To the YOUNG READERS OF THESE TALES.
My dear little friends,
Here is another Volume of Andersen's charming Stories for you; and I am sure you will be glad to get it. For my part, I am always delighted to find one that I do not happen to have seen; and as I know the others pleas d you - for I have heard so, both directly and indirectly, from a great many people, and not only English children, but Irish children too, and as to the children in Scotland, you will see presently how much they like them - there can be no doubt that you will all be overjoyed to have a few more of these stories told you.
And there is no one who participates in this delight more than - whom do you think? Why, than Andersen himself! He is so happy that his Tales have been thus joyfully received, and that they have found their way to the hearts and sympathies of you all. He speaks of it with evident pleasure; and it is not vanity, but his kind affectionate nature, which inclines' him to mention such little occurences as prove how firm a hold his writings have taken on the minds of the young and gentle-natured. "So much praise might," he says, "spoil a man, and make him vain. Yet no, it does not spoil him: on the contrary, it makes him better; it purifies his thoughts, and this must give one the impulse and the will to deserve it all." He was so pleased to hear, and I, you may be sure, was equally pleased to tell him, what had been written to me by a friend a short time before - that several little boys and girls, Miss Edgeworth's nephews and nieces, were so delighted' with the "Tales from Denmark", that they not only read and re-read them continually, but used to act the stories together in their play-hours!
And a certain little dark-eyed thing of my acquaintance, "little Nelly", or "the little gipsey," as I sometimes call her, knows the whole story of "Ellie and the Pretty Swallow" by heart; and another "wee thing" that cannot yet read, but is always wanting to have stories told her, knows all about Kay and Gerda, and the flowergarden, and how Gerda went to look for her brother, inquiring of everybody she met, and how at last the good sister found him.
In Copenhagen, as Andersen himself told me, all the children know him. "And," he said, with a countenance that shewed such homage was dearer to him than the more splendid honours paid as tributes to his genius, "as I walk along the street, the little darlings nod and kiss their hands to me; and they say to one another, &There's Andersen!& and then some more run and wave their hands. Oh yes, they all know me. But sometimes, if there be one who does not, then, perhaps, his mamma will say, &Look, that is he who wrote the story you read the other day, and that you liked so much; and so we soon get acquainted!" And this popularity delights him more than anything; and you surely cannot call it vanity.
In the account he has written of his life, he relates a circumstance that happened to him at Dresden; and it is so pretty that I insert it here. He writes: "An evening that for me was particularly interesting I spent with the royal family, who received me most graciously. Here reigned the same quiet that is found in private life in a happy family. A whole troop of amiable children, all belonging to Prince John, were present. The youngest of the princesses, a little girl who knew that I had written the story of &The Fir-Tree,& began familiarly her conversation with me in these words: &Last Christmas we also had a fir-tree, and it stood here in this very room.& Afterwards, when she was taken to bed earlier than the others, and had wished her parents and the king and queen &Good night,& she turned round once more at the half-closed door, and nodded to me in a friendly manner, and as though we were old acquaintance. I was her prince of the fairy tale."
But it is not the praise of the great, or the admiration of a court, on which he sets most value, as you will see by the following extract from a letter which I received from him to-day, only an hour or two ago. It is about his stay in England, and his visit to the north, after I had left him, and I am sure he will not mind my sharing thus much of what he writes to me with you. "The hearty welcome I met with in Scotland moved me greatly. My writings were so well known, I found so many friends, that I can hardly take in so much happiness. But I must relate you one instance: in Edinburgh I went with a party of friends to Heriot's Hospital, where orphan children are taken care of and educated. We were all obliged to inscribe our names in the visitors' book. The porter read the names, and asked if that was Andersen the author; and when someone answered &Yes,& the old man folded his hands and gazed quite in ecstacy at an old gentleman who was with us, and said, &yes, yes! he is just as I had always fancied him to myself - the venerable white hair - the mild expression - yes, that is Andersen! They then explained to him that I was the person. &That young man!& he exclaimed; &Why generally such people, when one hears about them, are either dead or very old.& When the story was told me, I at first thought it was a joke; but the porter came up to me in a most touching manner, and told me how he and all the boys entered so entirely and heartily into my stories. It so affected me that I almost shed tears."
This is indeed popularity!
Now I dare say you thought that the little princes and princesses in a king's palace had taste and feelings very different from a poor charity-boy; but you see, although so different in rank, they were alike in one thing - the were both children; and childhood, if left to itself, is in all situations the same.
And do you know, too, my little friends, that you are very excellent critics? Yes, most sage and excellent critics; though I dare say not one of you even ever dreamt of such a thing. But it is, nevertheless, true; and not some, but all of you, whether in England, Scotland, or Ireland - the little boys in Heriot's Hospital, and the little princess at Dresden who knew the story of "The Fir-Tree." For without one dissentient voice you have passed favourable judgment on these stories: in your estimation of them you were unanimous.
Yet when they first appeared in Denmark some of the critics by profession found fault with them, and wondered, as they said, how an author who had written works of greater pretension, could think of making his appearance with something so childish as these tales. And some kind friends, grown-up people, whose opinion was not unimportant, advised him by all means to give up writing such stories, as he had no talent for them; and it was only later, that, to use Andersen's own words, "every door and heart in Denmark was open to them." But all of you, not critics by profession, you welcomed them at once; directly you saw them you perceived their beauty - you cherished and gave them a place in your heart. And this is the reason why I say that you are sage and excellent critics; and if you can preserve the same simple-heartedness, finding pleasure in what is natural and truthful, and allow yourselves to be guide d by the instincts of your pure uncorrupted nature, you may always be so.
