stood at home on firmer ground, and my spirit again had moments in which it raised its wings for flight. In this alternation of feeling between gaiety and ill humor, I wrote my next novel, "O. T.," which is regarded by many persons in Denmark as my best work;—an estimation which I cannot myself award to it. It contains characteristic features of town life. My first Tales appeared before "O. T;" but this is not the place in which to speak of them. I felt just at this time a strong mental impulse to write, and I believed that I had found my true element in novel-writing. In the following year, 1837, I published "Only a Fiddler," a book which on my part had been deeply pondered over, and the details of which sprang fresh to the paper. My design was to show that talent is not genius, and that if the sunshine of good fortune be withheld, this must go to the ground, though without losing its nobler, better nature. This book likewise had its partisans; but still the critics would not vouchsafe to me any encouragement; they forgot that with years the boy becomes a man, and that people may acquire knowledge in other than the ordinary ways. They could not separate themselves from their old preconceived opinions. Whilst "O. T." was going through the press it was submitted sheet by sheet to a professor of the university, who had himself offered to undertake this work, and by two other able men also; notwithstanding all this, the Reviews said, "We find the usual grammatical negligence, which we always find in Andersen, in this work also." That which contributed likewise to place this book in the shade was the circumstance of Heiberg having at that time published his Every-day Stories, which were written in excellent language, and with good taste and truth. Their own merits, and the recommendation of their being Heiberg's, who was the beaming star of literature, placed them in the highest rank.
I had however advanced so far, that there no longer existed any doubt as to my poetical ability, which people had wholly denied to me before my journey to Italy. Still not a single Danish critic had spoken of the characteristics which are peculiar to my novels. It was not until my works appeared in Swedish that this was done, and then several Swedish journals went profoundly into the subject and analyzed my works with good and honorable intentions. The case was the same in Germany; and from this country too my heart was strengthened to proceed. It was not until last year that in Denmark, a man of influence, Hauch the poet, spoke of the novels in his already mentioned treatise, and with a few touches brought their characteristics prominently forward.
"The principal thing," says he, "in Andersen's best and most elaborate works, in those which are distinguished for the richest fancy, the deepest feeling, the most lively poetic spirit, is, of talent, or at least of a noble nature, which will struggle its way out of narrow and depressing circumstances. This is the case with his three novels, and with this purpose in view, it is really an important state of existence which he describes,—an inner world, which no one understands better than he, who has himself, drained out of the bitter cup of suffering and renunciation, painful and deep feelings which are closely related to those of his own experience, and from which Memory, who, according to the old significant myth, is the mother of the Muses, met him hand in hand with them. That which he, in these his works, relates to the world, deserves assuredly to be listened to with attention; because, at the same time that it may be only the most secret inward life of the individual, yet it is also the common lot of men of talent and genius, at least when these are in needy circumstances, as is the case of those who are here placed before our eyes. In so far as in his 'Improvisatore,' in 'O. T.,' and in 'Only a Fiddler,' he represents not only himself, in his own separate individuality, but at the same time the momentous combat which so many have to pass through, and which he understands so well, because in it his own life has developed itself; therefore in no instance can he be said to present to the reader what belongs to the world of illusion, but only that which bears witness to truth, and which, as is the case with all such testimony, has a universal and enduring worth.
"And still more than this, Andersen is not only the defender of talent and genius, but, at the same time, of every human heart which is unkindly and unjustly treated. And whilst he himself has so painfully suffered in that deep combat in which the Laocoon-snakes seize upon the outstretched hand; whilst he himself has been compelled to drink from that wormwood-steeped bowl which the cold-blooded and arrogant world so constantly offers to those who are in depressed circumstances, he is fully capable of giving to his delineations in this respect a truth and an earnestness, nay, even a tragic and a pain-awakening pathos that rarely fails of producing its effect on the sympathizing human heart. Who can read that scene in his 'Only a Fiddler,' in which the 'high- bred hound,' as the poet expresses it, 'turned away with disgust from the broken victuals which the poor youth received as alms, without recognizing, at the same time, that this is no game in which vanity seeks for a triumph, but that it expresses much more—human nature wounded to its inmost depths, which here speaks out its sufferings.'"
