Hans Christian Andersen's Writer's Manifesto In Sweden - Andersen and Science
There are many writers who have written a sort of programme or a manifesto, or who have written a manifesto on behalf of a literary group (in the twentieth century among others J.-P. Sartre, R. Alberti, T. Mann and A. Lundkvist). But no one, probably, has written so many writer's manifestos as Hans Christian Andersen did in his lifetime. Although perhaps he would not have considered them as such. And written them in such an interesting literary form as that of the travel book.
Already in his first travelogues, the Danish fairy-tale writer did not only record what he saw, but also his feelings and thoughts, and he revealed his intentions within the areas of literary aesthetics and social politics within certain periods of his life. As one of the greatest travelling writers in the 19th century, Andersen became acquainted with all the most remarkable innovations within science and technology, and these helped to shape his views about the interplay between literature and reality, the true nature of the fairy-tale.
It is interesting that Andersen in his travel books included some fairy-tales and stories which so to say illustrated his programme. And there is another thing. Such travelogues became a kind of forerunners of his collections of tales and stories. Odense and Environs (1829), The Journey on Foot from Holmens canal to the East Point of Amager (1829), Shadow Pictures (1831) were published before his Stories Told to Children (1835). A Poet's Bazaar (1842) as well as In Sweden (1849) may also be considered a sort of programme, preparing to a large extent Andersen's last collections of Stories and New Tales and Stories.
The few scholars who studied Andersen's travel books hardly noticed these important aspects. And it is important that the poet's most significant statements on poetry and science during the 1850's and 1860's were made in the books A Poet's Bazaar and In Sweden.
The interest in science and technological innovation was not coincidental in Andersen's case. In the 1830's, he summarized some scientific articles and sent them to a Copenhagen newspaper. In his letters, his travel books and his tales and stories, he told us about the invention of photography and matches, about the new lighting of the streets of Copenhagen, about railways and steamships. Andersen was one of the first to do this, which was due to the influence of his famous friend, H. C. Ørsted, who recommended the poet to turn to science and nature.
Andersen began to study plants and animals and wrote that he made notes concerning natural history for his future works and that he already knew the language of all animals. In this connection it is very interesting to see his correspondence with Adolf Drewsen, who was an amateur biologist and gave the poet the idea for his fairy-tale "The Camomile".
From 1859 to 1867, Andersen told him about all those beauties of nature which he had observed, about unknown wild plants he had found, about trees in Africa, and flowers at exhibitions in Paris. His journey to Italy with the biologist Jonas Collin the Younger also enriched his scientific outlook and helped him to give a credible description of the heroes of "The Snail and the Rosebush". In those stories, in which plants and animals have important roles, there are a number of concrete biological details. In A Poet's Bazaar, he was not content merely to describe beautiful cities, monuments and works of art, Germany and Italy, Greece and Serbia.1 His travel notes were often metamorphosed into triumphal hymns to the 19th century, which he called the century of reason and work, the century which turned life into a fairy-tale. He wrote that the railways were the greatest invention of the human mind. That thanks to science and technology, man had become as powerful as a magician of past times, so strong as only the devil could be, according to medieval ideas.2
Andersen's admiration for the advances of science and technology forced him to maintain that every natural phenomenon, every thing he met, every tree and flower could play a part in the fairy-tale. And this clearly appears in the tales included in A Poet's Bazaar. The metal pig from the fairy-tale of the same name, the monument placed in one of the piazzas of Florence, experiences strange adventures and rushes through the town. The nightingale from the tale "A Rose from Homer's Grave" sings of its hopeless love of the rose. Andersen's own boots from the tale "My Boots" reason about exalted topics. This book, however, does not include any tale about the wonders of science. They were to come later.
Andersen was accused of being insufficiently educated, but in spite of that he proved himself to be the bard of science. And his book In Sweden showed a further evolution of his views. In 1850 he wrote that by reading In Sweden people would see how life and the world were now mirrored in him. He did not leave the fair realm of poetry to get lost in the labyrinth of philosophy or to write poems about science. This was impossible for him.3 To him, man was the enchanted lamp of the poetry of the heart, which he firmly grasped with both hands. And he went on to say that the forces of nature should not be allowed to suppress him. The spirits were to be summoned to build the new castle of poetry for him, according to his own specifications.4
What castles of poetry was it that Andersen wanted to build? What, in his opinion, was to be the object of this description? According to Andersen, literature was destined to give new life to the past, to galvanize it, showing its brave deeds and the heroic acts of the heroes of history. Nature and the present reality must also become the stuff of poetry. The world to him was full of beauty, and he saw it as the duty of the poet to let people see it.
Andersen formulated his aesthetic intentions most clearly in the chapter entitled "The California of Poetry".
Here he argues with his fictitious opponent, who claims that the world which inspired poetry was rich and virginal in former times. But now all is exhausted. Andersen, on the other hand, says that poets born in his times are the happiest. They have inherited all the treasures which their predecessors have given to the world. Andersen claims that his time is a time of great discoveries. And that poetry has its California, its own gold mines.
Where is this "California of Poetry", he asks, and he answers himself, "In science".
