Henrik Hertz and Hans Christian Andersen
In the dome-hall of the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, one of the eight large fresco paintings shows us Hans Christian Andersen and Henrik Hertz standing at the harbour of Naples, looking at Mount Vesuvius - the famous volcano - in full eruption. I think that the painter of these frescoes, Niels Larsen Stevns, has had in his mind to tell us about two eruptions, one in Mount Vesuvius and another one in Andersen's mind and personality. In spite of the fact that both persons, Andersen and Hertz, are turning their backs on the viewers, the painter has characterized his models in the most brilliant way. The one, Hertz, is totally relaxed and calm, whereas the other, Andersen, is agitated, waving both hands and legs. Apparently, he is utterly impressed by what he is watching, the eruption. To me it is a temptation to quote the Norwegian art historian, Alf Rolfsen, who in a book on Larsen Stevns' work puts it like this:
Hertz, this reflective Dane, standing there with his hands on his back - and the walking-stick in them - is not at all inclined to be impressed. "Of course, this is Mount Vesuvius, damn it, what else should it be?" Whereas Andersen could not possibly let this pass uncontradicted. He so to say monopolizes the volcano, in order to give it as a present to Hertz, with a grandiose gesture.
Well, this evening you are going to see that fresco, and I think that you will agree with Alf Rolfsen in letting those two poets in question have this fictitious conversation.
The two Danish poets, of nearly the same age, i.e. around 30 years, Andersen being the younger and Hertz a few years older, got to know each other during the four months which both of them spent in Italy, in Rome and in Naples, in the winter of 1833-34. Both poets have written diaries in which they have described - very carefully and with many details - what they saw and what they experienced, people they met, etc. Andersen's diaries are well known, of course, to my audience today, and have been so since Rubow and Topsøe-Jensen published Andersen's "Roman Diaries" in 1947, followed in the 70's by the complete edition of Andersen's diaries. Hertz's diaries, however, are less well-known, I suppose. They are also to be found in the Department of Manuscripts and Autographs of the Royal Library, and I think that his diaries have only to some extent been used as a source, in an Andersenian context. Consequently, I should like to compare Hertz's diary with Andersen's, in order to find out to what extent Hertz's diary may supplement Andersen's as regards these two poets' being together in Italy or - at any rate - introduce light and shade into the description given in Andersen's diary.
Before entering into my report, it might be practical to give a short presentation - a very short one. Well, Andersen needs no presentation, but Hertz is no longer known as an outstanding figure among the Danish poets of that period. I think that we have to state that nowadays he is not far from going into oblivion, generally speaking, apart from elderly people like myself who still remember his best work as a playwright, Sparekassen (The Savings Bank), maybe some other dramatical works such as Svend Dyrings Hus or Kong Renés Datter.
If we go back in time more than one century and a half, the situation was quite different. Around 1830, in the middle of that period often described as the "Danish Golden Age", both poets - Andersen and Hertz - were known by anyone reading contemporary literature or going to the theatre. Both poets belonged to the younger generation making themselves a way in the field of literature - and both aimed at being recognized as worthy successors to older poets like Oehlenschläger, Hauch and Ingemann - just to mention a few of the poets of Danish romanticism. At the beginning of the 1830's, both poets had a remarkable success with their first books, and both of them intended to continue in order to ensure a solid and outstanding position at the Danish Parnassus. Both of them were well received, not only by the reading audience, but also by the leading arbiter of taste among the critics, J. L. Heiberg. And both of them had found a paternal friend, a sort of patron in Jonas Collin, the deputy of finances, theatre director and a lot of other things. And I may continue in this juxtaposition of the two young poets: Both were "outsiders". They did not belong, by birth, to that part of Danish society into which they tried to make their way: Andersen as the son of a poor shoemaker and a washerwoman, and Hertz as a Jew. In spite of the fact that Jewish citizens were given "civil rights" in Denmark as early as in 1814, Hertz himself had experienced that these civil rights were useless when in 1819, Denmark had a true pogrom, at a time when Hertz had already passed his matriculation. In these dreadful days, early September 1819, he and his relatives had to hide themselves out of Copenhagen, at Frederiksberg, to have protection during the anti-semitic riots when the mob attacked Jewish shopkeepers in Copenhagen - and others of Jewish origin. As a Jew, Hertz was just as much an outsider as the lad from Odense. I know that this has nothing to do with my subject for today, but it is quite strange to state that when Hertz hid himself at Frederiksberg, Andersen entered Copenhagen, on 6 September 1819.