Thus is it spoken in Denmark of my works, after an interval of nine or ten years; thus speaks the voice of a noble, venerated man. It is with me and the critics as it is with wine,—the more years pass before it is drunk the better is its flavor.
During the year in which "The Fiddler" came out, I visited for the first time the neighboring country of Sweden. I went by the G/ta canal to Stockholm. At that time nobody understood what is now called Scandinavian sympathies; there still existed a sort of mistrust inherited from the old wars between the two neighbor nations. Little was known of Swedish literature, and there were only very few Danes who could easily read and understand the Swedish language;—people scarcely knew Tegn r's Frithiof and Axel, excepting through translations. I had, however, read a few other Swedish authors, and the deceased, unfortunate Stagnelius pleased me more as a poet than Tegn r, who represented poetry in Sweden. I, who hitherto had only travelled into Germany and southern countries, where by this means, the departure from Copenhagen was also the departure from my mother tongue, felt, in this respect, almost at home in Sweden: the languages are so much akin, that of two persons each might read in the language of his own country, and yet the other understand him. It seemed to me, as a Dane, that Denmark expanded itself; kinship with the people exhibited itself, in many ways, more and more; and I felt, livingly, how near akin are Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians.
I met with cordial, kind people,—and with these I easily made acquaintance. I reckon this journey among the happiest I ever made. I had no knowledge of the character of Swedish scenery, and therefore I was in the highest degree astonished by the Trollh tta-voyage, and by the extremely picturesque situation of Stockholm. It sounds to the uninitiated half like a fairy-tale, when one says that the steam-boat goes up across the lakes over the mountains, from whence may be seen the outstretched pine and beechwoods below. Immense sluices heave up and lower the vessel again, whilst the travellers ramble through the woods. None of the cascades of Switzerland, none in Italy, not even that of Terni, have in them anything so imposing as that of Trollh tta. Such is the impression, at all events, which it made on me.
On this journey, and at this last-mentioned place, commenced a very interesting acquaintance, and one which has not been without its influence on me,—an acquaintance with the Swedish authoress, Fredrika Bremer. I had just been speaking with the captain of the steam-boat and some of the passengers about the Swedish authors living in Stockholm, and I mentioned my desire to see and converse with Miss Bremer.
"You will not meet with her," said the Captain, "as she is at this moment on a visit in Norway."
"She will be coming back while I am there," said I in joke; "I always am lucky in my journeys, and that which I most wish for is always accomplished.
"Hardly this time, however," said the captain.
A few hours after this he came up to me laughing, with the list of the newly arrived passengers in his hand. "Lucky fellow," said he aloud, "you take good fortune with you; Miss Bremer is here, and sails with us to Stockholm."
I received it as a joke; he showed me the list, but still I was uncertain. Among the new arrivals, I could see no one who resembled an authoress. Evening came on, and about midnight we were on the great Wener lake. At sunrise I wished to have a view of this extensive lake, the shores of which could scarcely be seen; and for this purpose I left the cabin. At the very moment that I did so, another passenger was also doing the same, a lady neither young nor old, wrapped in a shawl and cloak. I thought to myself, if Miss Bremer is on board, this must be she, and fell into discourse with her; she replied politely, but still distantly, nor would she directly answer my question, whether she was the authoress of the celebrated novels. She asked after my name; was acquainted with it, but confessed that she had read none of my works. She then inquired whether I had not some of them with me, and I lent her a copy of the "Improvisatore," which I had destined for Beskow. She vanished immediately with the volumes, and was not again visible all morning.
When I again saw her, her countenance was beaming, and she was full of cordiality; she pressed my hand, and said that she had read the greater part of the first volume, and that she now knew me.
The vessel flew with us across the mountains, through quiet inland lakes and forests, till it arrived at the Baltic Sea, where islands lie scattered, as in the Archipelago, and where the most remarkable transition takes place from naked cliffs to grassy islands, and to those on which stand trees and houses. Eddies and breakers make it here necessary to take on board a skilful pilot; and there are indeed some places where every passenger must sit quietly on his seat, whilst the eye of the pilot is riveted upon one point. On shipboard one feels the mighty power of nature, which at one moment seizes hold of the vessel and the next lets it go again.
Miss Bremer related many legends and many histories, which were connected with this or that island, or those farm-premises up aloft on the mainland.