And also in technology, where poets and writers can find fairy-tales.
In The Journey on Foot (1829), Andersen related how in the late 1820's two Muses had appeared to him, the Muse of classical poetry and that of romantic poetry. And he had chosen the latter. Now, 30 years later, he finds himself at a crossroad again and two beings ready to serve him appear before him: the Muse of Romantic Poetry, to whom he had plighted his troth thirty years ago, and the Genius of Science. But how old the Muse of Poetry, who used to be so fair, has grown! Now she is an old woman with all the attributes of Romantismus. This crone shows Andersen the world as seen by the romantic poet. The light of her lamp illuminated the world and it became transparent as seawater or the glass mountain of fairy-tales. At the command of the Muse, medieval castles, poison and The White Lady appeared. "Death! Death!" rang through the air, and the crone proposed to him that he should sing all the pictures he had seen.
But then, in the guise of a handsome youth, came the Genius of Science and proposed to Andersen that he should follow him. And the light of science fell on the ocean and penetrated into the world of submarine plants. A drop of water was transformed into a world of strange living creatures. The light of science penetrated into a dark subterranean grotto, where lived a basilisk. The voice of science was heard throughout the world, and everybody believed that the time of wonders had returned, all over the world thin tracks of iron were found, and there, on the wings of steam with the speed of swallows, heavily laden goods waggons moved. Mountains and plains had to give way to the wisdom of the present age.
And throughout the entire natural world was heard a cry of "Life! Life!" The Genius of Science wielded his sword, and Andersen saw the world of the stars. The Genius of Science proposed to him to sing the present age. He proposed to the great story-teller to choose a new direction.
And now Andersen turned down the Muse of Romantic Poetry to follow the Genius of Science. He understood that science and technology were the California of Poetry. Science illuminates the understanding of the poet, arouses his imagination, shows him the sources of industriousness.
Again and again, Andersen admonishes poets to study and to sing nature and reality, but now aided by science. He tells them that if you examine the world of man in a microscope, a wonderful fairy-tale world is revealed. Electromagnetism may become a topic for contemporary comedies and novels. And it is possible to write so many humorous works if one looks into space from our planet Earth, tiny as a grain of sand in the infinite universe.5
And the hero of the new enchanted world is not a warlock, but a scientist capable of working miracles. And to Andersen, Ørsted and Tycho Brahe are magnificent swans. In "Two Brothers" he tells the story of Hans Christian and Anders Sandøe Ørsted. Galilei to him is a martyr of science.
According to Andersen, modern poets are characterised by imagination, feeling and reason. Imagination decorates the poor walls of the poet, feeling is concerned with the heart of man, reason helps him to find a firm foothold on earth. Andersen regrets that the ogres have lost their power. And that the reason of man has conquered them.
As usual, Andersen includes in his travelogues some tales and stories which are very different. Here it is the philosophical legend "The Phoenix", where poetry helps to penetrate into the secret labyrinth of human existence. It takes you to the planes of Lapland and the banks of the Nile. It talks about the eternal renewal and rebirth of poetry.
In "The Puppeteer", Andersen tells the story about a scientist who made fantastic and at the same time natural experiments. In former times, he would have been regarded as a shaman or wizard on the basis of these experiments.6
In the 1850's, Andersen travelled much in Denmark and subsequently produced a number of travel sketches. In "Silkeborg" (1853) and "Skagen" (1859), he described technology - the development of the railways and the telegraph. In 1867, he wrote the story of "Vænø and Glænø", where one sees the same rapture, faced with the progress of his own time, as in the travelogues "I Jurabjergene" (1869), and in the books In Spain (1863) and A Visit to Portugal (1866).
The story-teller says among other things that Switzerland has been finally conquered by man. How much work, how much energy was needed to dig tunnels here and establish the trade of watchmaking. But in these late essays and books, there are no more tales and stories.
From 1850 to 1860, Andersen wrote many fairy-tales on popular science and even science fiction.
In his tale "The Ice Maiden", he praises the telegraph, the tunnels, the steamboats. In 1853, the first cable was laid down at the bottom of the Great Belt, and in his story "The Millennium" the story-teller and dreamer Andersen even foresaw how, in the distant future, people would find it easy to contact each other, how an electromagnetic thread would run under the oceans. There are dreams of the invention of means of communication that would help the inhabitants of America to travel to Europe through the air. As an experienced traveller, Andersen tells his readers, the tourists of the future, what to see in Europe. Between 1853 and 1855, a few attempts to reach the North Pole were made. And in his story "The Uttermost Parts of the Sea", Andersen fantasizes about future expeditions undertaken by his readers.
The Danish railway, which only ran from Copenhagen to Korsør, was to him a string of pearls, the pearls being the towns of Zealand.
The poet creates interesting poetical stories full of knowledge, such as "The Potatoes", "The Apple", "It is Said that " and "The Old Schoolmaster".
Andersen shows such profound interest in science that his friend Bernhard Severin Ingemann wrote that Danish storytellers saw reason and life in nothing but steam engines, electromagnetic telegraphs and the system of Copernicus. And H. C. Ørsted once said that the great storyteller might perhaps do more for science than any other poet.7