In 1830, Hertz published some rhymed letters, called Letters of a Ghost (Gjengangerbreve), published anonymously as sent from Paradise by the late Danish poet Jens Baggesen, imitating Baggesen's style in the most striking way. These letters aroused an enormous interest among the reading audience. From Heaven, Jens Baggesen alias Henrik Hertz criticized contemporary authors for being more concerned with content than with artistic form. Young Andersen was one of the authors to be attacked. Hinting at Andersen's schooltime in the Slagelse Grammar School, Hertz mentioned him "intoxicated by the ale of fantasy, riding on the Muse's newborn foal", etc. etc.
Andersen was called "Holy Andersen" and thus referred to as a local saint - and if in his schoolwork Andersen had committed such grammatical howlers as those showed off in his published work, he would have been spanked. So the anonymous author of the Letters of a Ghost told Andersen and other readers.
It was not until two years later that Henrik Hertz openly admitted to be the author of Letters of a Ghost and other works.
Andersen was extremely offended, and this criticism embittered him for a very long time. Consequently, when Hertz revealed himself as the author of the rhymed letters, Andersen's anger and bitterness had Hertz as their obvious goal. And in this very year, 1832, both authors, "the Ghost" and "Holy Andersen", applied for a travel grant from the Royal Foundation "ad usus publicos" allowing them to go abroad to Germany, France, and Italy, on a so-called "Bildungs-travel". Both poets were given a grant, Hertz without any difficulties, whereas Andersen had some obstacles to overcome - and in this way it happened that eventually those two promising young persons got to know each other. Considering the size of Copenhagen at that time and the rather limited number of authors, this may sound strange, but it was not until November 1833, in Rome that they met.
When Hertz arrived in Rome, Andersen had already stayed there for a month or so. He had been looking forward to meeting Hertz, but with a good deal of misgivings, too. However, to his surprise and some relief, the meeting was pleasant. Hertz was friendly and Andersen returned this by obligingly giving Hertz much good advice in practical matters. Andersen assisted Hertz in finding a suitable lodging (better than mine and at the same price, he told his diary), and he accompanied Hertz on his first wanderings through the Eternal City, as the latter's personal and much experienced guide.
This happy meeting was the beginning of four months of "co-existence" and a sort of friendship - first in Rome itself, later on during a longer visit to Naples and its surroundings. In Rome, both poets dug in by visiting numerous churches, palaces, and galleries, looking carefully at the works of art in these buildings. The ruins of Roman antiquity
were also looked up, and nature in and outside Rome was admired. Of course, the Danish authorities awarding these travel grants, expected Hertz and Andersen to do so, but judging from their diaries, the poets did their duty with much pleasure. As you know, Andersen's dairy swells when describing everything he met on his wanderings through Rome, and just the same happened to Hertz when putting his entries to his diary. Normally, the entries in Hertz' diary are extremely short, written as they are in a somewhat lapidaric style and using a sort of stenography or abbreviations that are all self-invented. But the Roman part of his diary is abundant with observations - if not as interesting and open-minded as those of Andersen's. Hertz never reveals his own feelings, at any rate not to the same extent as Andersen. He never "chats" with himself like Andersen, and there are few "confessions". Sometimes it can be as dry as an account-book, but there is no doubt that also Hertz was impressed by the richness of art, the picturesque life of the Romans, and the beauty of southern nature.
Both writers joined a group of Scandinavian artists that happened to be in Rome that winter. Several Danish artists were there - painters as well as sculptors, and the Danes had close relations to the Norwegians and the Swedes. These Scandinavians had close relations to a much larger group of artists from Germany, whereas there was less contact with the French group.
Andersen and Hertz took part in every social activity of the Scandinavian community of artists. It looks as if they enjoyed it. Very often they had their meals together, at the same restaurant, and they went on excursions together; in short, Hertz and Andersen passed hundreds of hours together. It is very often stated in their respective diaries that they did this or that together, and in this respect, Hertz's diary is a better source of information than Andersen's. Hertz never forgets to mention the persons with whom he was together, and Andersen's name is mentioned more often by him than Hertz's name by Andersen.