In Stockholm, the acquaintance with her increased, and year after year the letters which have passed between us have strengthened it. She is a noble woman; the great truths of religion, and the poetry which lies in the quiet circumstances of life, have penetrated her being.
It was not until after my visit to Stockholm that her Swedish translation of my novel came out; my lyrical poems only, and my "Journey on Foot," were known to a few authors; these received me with the utmost kindness, and the lately deceased Dahlgr n, well known by his humorous poems, wrote a song in my honor—in short, I met with hospitality, and countenances beaming with Sunday gladness. Sweden and its inhabitants became dear to me. The city itself, by its situation and its whole picturesque appearance, seemed to me to emulate Naples. Of course, this last has the advantage of fine atmosphere, and the sunshine of the south; but the view of Stockholm is just as imposing; it has also some resemblance to Constantinople, as seen from Pera, only that the minarets are wanting. There prevails a great variety of coloring in the capital of Sweden; white painted buildings; frame-work houses, with the wood-work painted red; barracks of turf, with flowering plants; fir tree and birches look out from among the houses, and the churches with their balls and towers. The streets in S/dermalm ascend by flights of wooden steps up from the M lar lake, which is all active with smoking steam-vessels, and with boats rowed by women in gay-colored dresses.
I had brought with me a letter of introduction from Oersted, to the celebrated Berzelius, who gave me a good reception in the old city of Upsala. From this place I returned to Stockholm. City, country, and people, were all dear to me; it seemed to me, as I said before, that the boundaries of my native land had stretched themselves out, and I now first felt the kindredship of the three peoples, and in this feeling I wrote a Scandinavian song, a hymn of praise for all the three nations, for that which was peculiar and best in each one of them.
"One can see that the Swedes made a deal of him," was the first remark which I heard at home on this song.
Years pass on; the neighbors understand each other better; Oehlenschl ger. Fredrika Bremer, and Tegn r, caused them mutually to read each other's authors, and the foolish remains of the old enmity, which had no other foundation than that they did not know each other, vanished. There now prevails a beautiful, cordial relationship between Sweden and Denmark. A Scandinavian club has been established in Stockholm; and with this my song came to honor; and it was then said, "it will outlive everything that Andersen has written:" which was as unjust as when they said that it was only the product of flattered vanity. This song is now sung in Sweden as well as in Denmark.
On my return home I began to study history industriously, and made myself still further acquainted with the literature of foreign countries. Yet still the volume which afforded me the greatest pleasure was that of nature; and in a summer residence among the country-seats of Funen, and more especially at Lykkesholm, with its highly romantic site in the midst of woods, and at the noble seat of Glorup, from whose possessor I met with the most friendly reception, did I acquire more true wisdom, assuredly, in my solitary rambles, than I ever could have gained from the schools.
The house of the Conference Councillor Collin in Copenhagen was at that time, as it has been since, a second father's house to me, and there I had parents, and brothers and sisters. The best circles of social life were open to me, and the student life interested me: here I mixed in the pleasures of youth. The student life of Copenhagen is, besides this, different from that of the German cities, and was at this time peculiar and full of life. For me this was most perceptible in the students' clubs, where students and professors were accustomed to meet each other: there was there no boundary drawn between the youthful and elder men of letters. In this club were to be found the journals and books of various countries; once a week an author would read his last work; a concert or some peculiar burlesque entertainment would take place. It was here that what may be called the first Danish people'scomedies took their origin,—comedies in which the events of the day were worked up always in an innocent, but witty and amusing manner. Sometimes dramatic representations were given in the presence of ladies for the furtherance of some noble purpose, as lately to assist Thorwaldsen's Museum, to raise funds for the execution of Bissen's statue in marble, and for similar ends. The professors and students were the actors. I also appeared several times as an actor, and convinced myself that my terror at appearing on the stage was greater than the talent which I perhaps possessed. Besides this, I wrote and arranged several pieces, and thus gave my assistance. Several scenes from this time, the scenes in the students' club, I have worked up in my romance of "O. T." The humor and love of life observable in various passages of this book, and in the little dramatic pieces written about this time, are owing to the influence of the family of Collin, where much good was done me in that respect, so that my morbid turn of mind was unable to gain the mastery of me. Collin's eldest married daughter, especially, exercised great influence over me, by her merry humor and wit. When the mind is yielding and elastic, like the expanse of ocean, it readily, like the ocean, mirrors its environments.
