Friday, September 23, 2016

The Friendship of Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen by B.W. Matz 1908


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The story of the friendships of great men is always interesting as revealing certain qualities of temperament and shades of feeling which are not always shown in the various other points of view from which one studies their careers. Dickens had many true friends, and prominent among them was Hans Christian Andersen, who was one of the first visitors to Gadshill after Dickens went to live there.

At Christmas time these two names come naturally to one's mind. That of Dickens because of all he has done to make us realize what Christmas is and how it can "win us back to the delusions of our childhood days," how it "can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth," and above all how it can fill us with the good spirits, fancies and better feelings which make it possible to enjoy the season to the full; whilst that of Hans Andersen recalls to us the countless joys and merry moments his fairy tales have provided for the children themselves. Both writers were filled with the desire to make children happy. One teaches those who are of riper years how to bring it about; the other succeeds in his own inimitable way in providing those "delusions of our childhood days," which alone bring about their pleasure and contentment. And it is safe to say that no two writers have contributed in their own particular ways so much pure delight and healthy joyousness to the fireside circle at Christmas time as Dickens and Hans Andersen.

It is not surprising, therefore, that these two men, whose hearts were so large, and who wrote with a common object, should have been fast friends. Indeed, they were more than mere friends, and were drawn together by a true love for each other. A correspondence arose between them, and they met on more than one occasion.

Their boyhood days were not altogether dissimilar. Dickens's was a hard struggle, and although it can truthfully be averred that he, and ultimately his readers, benefited by his early struggle to earn his bread in a commercial warehouse, and had to live in an uncongenial environment, the fact of the hardship is no way minimized in consequence. Andersen's childhood was a still harder one. He was the son of a poor shoemaker, and was seven years of age when Dickens was born. His parents were, at one time, well-to-do farmers; but, as in the case of the Dickens family, misfortune overtook them. Consequently, the boy's craving for learning, like Dickens's again, could not be satisfied at the time, and he was compelled to earn his living as best he could, first as a carpenter and then by singing. During these days he continued to find immeasurable enjoyment in his toy theatre, for which he wrote his own plays and poems, and to read such books as came his way. The Arabian Nights was a great favorite, which, by the way, was one of that famous library of Dickens's father in which the novelist revelled so much. He also spent his spare pennies in visiting the library to read the novels of Scott. The temperaments of Dickens and Andersen in their childhood days were much the same. Their feelings and sufferings were similar, and they seemed to bear them with the same hopeful fortitude. We all know of the little incidents of the sumptuous repasts on plum pudding Dickens indulged in and the shops he chose for the largest serving for his pence. Andersen tells of the bitter, dark days when he used to sit on a bench in the Royal Gardens at Copenhagen and dine off a small roll.

Like Dickens, too, the stage had a fascination for him; but unlike Dickens, he really had a professional engagement or two, which ultimately brought about the acceptance of a play of the young writer's. This attracted the notice of his King, who took him from the stage and sent him to school, where, however, he was not happy. On leaving, he was told by his master that he would never get so far as to be a student, that his poems would rot in the cellars of the publishers, and that he would end his days in a madhouse. But Andersen soon showed he was made of different material than this, and whilst a student at the University he had a play accepted which was brilliantly successful, after the performance of which, like Dickens after the publication of his first story, he rushed out into the open and burst into tears of joy. From this point he never went backwards, but secured fame with poems, stories, novels, and translations of plays and operas. His countrymen began to jeer and scoff at him, and as in one of the periods of Dickens's career, when critics declared he had written himself out, Andersen's day, it was also asserted, had passed. But his first undoubted success came immediately after in a novel entitled The Improvisatore and was soon followed by the Fairy Tales, which began to appear almost simultaneously with Dickens's Sketches by Boz.

It was at about this time that he first became acquainted with Charles Dickens, for whom he had an abiding admiration to the end. In 1847 he wrote to a friend in England: "How much I should like to shake the hand of 'Boz.' When I read his books I often think I have seen such things and feel I could write like that. ... I do not know how better to express myself than to say that what completely captivates me seems to become part of myself. As the wind whistles round his bell-rope I have often heard it whistle on a cold, wet, autumn afternoon, and the chirp of the cricket I remember well in the cosy corner of my parents' humble room." He met Dickens for the first time at Lady Blessington's. Dickens had written her, "I must see Andersen," and accordingly visited her house during Andersen's stay there. "He is just what I thought he would be," wrote Andersen to the Grand Duke of Weimar. "We understood each other at once, clasped each other's hands, and talked English." Just prior to his departure he had a hearty invitation to visit Dickens at Fort House, Broadstairs, which he described as "a pretty, charming little house at Broadstear," and was greatly delighted when Dickens appeared at Ramsgate to see him safely on the boat for Ostend.