One of the reasons for these very close relations and contacts between the Scandinavians is of a most practical - not to say linguistic - character. Their knowledge of foreign languages was very modest. The Italian population among whom they were living, was looked at - and admired - but the artists had very little communication with the Italians. The artists did not speak Italian! As Andersen mentions in one of his letters: The painters go directly from their palette to the joint, and back again. And that's it. Andersen himself admits that he does not speak Italian, neither, but by means of his German and French, he succeeded in carrying on many good conversations with his host family and others. Hertz was even better off in this respect. On his way to Italy, in Vienna, he had taken lessons in Italian language, i.e., he must to some extent have been able to communicate with the Italians. Nevertheless, his diary only once mentions how he "got into conversation with an Italian".
Without going too much into detail, it must be underlined that the uncrowned king of the Scandinavian community was Thorvaldsen, the great sculptor who had lived and worked in Rome since the end of the 18th century. But Thorvaldsen was much older - and greater - than the others. He was living a little apart from the younger artists. They presented themselves to Thorvaldsen on their arrival in Rome and at their departure - and occassionally, but only occassionally - Thorvaldsen joined them in their meals and festivities.
If we have to mention a leader of the group, it must be Ludvig Bødtcher, a poet just like Hertz and Andersen. Thanks to a small fortune, inherited from his family, Bødtcher managed to live in Rome for nearly 10 years, in a way that Andersen characterizes as a "dolce far niente". Both Andersen and Hertz had the very best relations to Bødtcher. Bødtcher was the "confidante" of both authors, who still regarded each other with some respect. Later on, Hertz describes Bødtcher as his "spiritual cicerone" who by means of notices and anecdotes gave all the Danes very fine guidance - a fact that can be seen in Andersen's Improvisatore, where Bødtcher's information is shown off. Andersen for his part acknowledges his being indebted to Bødtcher as "a guide with spirituality and knowledge". As already mentioned, Bødtcher happened to be a confidante of both Andersen and Hertz. In spite of the fact that they had buried the hatchet, they still maintained a sort of "en garde" position, one towards the other. It is an open question, however, whether Bødtcher managed to be quite impartial in that delicate situation. At any rate Andersen once quotes him for this remark: "He [Hertz] would probably like to take me by the ankles and fling me out of Italy, so malicious was he, he was not at all well disposed towards me".
Apparently - judging from their diaries - the two poets did not discuss the profession they had in common. Neither did they speak about their own writings nor about those of the travelling companion, during all those hours and days spent together. It looks as if this subject was tabooed, but to us this seems rather strange. We could hardly spend such a long time in the company of a colleague without opening a conversation of this nature. Considering Andersen's very open mind, he must have restrained himself to the utmost in omitting the mention of his latest literary work.
On one occasion, however, their tacit agreement in this respect was broken, caused by the fate of Andersens's latest work, a dramatic poem called Agnete and the Merman. Agnete was written when Andersen was on his way through Europe. Begun in Paris and completed in Le Locle, Switzerland, Agnete was sent by Andersen to Copenhagen to his close friend, Edvard Collin, for publication. Andersen himself was very satisfied with Agnete, and by this work he aimed at "re-establishing his broken house" - as he expressed it - after the somewhat unpleasant reception of some earlier works which had been critizised severely by Danish critics - and in particular by a certain Mr. Molbech.
Andersen must have brought his draft to Rome. During his first period here, when he was still awaiting Edvard Collin's answering letter, he gladly read aloud Agnete to his fellow Danes. Also Thorvaldsen had listened to Andersen's first recital, and on the great sculptor's demand, Andersen repeated his recitation, as Thorvaldsen had invited himself to be Andersen's guest in his humble room in Via Sistina. At that time, Hertz had arrived in Rome, and Andersen could not - without being very impolite - avoid inviting Hertz to the very same recitation. Andersen tells in his diary that he was not at all pleased with having Hertz in his audience. I am quoting from the diary: "Hertz was sitting next to me, I felt very shy, felt that I was reading very badly. All the time I had in my mind: What will he think of it? Thorvaldsen was sitting in front of me, with his serious and clever face, listening carefully and nodding at me with his approval. He is very satisfied with my Agnete. Hertz did not utter any word, neither pros nor cons".