My writings, in my own country, were now classed among those which were always bought and read; therefore for each fresh work I received a higher payment. Yet, truly, when you consider what a circumscribed world the Danish reading world is, you will see that this payment could not be the most liberal. Yet I had to live. Collin, who is one of the men who do more than they promise, was my help, my consolation, my support.
At this time the late Count Conrad von Rantzau-Breitenburg, a native of Holstein, was Prime Minister in Denmark. He was of a noble, amiable nature, a highly educated man, and possessed of a truly chivalrous disposition. He carefully observed the movements in German and Danish literature. In his youth he had travelled much, and spent a long time in Spain and Italy, He read my "Improvisatore" in the original; his imagination was powerfully seized by it, and he spoke both at court and in his own private circles of my book in the warmest manner. He did not stop here; he sought me out, and became my benefactor and friend. One forenoon, whilst I was sitting solitarily in my little chamber, this friendly man stood before me for the first time. He belonged to that class of men who immediately inspire you with confidence; he besought me to visit him, and frankly asked me whether there were no means by which he could be of use to me. I hinted how oppressive it was to be forced to write in order to live, always to be forced to think of the morrow, and not move free from care, to be able to develop your mind and thoughts. He pressed my hand in a friendly manner, and promised to be an efficient friend. Collin and Oersted secretly associated themselves with him, and became my intercessors.
Already for many years there had existed, under Frederick VI., an institution which does the highest honor to the Danish government, namely, that beside the considerable sum expended yearly, for the travelling expenses of young literary men and artists, a small pension shall be awarded to such of them as enjoy no office emoluments. All our most important poets have had a share of this assistance,— Oehlenschl ger, Ingemann, Heiberg, C. Winther, and others. Hertz had just then received such a pension, and his future life made thus the more secure. It was my hope and my wish that the same good fortune might be mine—and it was. Frederick VI. granted me two hundred rix dollars banco yearly. I was filled with gratitude and joy. I was nolonger forced to write in order to live; I had a sure support in the possible event of sickness. I was less dependent upon the people about me. A new chapter of my life began.
From this day forward, it was as if a more constant sunshine had entered my heart. I felt within myself more repose, more certainty; it was clear to me, as I glanced back over my earlier life, that a loving Providence watched over me, that all was directed for me by a higher Power; and the firmer becomes such a conviction, the more secure does a man feel himself. My childhood lay behind me, my youthful life began properly from this period; hitherto it had been only an arduous swimming against the stream. The spring of my life commenced; but still the spring had its dark days, its storms, before it advanced to settled summer; it has these in order to develop what shall then ripen. That which one of my dearest friends wrote to me on one of my later travels abroad, may serve as an introduction to what I have here to relate. He wrote in his own peculiar style:—"It is your vivid imagination which creates the idea of your being despised in Denmark; it is utterly untrue. You and Denmark agree admirably, and you would agree still better, if there were in Denmark no theatre—Hinc illae lacrymae! This cursed theatre. Is this, then, Denmark? and are you, then, nothing but a writer for the theatre?"