Henceforth they corresponded, and early in 1857 Andersen again visited England; but this time for the expressed purpose of staying with Dickens. "I beg you," he wrote, "to send me a few lines, in April at the latest, to say whether you will be in London this summer, and at what period I may be certain of finding you there for about a week, for it is not for London's sake I am coming to England. The visit is for you alone." In the same letter he assures Dickens how Little Dorrit enthralled him. "I would and must admire you for the sake of this one book alone, even if you had not previously bestowed on the world those splendid compositions, David Copperfleld, 'Nelly' (as he called The Old Curiosity Shop), and the rest."

Dickens, in a delightfully characteristic reply, invited him to Gadshill, and gave him minute instructions how to reach Hingham. "You shall have a pleasant room there, with a charming view, and shall live as quietly and wholesomely as in Copenhagen itself." Dickens was busy on the last portions of Little Dorrit, which he hoped to finish by the end of the month. "That done," he added, "you will find me in the summer quite a free man, playing cricket and all manner of English open-air games. . . . You will find yourself in a house full of admiring and affectionate friends, varying from three feet high to five feet nine."

Andersen was overjoyed at the receipt of this kindly letter, and assured Dickens how infinitely happy it made him. "It has quite possessed me; I am overcome with joy at the thought of being with you for a short time, of living in your house, and forming one of your circle. You do not know how much I value it, and how, in my heart, I thank God, yourself, and your wife." He thought it was splendid to be able to read the conclusion of Little Dorrit in Dickens's home, and he told him so. "God rejoice you for this book, and for everything that you have already given to the world. You have an extraordinarily large circle of admirers and friends in the North, though I believe no one can love you more sincerely than I. But how much blessing and sunshine do you throw into my life; aye, and how much into the life of all of us."

The loving regard he had for Dickens, and the honest joy he showed at being in the house of the great man, is emphasized in the fact that he refused to be drawn from his company to see even the Queen. "My visit to England this time," he said, "is only to Dickens," and nothing altered that fixed intention. In a letter to the Queen Dowager of Denmark, he described fully his life at Dickens's home. He was there during the arrangement of the readings and private theatricals given for the benefit of the widow of Douglas Jerrold, and he was amazed at the energy of Dickens in behalf of his friend's widow. "Dickens is one of the most amiable men that I know," was his estimate, "and possesses as much heart as intellect." He then proceeded to describe the whole performance, the actors, and all the attendant gaieties. He also gave a minute account of his arrival, stay, and departure from Gadshill, in a letter to Miss Wulff, whom he addressed as "Dear Sister and Friend," in which he characterized Dickens as being "like the best character in his books—jolly, lively, happy, and cordial." Of Mrs. Dickens he said she "is so gentle, so motherly, quite like Agnes in David Copperfield."

He was deeply affected at leaving England. Dickens had driven him along that road he loved so much himself between Gadshill and Maidstone, and saw Andersen into the train for Folkestone. "He was like a dear brother up to the last moment," Andersen wrote. "He looked sadly at me when we parted ... I felt as deeply grieved as if I had left one of my dear ones whom I should never see again."

He seemed never to forget that visit to Dickens, and throughout his correspondence it is referred to with pride, and with always a fitting epithet for Dickens's character. He speaks in one place of Dickens's house being all happiness, and of Dickens as being "cheerful, amiable, noble, good," and he found Paris, after Gadshill, "like a beehive without honey."

Dickens's admiration for Andersen was as whole-hearted as Andersen's for Dickens, and after they parted, all Dickens's friends continually accosted him with many inquiries as to the health and happiness of "The Father of all Children," as he was then called, who became, and always remained, the true friend of his own famous countrymen and neighbors, who revered him, not for the glory of association with such a distinguished man, but because they loved him, as Dickens's friends and contemporary men of literature and art loved him.
B. W. Matz

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