One month later, at the beginning of January, Hertz was given the opportunity to give an account of his opinion. At that time, Andersen had received Edvard Collin's letter containing a harsh criticism of Agnete, supported by the verdict of one of his friends (J. M. Thiele), who was also a friend of Andersen's. Andersen was put in a state of true despair. Even suicide was within his thoughts. This was the background for the only literary discussion between Andersen and Hertz. Even the Letters of a Ghost were mentioned, for the first and only time, and Hertz described to Andersen what was his idea of form as such. Hertz had to admit that he had not got the very idea of Agnete when, in December, he had listened to Andersen's reading. This may be caused by Hertz's growing deafness, combined with Andersen's extremely quick reading. Anyway, Hertz had listened so much that he was able to comment that to him the lyrical passages were quite successful. But he felt that when the Danish critics had called Agnete a "formal flaw" this was due to the fact that the ballad had suffered from being treated as a drama. Next to this - maybe in order to comfort Andersen a little bit - he referred to Oehlenschläger whose dramatic poem "The Pale Night", based on the Aage and Else motif, suffered from the same treatment. This is, however, not what can be read in Andersen's diary. Comparing Andersen's diary to Hertz', we learn that Hertz recommended Andersen to leave romantic subjects, to endeavour to express himself in shortness - and to make good plans when starting a literary work. And to himself, in the diary, Hertz confesses: "A piece of good advice is easily given - but difficult to follow!"
Hertz's remarks about shortness, plans, and abstaining from romantic subjetcs cannot be found in Andersens' diary, and consequently we don't know whether they were understood - and approved - by Andersen or not. But Andersen did enter in his diary that according to Hertz, he was successful with his descriptions of nature. These had pleased Hertz and he added that Andersen had also given a few intuitive sketches, pictures of familiar life.
Eventually the poets agreed upon a common evaluation of Danish literary criticism, in general, and of Chr. Molbech in particular. Hertz also told Andersen that it must be a comfort that all true artists had experienced the same crises as Andersen's, but that their works had not even then become well known, "whereas, after this purgatory, I would receive true recognition in the kingdom of art".
To Andersen, these words from Henrik Hertz's mouth were seized like the manna that God sent to the Israelites when wandering in the desert. There is no doubt that these two days' conversation with Hertz gave Andersen much consolation and support, and thus he was able to look at his Agnete more objectively, as well as at other severely criticized works from his hand.
As already mentioned, these discussions seem to be the only collegiate literary discussions between them. What else might be discussed during all those days? One of the answers is: Women. Most natural for a group of young men. With one exception (the painter J. L. Jensen had taken his wife with him to Rome), they were all young, unmarried male persons.
Well, in this respect Andersen had very few contributions to make. He arrived in Italy as what may be called a "virgin", and he left the country without having lost his "virginity", or "innocense". Both Andersen and Hertz had had two cases of "broken hearts", Andersen with Riborg Voigt and Louise Collin, and Hertz with his cousin, Hanna Nathanson, not to mention the other one, Johanne Luise Heiberg, Heiberg's wife, with whom Hertz had fallen hopelessly in love during the "Summer at Hirschholm", 1832.
How to go on with women was - as you know - quite a problem to Andersen. One person after another gave him the advice "to get rid of virginity in the South. Do, as the others do". When in Naples, Andersen was exposed to temptations in this respect, from time to time. When promenading at the harbour or in the Toledo street, he was persecuted by pimps - ruffiani - who were offering one woman after the other - una donna multa bella, eccelenza, as they said. Andersen was very tempted, but he resisted. Hertz did not resist. His way of handling the affair was much more cool and practical. He was also pursued by the pimps, and he gave way. In his diary he does not conceal anything about this - he even notes what he had to pay for this pleasure. Open-minded as Andersen always was, he discussed his sexual problems with Hertz who gave him the piece of classical advice: Better to marry than to burn. But his words fell on deaf ears, as you know.