Herein lies a solid truth. The theatre has been the cave out of which most of the evil storms have burst upon me. They are peculiar people, these people of the theatre,—as different, in fact, from others, as Bedouins from Germans; from the first pantomimist to the first lover, everyone places himself systematically in one scale, and puts all the world in the other. The Danish theatre is a good theatre, it may indeed be placed on a level with the Burg theatre in Vienna; but the theatre in Copenhagen plays too great a part in conversation, and possesses in most circles too much importance. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the stage and the actors in other great cities, and therefore cannot compare them with our theatre; but ours has too little military discipline, and this is absolutely necessary where many people have to form a whole, even when that whole is an artistical one. The most distinguished dramatic poets in Denmark—that is to say, in Copenhagen, for there only is a theatre—have their troubles. Those actors and actresses who, through talent or the popular favor, take the first rank, very often place themselves above both the managers and authors. These must pay court to them, or they may ruin a part, or what is still worse, may spread abroad an unfavorable opinion of the piece previous to its being acted; and thus you have a coffee-house criticism before any one ought properly to know anything of the work. It is moreover characteristic of the people of Copenhagen, that when a new piece is announced, they do not say, "I am glad of it," but, "It will probably be good for nothing; it will be hissed off the stage." That hissing-off plays a great part, and is an amusement which fills the house; but it is not the bad actor who is hissed, no, the author and the composer only are the criminals; for them the scaffold is erected. Five minutes is the usual time, and the whistles resound, and the lovely women smile and felicitate themselves, like the Spanish ladies at their bloody bullfights. All our most eminent dramatic writers have been whistled down,—as Oehlenschl ger, Heiberg, Oversko, and others; to say nothing of foreign classics, as Moli re. In the mean time the theatre is the most profitable sphere of labor for the Danish writer, whose public does not extend far beyond the frontiers. This had induced me to write the opera-text already spoken of, on account of which I was so severely criticised; and an internal impulse drove me afterwards to add some other works. Collin was no longer manager of the theatre, Councillor of Justice Molbeck had taken his place; and the tyranny which now commenced degenerated into the comic. I fancy that in course of time the manuscript volumes of the censorship, which are preserved in the theatre, and in which Molbeck has certainly recorded his judgments on received and rejected pieces, will present some remarkable characteristics. Over all that I wrote the staff was broken! One way was open to me by which to bring my pieces on the stage; and that was to give them to those actors who in summer gave representations at their own cost. In the summer of 1839 I wrote the vaudeville of "The Invisible One on Sprog/," to scenery which had been painted for another piece which fell through; and the unrestrained merriment of the piece gave it such favor with the public, that I obtained its acceptance by the manager; and that light sketch still maintains itself on the boards, and has survived such a number of representations as I had never anticipated.
This approbation, however, procured me no further advantage, for each of my succeeding dramatic works received only rejection, and occasioned me only mortification. Nevertheless, seized by the idea and the circumstances of the little French narrative, "Les paves," I determined to dramatise it; and as I had often heard that I did not possess the assiduity sufficient to work my mat riel well, I resolved to labor this drama—"The Mulatto"—from the beginning to the end, in the most diligent manner, and to compose it in alternately rhyming verse, as was then the fashion. It was a foreign subject of which I availed myself; but if verses are music, I at least endeavored to adapt my music to the text, and to let the poetry of another diffuse itself through my spiritual blood; so that people should not be heard to say, as they had done before, regarding the romance of Walter Scott, that the composition was cut down and fitted to the stage.
The piece was ready, and declared by able men, old friends, and actors who were to appear in it, to be excellent; a rich dramatic capacity lay in the mat riel, and my lyrical composition clothed this with so fresh a green, that people appeared satisfied. The piece was sent in, and was rejected by Molbeck. It was sufficiently known that what he cherished for the boards, withered there the first evening; but what he cast away as weeds were flowers for the garden—a real consolation for me. The assistant-manager, Privy Counsellor of State, Adler, a man of taste and liberality, became the patron of my work; and since a very favorable opinion of it already prevailed with the public, after I had read it to many persons, it was resolved on for representation. I had the honor to read it before my present King and Queen, who received me in a very kind and friendly manner, and from whom, since that time, I have experienced many proofs of favor and cordiality. The day of representation arrived; the bills were posted; I had not closed my eyes through the whole night from excitement and expectation; the people already stood in throngs before the theatre, to procure tickets, when royal messengers galloped through the streets, solemn groups collected, the minute guns pealed,—Frederick VI. had died this morning!
For two months more was the theatre closed, and was opened under Christian VIII., with my drama—"The Mulatto;" which was received with the most triumphant acclamation; but I could not at once feel the joy of it, I felt only relieved from a state of excitement, and breathed more freely.
This piece continued through a series of representations to receive the same approbation; many placed this work far above all my former ones, and considered that with it began my proper poetical career. It was soon translated into the Swedish, and acted with applause at the royal theatre in Stockholm. Travelling players introduced it into the smaller towns in the neighboring country; a Danish company gave it in the original language, in the Swedish city Malm/, and a troop of students from the university town of Lund, welcomed it with enthusiasm. I had been for a week previous on a visit at some Swedish country houses, where I was entertained with so much cordial kindness that the recollection of it will never quit my bosom; and there, in a foreign country, I received the first public testimony of honor, and which has left upon me the deepest and most inextinguishable impression. I was invited by some students of Lund to visit their ancient town. Here a public dinner was given to me; speeches were made, toasts were pronounced; and as I was in the evening in a family circle, I was informed that the students meant to honor me with a serenade.
