T HE news that Denmark is about to celebrate the cen-
tenary of Hans Christian Andersen will send the thoughts of men and women all the world over, first gratefully and affectionately to the land of his birth, and then to that wider country in which we were all once at home. As a certain mediaeval town was wont once a year for a few hours to open her gates to all her banished sons and daughters, so on Andersen's birthday we may all claim the right to return to that distant city of which we have lost the freedom.
It was in happy accordance with all the best traditions of fairyland that Andersen should have stumbled by accident upon his treasure-trove. He was born at Odense, in Fiinen, on April 2nd, 1805. His father, a shoemaker, died before his son was fourteen, and his early years were steeped in painful and not very salutary experiences. At fourteen the clever, ambitious boy went to seek his fortune in Copenhagen; but though he found friends and protectors surely the most generous and constant ever provided for an exacting young genius, his hopes of winning immortality as a singer, an actor, a dramatist, or a poet—he tried it all ways—were not realised. It was not till he had knocked at half-a-dozen wrong doors that he touched by chance the spring which admitted him into his own kingdom. In 1835 he published his first tales,—" The Tinder Box," "The Princess and the Pea,"' "Little Claus and Big Clans,' and "Little Ida's Flowers." Other little volumes followed, and the world was quick to recognise their surprising quality. Prosperity came with a rush. There were "Andersen afternoons," when literary and aristocratic audiences crowded to hear him read his tales aloud; the King of Prussia asked him to dinner and gave him a decoration ; both on the Continent and in England he was feted and entertained. He lived to see his literary jubilee celebrated by the whole nation, dying at Copenhagen in August, 1875. "After all," said he, in the pleasant evening of his days, "life itself is the most beautiful of fairy-tales." One abiding regret was always with him ; he had no particular devotion to children in the concrete, and did not care to be known only as a children's writer. He greatly resented a sculptor's design of representing him as the centre of a group of listening boys and girls. Who could imagine him composing stories, he asked, with a lot of young Copenhag,eners clambering about him ? To the end the creator of the Ugly Duckling hoped he might be remem- bered as the author of his tedious novel, "The Two Baronesses."
The explanation is that Andersen was too much a child himself to be quite at his ease in children's society ; too vain, this is in part the secret of his power. No other writSr slips so easily into a child's geographical position ; be understands to perfection his mistrust of vast spaces, of vague distances, the dread of being lost which conflicts so incessantly with the eager desire to venture into the busy, ;spacious world. When the china shepherdess and tlie chimney-sweep are eloping, they climb up the chimney. "At last they reached the top and sat themselves down, for they were very tired, as may be supposed. The sky with all its stars was above them, and below were the roofs of the town. They could see for a very long way out into the wide world, and the poor little shepherdess leaned her head on her chimney-sweep's shoulder and wept till she washed the gilt off her sash. This is too much,' said she, 'the world is too large! I wish I were safe back on the table again under the looking-glass ; take me back if you love me I' " When the beetle on his travels came in sight of the pond at the end of the garden, "he was so astonished at the size of it that be lay over on his back and kicked." When, bored by the earwig children, he "enquired his way to the nearest dunghill," the earwig assured him : "That is quite out in the great world, on the other side of the ditch. I hope none of my children will ever go so That sense of the vastness and mystery which frame one's own small life is the very stuff of which a child's dreams are made. Andersen has the same clear senile of the reasonableness of childhood. When the cockchafer flew into a tree with Thumbelina, and told her that she was very pretty, "though not the least like a cockchafer "; when the hen urges the duckling to "lay eggs, and learn to purr as soon as possible," in order to make a good impression on society, the child nods approval. The hen's advice, the cockchafer's reserve, are just what one would have expected. When the tin soldier (not the steadfast hero, but the other) has been presented to the lonely old man, and is so dull thid he weeps tears of tin and begs to be allowed to.go to the wars and lose a leg or an arm, just for a change,—" You must bear it," says the little boy, his former owner. "You are given away, you must stay where you are, don't you see that ? " One feels it to be an unanswerable argument, and grasps the leg of one's own favourite tighter.
Andersen's material is taken from various sources. "The Elf of the Rose" is a rendering of "Isabella and the Pot of Basil." "The Emperor's New Clothes" is Spanish. Thorwaldsen (who never wearied of bearing his stories) suggested "The Darning Needle." Much is his own charming invention, and much was gathered from the field of folk-lore in which the Brothers Grimm worked so long. The German stories are ruder and more primitive in their form ; the Danish writer's grace and sunny playfulness are exchanged for a broader simplicity, a more elemental mirth ; there perhaps nothing in Andersen that quite equals, to a child's mind, the sardonic humour of Grimm's tale of the Cat and mouse that kept house together. On the other band, the ingenious, unscrupulous Little Claus is a more vivid per- sonage than Grimm's Little Farmer, partly no doubt becaute be has a name of his own. The animals in Grimm &a almost all four-footed ; he has hardly any birds. Andersen loved all feathered creatures, and the flutter of wings and the twitter of small throats are in all his pages.