Let us leave this subject and go to another one: The excursions from Naples which they made. One of them took them to Mount Vesuvius. To Andersen, the climbing of this volcano was one of the culminating points - in a double sense of this word. The entry in the diary about the mountain climbing is one of the finest descriptions in the whole diary. He was totally "groovy" with enthusiasm, in spite of the physical effort and the dangers involved, standing up there at the very edge of a most violent volcano in full eruption. And the description was repeated in letters to friends in Denmark, and later on in a fine chapter in The Improvisatore. Andersen was full of joy, he was singing loudly to encourage his fellow climbers, among whom were first of all Henrik Hertz. Without being a sportsman in the modern sense of this word, Andersen seems to be much more fit for mountaineering than Hertz. When wandering through the ashes near the top of Vesuvius, four steps forward and three steps backwards, Andersen had to help Hertz who would, from time to time stumble, had his fingers torn to blood, and had his coat torn. Andersen was the good companion to offer Hertz his hand - or a gulp of the local wine, Lacrimae Christi. Hertz was very nearly giving up the whole project, wanting to walk back to the donkeys that would take him and the others back to the starting point. All the time, Andersen was good-humoured and helpful. The descent was only great fun as Andersen was watching the golf of Naples, in moon-shine, and afterwards, he and Hertz hurried to find something to eat. Both had had a great experience, but now their only goal was to satisfy their hunger.
Another excursion from Naples took them to sea, and there is no doubt that Hertz was a better sailor than Andersen. Andersen was convinced that this would lead to drowning and death, but of course he was so curious that he had to go with the others to the islands of Capri and Ischia. Capri had to be visited, the "grotta azura / blue grotto" which had recently been discovered. Of course they simply had to go there. According to Andersen this visit was another great experience - like the one he had had when climbing Mount Vesuvius. He gives a fine description of the atmosphere inside the grotto: "Everything was shining azure. The boat, the oars, even the human beings were different shades of blue - this peace, this ether-like blue brilliancy " And to this Hertz adds in his diary: "Andersen feared that he would never come out of the grotto."
After the visit to Naples and its surroundings, Andersen and Hertz returned to Rome, to look at the Easter ceremonies in the pope's city. To Andersen this was a sort of an anti-climax, as he considered life in Naples as living in Paradise on earth. Compared to Naples, Rome was too calm, too dull. Well, he enjoyed to watch the "pomp and circumstance" with which the Romans and the church celebrated Easter time, but now he had to say farewell to Italy, to return to Denmark. Andersen who - by means of his rich imagination could foresee every sickness to attack him, never suffered from the disease called homesickness. He had a richly developed ability to feel at home anywhere in Euopre. And he did know what was ahead of him when he returned to his native country. Hertz who left Rome and Italy a couple of weeks later, had quite the opposite feeling. He was longing for Denmark and did not share Andersen's happiness with travelling around.
Well, it is difficult to make any conclusion of this description of two poets living together for four months under the southern sun. It may be stated that their diaries supplement each other to a certain extent. They differ very much - as did the authors of the diaries. The one being very self-centered or self-orientated, the other being more objective and cool!
And the friendship they can tell us about, happened to be a friendship "ad interim". Back in Denmark they did not see each other too much, and I think that Hertz's true alliance with the Heiberg circle was a serious obstacle for maintaining the friendship they had had in Italy. They would send copies of their literary works - with dedications - to each other, and they met from time to time, but that's all! A funny thing happened to them in 1863 when a monument was erected to honour Ewald and Wessel on Trinity Churchyard. By mere coincidence, Andersen and Hertz stood there, side by side. As Andersen put it in his diary: "at the Grave of Humour, Fate placed Hertz and me together!" I don't think that nowadays we would juxtapose Hertz with Andersen as we do with Ewald and Wessel.
I started with a double portrait, the one which Niels Larsen Stevns painted on the walls in the Andersen Museum. Let me end up with another picture, described by Andersen himself. The Improvisatore finishes with a meeting at Capri, on the 6th March 1834, the very day when Andersen and Hertz visited this island. In the novel, the main character Antonio, accompanied by Lara, his wife, meets two foreigners, two Danes. They are described as follows:
A foreign gentleman, tolerably tall and somewhat pale, with strong features and dressed in a blue frock coat [and another foreigner:] A grave little man, with an intelligent look, and dressed in a white surtout.
I admit to have stolen this description of the persons in question, Andersen and Hertz, from Elias Bredsdorff's Andersen biography, and Elias has stolen it from Knud Bøgh's edition of The Improvisatore from 1943 - but I could not withstand the temptation of ending my report with a double portrait - just as I started it.