I felt myself actually overcome by this intelligence; my heart throbbed feverishly as I descried the thronging troop, with their blue caps, and arm-in-arm approaching the house. I experienced a feeling of humiliation; a most lively consciousness of my deficiencies, so that I seemed bowed to the very earth at the moment others were elevating me. As they all uncovered their heads while I stepped forth, I had need of all my thoughts to avoid bursting into tears. In the feeling that I was unworthy of all this, I glanced round to see whether a smile did not pass over the face of some one, but I could discern nothing of the kind; and such a discovery would, at that moment, have inflicted on me the deepest wound.
After an hurrah, a speech was delivered, of which I clearly recollect the following words:—"When your native land, and the natives of Europe offer you their homage, then may you never forget that the first public honors were conferred on you by the students of Lund."
When the heart is warm, the strength of the expression is not weighed. I felt it deeply, and replied, that from this moment I became aware that I must assert a name in order to render myself worthy of these tokens of honor. I pressed the hands of those nearest to me, and returned them thanks so deep, so heartfelt,—certainly never was an expression of thanks more sincere. When I returned to my chamber, I went aside, in order to weep out this excitement, this overwhelming sensation. "Think no more of it, be joyous with us," said some of my lively Swedish friends; but a deep earnestness had entered my soul. Often has the memory of this time come back to me; and no noble-minded man, who reads these pages will discover a vanity in the fact, that I have lingered so long over this moment of life, which scorched the roots of pride rather than nourished them.
My drama was now to be brought on the stage at Malm/; the students wished to see it; but I hastened my departure, that I might not be in the theatre at the time. With gratitude and joy fly my thoughts towards the Swedish University city, but I myself have not been there again since. In the Swedish newspapers the honors paid me were mentioned, and it was added that the Swedes were not unaware that in my own country there was a clique which persecuted me; but that this should not hinder my neighbors from offering me the honors which they deemed my due.
It was when I had returned to Copenhagen that I first truly felt how cordially I had been received by the Swedes; amongst some of my old and tried friends I found the most genuine sympathy. I saw tears in their eyes, tears of joy for the honors paid me; and especially, said they, for the manner in which I had received them. There is but one manner for me; at once, in the midst of joy, I fly with thanks to God.
There were certain persons who smiled at the enthusiasm; certain voices raised themselves already against "The Mulatto;"—"the mat riel was merely borrowed;" the French narrative was scrupulously studied. That exaggerated praise which I had received, now made me sensitive to the blame; I could bear it less easily than before, and saw more clearly, that it did not spring out of an interest in the matter, but was only uttered in order to mortify me. For the rest, my mind was fresh and elastic; I conceived precisely at this time the idea of "The Picture- Book without Pictures," and worked it out. This little book appears, to judge by the reviews and the number of editions, to have obtained an extraordinary popularity in Germany; it was also translated into Swedish, and dedicated to myself; at home, it was here less esteemed; people talked only of The Mulatto; and finally, only of the borrowed mat riel of it. I determined, therefore to produce a new dramatic work, in which both subject and development, in fact, everything should be of my own conception. I had the idea, and now wrote the tragedy of The Moorish Maiden, hoping through this to stop the mouths of all my detractors, and to assert my place as a dramatic poet. I hoped, too, through the income from this, together with the proceeds of The Mulatto, to be able to make a fresh journey, not only to Italy, but to Greece and Turkey. My first going abroad had more than all besides operated towards my intellectual development; I was therefore full of the passion for travel, and of the endeavor to acquire more knowledge of nature and of human life.
My new piece did not please Heiberg, nor indeed my dramatic endeavors at all; his wife—for whom the chief part appeared to me especially to be written—refused, and that not in the most friendly manner, to play it. Deeply wounded, I went forth. I lamented this to some individuals. Whether this was repeated, or whether a complaint against the favorite of the public is a crime, enough: from this hour Heiberg became my opponent,—he whose intellectual rank I so highly estimated,—he with whom I would so willingly have allied myself,—and he who so often—I will venture to say it—I had approached with the whole sincerity of my nature. I have constantly declared his wife to be so distinguished an actress, and continue still so entirely of this opinion, that I would not hesitate one moment to assert that she would have a European reputation, were the Danish language as widely diffused as the German or the French. In tragedy she is, by the spirit and the geniality with which she comprehends and fills any part, a most interesting object; and in comedy she stands unrivalled.
