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- The True Story of My Life - 10/31 -


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 True Story of My Life - 10/31

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