You will like to know that Thorwaldsen, the great Thorwaldsen, loved to hear Andersen repeat these tales. It is true he has quite a peculiar way of relating them, which adds greatly to their charm. I begged him one day to tell me the story of "The Top and Ball," and he immediately sat down on the sofa and began. Though I knew it by heart from beginning to end, so often had I read it over, yet it now seemed quite new, from his manner of telling it; and I was as amused, and laughed as much, as though I had never heard -it before. That very pretty one, "Ole Luckoie," was written when in the society of Thorwaldsen; and "often at dusk," so Andersen relates, "when the family cirele were sitting in the summerhouse, would Thorwaldsen glide gently in, and, tapping me on the shoulder, ask, &Are we little ones to have no story to-night?& It pleased him to hear the same story over and over again; and often, while employed on his grandest works, he would stand with a smiling countenance and listen to the tale of &Top and Ball', and &The Ugly Duck.&" The last is my favourite also.&
From Rome, where this occurred, you must now take a jump with me to Hamburg; for I have to tell you an anecdote that happened there to Andersen, also about his stories, which he relates in his "Life." He had gone to see Otto Speckter, whose clever and characteristic pictures most of you will certainly know, and he intended to go afterwards to the play. Speckter accompanied him. "We passed an elegant house. &We must first go in here, my dear friend,& said he; &a very rich family lives there, friends of mine, friends of your tales; the children will be overjoyed -& &But the Opera,& said I. &Only for two minutes,& he replied, and drew me into the house, told my name, and the circle of children collected round me, &And now repeat a story,& he said; &only a single one.& I did so, and hurried to the theatre. &That was a strange visit,& I said. &A capital one! a most excellent one!& shouted he, &Only think! the children are full of Andersen and his fairy tales: all of a sudden he stands in the midst of them, and relates one himself, and then he is gone - vanished. Why that very circumstance is a fairy tale for the children, and will remain vividly in their memory.& It amused me too."
You will be getting impatient, I am afraid. However, before I finish I must tell you something about the Stories in this Volume. The translation of them I had begun in Andersen's room, and when he came in we began talking about them, one of which, "The Little Girl with the Matches," I had read in his absence. I told him how delighted I was with it - that I found it most exquisitely narrated; but that how such a thing came into his head, I could not conceive. He then said "That was written when I was on a visit at the Duke of Augustenburg's. I received a letter from Copenhagen from the editor of a Danish almanac for the people, in which he said he was very anxious to have something of mine for it, but that the book was already nearly printed. In the letter were two wood-cuts, and these he wished to make use of, if only I could write something to which they might serve as illustrations. One was the picture of a little match-girl, exactly as I have described her. It was from the picture that I wrote the story - wrote it, surrounded by splendour and rejoicing, at the castle of Grauenstein, in Schleswig."
"And Little Tuk," said I. -. "Oh, &Little Tuk,&" answered he, laughing; "I will tell you all about him. When in Oldenburg I lived for some time at the house of a friend the Counsellor von E ... The children's names were Charles and Gustave (Augusta?), but the little boy always called himself &Tuk.& He meant to say &Charles,& but he could not pronounce it otherwise. Now once I promised the dear little things that I would put them in a fairy tale, and so both of them appeared, but as poor children, in the story of &Little Tuk'. So you see, as reward for all the hospitality I received in Germany, I take the German children and make Danes of them."
You see he can make a story out of anything. "They peep over his shoulder," as he once wrote to me, a long time ago. And one time, when he was just going to set off on a journey, his friend said to him, "My little Erich possesses two leaden soldiers, and he has given one of them to me for you, that you may take it with you on your travels."
Now I should not at all wonder if this were the very "Resolute Leaden Soldier" you read in the "Tales from Denmark;" but this one, it is true, was a Turk, and I don't think the other was. And then, too, there is nothing said about this one having but one leg. However, it may be the same after all.
As to the tale called "The Naughty Boy," that, it is true, is an old story. The poet Anacreon wrote it long, long ago; but Andersen has here re-told it in so humorous a manner, that it will no doubt amuse you as much as though it had been written originally by him. He has given the whole, too, quite another dress; and "the naughty boy" himself he has tricked out so drolly, and related such amusing tricks of him, that I think Mr. Andersen had better take care the young rogue does not play him a sly turn some day or other, for the little incorrigible rascal respects nobody.
Before I say farewell, there is one thing I must tell you; which is, there are two persons you certainly little think of, to whom you owe some thanks for the pretty tales of Andersen that have so greatly delighted you, as well as for those he may still write. You will never guess who they are, so I will tell you. They are Frederick VI., the late, and Christian VIII., the present King of Denmark. The former gave Andersen a pension to relieve him from the necessity of depending on his pen for bread; so that, free from cares, he was able to pursue his own varied fancies. Though not much, it was sufficient; but the present king, who has always been most kind to your friend Andersen - for so you surely consider him - increased his pension considerably, in order that he might be able to travel, and follow in full liberty the bent of his genius.
Now, do you not like a king who thus holds out his hand to genius, who delights to honour the man who has done honour to their common country, and who is proud to interest himself in his fate as in that of a friend? And this King Christian VIII. does. Am I not right, then, in saying that you owe him your thanks?
Farewell my little friends, and believe that I am always ready and willing to serve you.
Donau Stauf, near Ratisbon, September 19, 1847.