It is on the question of morals that they are most decisively divided. Grimm encourages a belief in poetic justice. We have throughout the comfortable certainty that the prince will discover the princess in spite of all disguises, and that the wicked stepmother will be ingeniously and quite finally baffled. To this cheerful optimism Andersen will rarely condescend. Under his exquisite tenderness, his deceptive air of bonhomie, a note of fine and mordant irony is always audible. His theme is the conflict between the world's shrewd common-sense and "the high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard," and handling it, he forgeni the frontiers of the child's kingdom altogether. The story is told to the child; the moral is pointed at society at large, and sometimes pointed rather cruelly. "'I can smell the Nile mud,' said the mother stork. Now you will see the marabout bird and the ibis and the crane. They give themselves great airs, especially the ibis; the Egyptians make a mummy of him and stuff him with spices ; I would rather be stuffed with live frogs. Better have
something in your inside while you are alive than be made a parade of after you are dead; that's my opinion.'" "'Do you know only one story P' asked the rats. 'Only one,' said the firtree; I heard it on the happiest evening of my life." We think it a very miserable story,' said the rats. 'Don't you know one about bacon or tallow in the store-room ? Many thanks to you then,' and they marched away." "The mole pushed the dead swallow aside with his crooked legs. He will sing no more now,' said he. What miserable creatures they are. I am thankful' "-0 the airy inimitable humour of the phrase !—" I am thankful that none of my children can be born birds.'" In "The Portuguese Duck" a singing-bird escapes from the cat with a broken wing, and falls into the fowl-yard, where the Portuguese duck takes him under her protection. The drake came up and thought him a sparrow. "I don't understand the . difference,' said be ; 'they appear to me much the same ; but if people will have playthings, why, let them, I say.' Suddenly something to eat was thrown into the yard, and in rushing over to the other side the Portuguese trod upon the little bird. Tweet!' cried he. Why do you lie in my way then?' she retorted. You must not be touchy. I have nerves of my own, but I do not cry Tweet.'
When she had finished her meal the little bird, anxious to please, began to sing. I want to sleep now,' said the Portuguese. 'While you are here you must conform to the rules of the house.' The little bird was quite taken aback, for he had meant well. When she awoke, there he stood before her with a grain of corn that he had found and laid it at her feet ; but as she had not slept well, she was naturally in a bad temper. Give that to a chicken,' she said, 'and don't always stand in my way.' So saying she made a bite at the little singing-bird's head and he fell dead on the ground. 'Now what's the meaning of this ?' said . she. 'I've been like a mother to him, I know that ; but cer- tainly he was not made for this world.' Then all the ducks came crowding round the little dead bird. Speak of him . with reepect,' said the Portuguese. He was gentle and affectionate, he had manners and education, and he could sing.' 'Let us think of satisfying our hunger,' said the drake. 'If one of our toys is broken, we have plenty , more.'" It is a masterpiece of merciless satire, a pendant to , that tragic miniature, "The Daisy."
Dr. Brandes tells us in a striking essay that Andersen is best understood, after Denmark, in Germany and in Great Britain, and that he is least appreciated in France. Meeting one day a young Frenchman who professed to know Denmark well, he interrupted him with the question, "Have you read Andersen's tales ? " Of course be had. "And what do you think of them ? " "Un peu trop enfa.ntin," was the fatal answer. "And I am persuaded," says the Danish critic with justifiable warmth, "that a French child of five would have said the same." While hesitating to accept this terrible indictment of French infancy, it must be admitted that French literature in all its strength and wealth is a grown-up literature. The lucid, analytical French mind sees things too clearly to be quite at home in the realm of half- lights, the land of make-believe ; and then, as Dr. Brandes suggests, they have La Fontaine. They have also Charles Perrault and Madame d'Aulnoy. But between Andersen and Madame d'Aulnoy lie Rousseau and his gospel of the return to Nature, and all the protest of the new century against the manners and method of the old. We have only to glance from "The Tinder Box" or "The Travelling Companion" to Percinet, who, "in his rich green habit," is addressing his respectful reproaches to Graeiosa. "Have a better opinion
• of my sentiment," replies the princess. "I am neither insensible to merit nor ungrateful for kindness received. Tis true that I have put your constancy on too many trials, but 'tis to crown it in the end." The adventures of Percinet and Graciosa, of Fanfarinet and Abricotina, ara. recorded for one age, one class ; Andersen is for us all. The one writer presents us with an entertaining comedy of manners, the . other with fragments of the eternal poetry of childhood.