The wrong may be on my side or not,—no matter: a party was opposed to me. I felt myself wounded, excited by many coincident annoyances there. I felt uncomfortable in my native country, yes, almost ill. I therefore left my piece to its fate, and, suffering and disconcerted, I hastened forth. In this mood I wrote a prologue to The Moorish Maiden; which betrayed my irritated mind far too palpably. If I would represent this portion of my life more clearly and reflectively it would require me to penetrate into the mysteries of the theatre, to analyze our aesthetic cliques, and to drag into conspicuous notice many individuals, who do not belong to publicity. Many persons in my place would, like me, have fallen ill, or would have resented it vehemently: perhaps the latter would have been the most sensible.
At my departure, many of my young friends amongst the students prepared a banquet for me; and amongst the elder ones who were present to receive me were Collin, Oehlenschl ger and Oersted. This was somewhat of sunshine in the midst of my mortification; songs by Oehlenschl ger and Hillerup were sung; and I found cordiality and friendship, as I quitted my country in distress. This was in October of 1840.
For the second time I went to Italy and Rome, to Greece and Constantinople—a journey which I have described after my own manner in A Poet's Bazaar.
In Holstein I continued some days with Count Rantzau-Breitenburg, who had before invited me, and whose ancestral castle I now for the first time visited. Here I became acquainted with the rich scenery of Holstein, heath and moorland, and then hastened by Nuremberg to Munich, where I again met with Cornelius and Schelling, and was kindly received by Kaulbach and Schelling. I cast a passing glance on the artistic life in Munich, but for the most part pursued my own solitary course, sometimes filled with the joy of life, but oftener despairing of my powers. I possessed a peculiar talent, that of lingering on the gloomy side of life, of extracting the bitter from it, of tasting it; and understood well, when the whole was exhausted, how to torment myself.
In the winter season I crossed the Brenner, remained some days in Florence, which I had before visited for a longer time, and about Christmas reached Rome. Here again I saw the noble treasures of art, met old friends, and once more passed a Carnival and Moccoli. But not alone was I bodily ill; nature around me appeared likewise to sicken; there was neither the tranquillity nor the freshness which attended my first sojourn in Rome. The rocks quaked, the Tiber twice rose into the streets, fever raged, and snatched numbers away. In a few days Prince Borghese lost his wife and three sons. Rain and wind prevailed; in short, it was dismal, and from home cold lotions only were sent me. My letters told me that The Moorish Maiden had several times been acted through, and had gone quietly off the stage; but, as was seen beforehand, a small public only had been present, and therefore the manager had laid the piece aside. Other Copenhagen letters to our countrymen in Rome spoke with enthusiasm of a new work by Heiberg; a satirical poem—A Soul after Death. It was but just out, they wrote; all Copenhagen was full of it, and Andersen was famously handled in it. The book was admirable, and I was made ridiculous in it. That was the whole which I heard,—all that I knew. No one told me what really was said of me; wherein lay the amusement and the ludicrous. It is doubly painful to be ridiculed when we don't know wherefore we are so. The information operated like molten lead dropped into a wound, and agonized me cruelly. It was not till after my return to Denmark that I read this book, and found that what was said of me in it, was really nothing in itself which was worth laying to heart. It was a jest over my celebrity "from Schonen to Hundsr ck", which did not please Heiberg; he therefore sent my Mulatto and The Moorish Maiden to the infernal regions, where—and that was the most witty conceit—the condemned were doomed to witness the performance of both pieces in one evening; and then they could go away and lay themselves down quietly. I found the poetry, for the rest, so excellent, that I was half induced to write to Heiberg, and to return him my thanks for it; but I slept upon this fancy, and when I awoke and was more composed, I feared lest such thanks should be misunderstood; and so I gave it up.
In Rome, as I have said, I did not see the book; I only heard the arrows whizz and felt their wound, but I did not know what the poison was which lay concealed in them. It seemed to me that Rome was no joy- bringing city; when I was there before, I had also passed dark and bitter days. I was ill, for the first time in my life, truly and bodily ill, and I made haste to get away.
The Danish poet Holst was then in Rome; he had received this year a travelling pension. Hoist had written an elegy on King Frederick VI., which went from mouth to mouth, and awoke an enthusiasm, like that of Becker's contemporaneous Rhine song in Germany. He lived in the same house with me in Rome, and showed me much sympathy: with him I made the journey to Naples, where, notwithstanding it was March, the sun would not properly shine, and the snow lay on the hills around. There was fever in my blood; I suffered in body and in mind; and I soon lay so severely affected by it, that certainly nothing but a speedy blood- letting, to which my excellent Neapolitan landlord compelled me, saved my life.
In a few days I grew sensibly better; and I now proceeded by a French war steamer to Greece. Holst accompanied me on board. It was now as if a new life had risen for me; and in truth this was the case; and if this does not appear legibly in my later writings, yet it manifested itself in my views of life, and in my whole inner development. As I saw my European home lie far behind me, it seemed to me as if a stream of forgetfulness flowed of all bitter and rankling remembrances: I felt health in my blood, health in my thoughts, and freshly and courageously I again raised my head.
Like another Switzerland, with a loftier and clearer heaven than the Italian, Greece lay before me; nature made a deep and solemn impression upon me; I felt the sentiment of standing on the great battle field of the world, where nation had striven with nation, and had perished. No single poem can embrace such greatness; every scorched-up bed of a stream, every height, every stone, has mighty memoirs to relate. How little appear the inequalities of daily life in such a place! A kingdom of ideas streamed through me, and with such a fulness, that none of them fixed themselves on paper. I had a desire to express the idea, that the godlike was here on earth to maintain its contest, that it is thrust backward, and yet advances again victoriously through all ages; and I found in the legend of the Wandering Jew an occasion for it. For twelve months this fiction had been emerging from the sea of my thoughts; often did it wholly fill me; sometimes I fancied with the alchemists that I had dug up the treasure; then again it sank suddenly, and I despaired of ever being able to bring it to the light. I felt what a mass of knowledge of various kinds I must first acquire. Often at home, when I was compelled to hear reproofs on what they call a want of study, I had sat deep into the night, and had studied history in Hegel's Philosophy of History. I said nothing of this, or other studies, or they would immediately have been spoken of, in the manner of an instructive lady, who said, that people justly complained that I did not possess learning enough. "You have really no mythology" said she; "in all your poems there appears no single God. You must pursue mythology; you must read Racine and Corneille." That she called learning; and in like manner every one had something peculiar to recommend. For my poem of Ahasuerus I had read much and noted much, but yet not enough; in Greece, I thought, the whole will collect itself into clearness. The poem is not yet ready, but I hope that it will become so to my honor; for it happens with the children of the spirit, as with the earthly ones,—they grow as they sleep.
In Athens I was heartily welcomed by Professor Ross, a native of Holstein, and by my countrymen. I found hospitality and a friendly feeling in the noble Prokesch-Osten; even the king and queen received me most graciously. I celebrated my birthday in the Acropolis.
From Athens I sailed to Smyrna, and with me it was no childish pleasure to be able to tread another quarter of the globe. I felt a devotion in it, like that which I felt as a child when I entered the old church at Odense. I thought on Christ, who bled on this earth; I thought on Homer, whose song eternally resounds hence over the earth. The shores of Asia preached to me their sermons, and were perhaps more impressive than any sermon in any church can be.
In Constantinople I passed eleven interesting days; and according to my good fortune in travel, the birthday of Mahomet itself fell exactly during my stay there. I saw the grand illumination, which completely transported me into the Thousand and One Nights.
Our Danish ambassador lived several miles from Constantinople, and I had therefore no opportunity of seeing him; but I found a cordial reception with the Austrian internuntius, Baron von St rmer. With him I had a German home and friends. I contemplated making my return by the Black Sea and up the Danube; but the country was disturbed; it was said there had been several thousand Christians murdered. My companions of the voyage, in the hotel where I resided, gave up this route of the Danube, for which I had the greatest desire, and collectively counselled me against it. But in this case I must return again by Greece and Italy—it was a severe conflict.