Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine - Volume 62, No. 384, October 1847 online

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The letter o appears in this text with a macron and
a breve above it. They have been rendered as [=o]
and [)o] respectively.


* * * * *


* * * * *


The Emperors New Clothes
Chapter I
Chapter II
English Kennel
The Steeple-chase
Roman Dogs


If our readers have perchance stumbled upon a novel called "The
Improvisatore" by one HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, a Dane by birth, they
have probably regarded it in the light merely of a foreign importation
to assist in supplying the enormous annual consumption of our
circulating libraries, which devour books as fast as our mills do raw
cotton; - with some difference, perhaps, in the result, for the material
can rarely be said to be worked up into any thing like substantial
raiment for body or mind, but seems to disappear altogether in the
process. As the demand, here, exceeds all ordinary means of supply, they
may have been glad to see that our trade with the North is likely to be
beneficial to us, in this our intellectual need. Its books may not be so
durable as its timber, nor so substantial as its oxen, but then they are
articles of faster growth, and of easier transportation. To free-trade
in these productions of the literary soil, not the most jealous
protectionist will object; and they have, perhaps, been amused to
observe how the mere circumstance of a foreign origin has given a cheap
repute, and the essential charm of novelty, to materials which in
themselves were neither good nor rare. The popular prejudice deals very
differently with foreign oxen and foreign books; for, whereas an
Englishman has great difficulty in believing that good beef can possibly
be produced from any pastures but his own, and the outlandish beast is
always looked upon with more or less suspicion, he has, on the contrary,
a highly liberal prejudice in favour of the book from foreign parts; and
nonsense of many kinds, and the most tasteless extravagancies, are
allowed to pass unchallenged and unreproved, by the aid of a German, or
French, or Danish title-page.

Nay, the eye is sometimes tasked to discover extraordinary beauty, where
there is nothing but extraordinary blemish. Where the shrewd translator
had veiled some absurdity or rashness of his author, the more profound
reader has been known to detect a meaning and a charm, which "the
English language had failed adequately to convey;" and he has, perhaps,
shown a sovereign contempt for "the bungling translator," at the very
time when that discreet workman had most displayed his skill and
judgment. The idea has sometimes occurred to us - Suppose one of these
foreign books were suddenly proved to be of genuine home
production - suppose the German, or the Dane, or the Frenchman, were
discovered to be a fictitious personage, and all the genius, or all the
rant, to have really emanated from the English gentleman, or lady, who
had merely professed to translate - presto! how the book would instantly
change colours! What a reverse of judgment would there be! What secret
_misgivings_ would now be detected and proclaimed! What sudden
outpourings of epithets by no means complimentary! How the boldness of
many a metaphor would be transformed into sheer impudence! How the
profundities would clear up, leaving only darkness behind! They were so
mysterious - and now, throw all the light of heaven upon them, and there
is nothing there but a blunder or a blot.

If our readers, we say, have fallen upon this, and other novels of
Andersen, they have probably passed them by as things belonging to the
literary _season_: they have been struck with some passages of vivid
description, with touches of genuine feeling, with traits of character
which, though imperfectly delineated, bore the impress of truth; but
they have pronounced them, on the whole, to be unfashioned things, but
half made up, constructed with no skill, informed by no clear spirit of
thought, and betraying a most undisciplined taste. Such, at least, was
the impression their first perusal left upon our mind. Notwithstanding
the glimpses of natural feeling and of truthful portraiture which caught
our eye, they were so evidently deficient in some of the higher
qualities which ought to distinguish a writer, and so defaced by
abortive attempts at fine writing, that they hardly appeared deserving
of a very critical examination, or a very careful study. But now there
has lately come into our hands the autobiography of Hans Christian
Andersen, "The True Story of my Life," and this has revealed to us so
curious an instance of intellectual cultivation, or rather of genius
exerting itself without any cultivation at all, and has reflected back
so strong a light, so vivid and so explanatory, on all his works, that
what we formerly read with a very mitigated admiration, with more of
censure than of praise, has been invested with quite a novel and
peculiar interest. Moreover, certain tales for children have also fallen
into our hands, some of which are admirable. We prophesy them an
immortality in the nursery - which is not the worst immortality a man can
Win - and doubt not but that they have already been read by children, or
told to children, in every language of Europe. Altogether Andersen, his
character and his works, have thus appeared to us a subject worthy of
some attention.

We insist upon coupling them together. We must be allowed to abate
somewhat of the austerity of criticism by a reference to the life of the
author. We cannot implicitly follow the unconditioned admiration of Mrs
Howitt for "the beautiful thoughts of Andersen," which she tells us in
her preface to the Autobiography, "it is the most delightful of her
literary labours to translate." We must be excused if we think that the
mixture of praise and of puff, which the lady lavishes so
indiscriminately upon the author whose works she translates, is more
likely to display her own skill and dexterity in author-craft, than
permanently to enhance the fame of Andersen. In the works which Mrs
Howitt has translated, (with the exception of the Autobiography,) there
is a great proportion of most unquestionable trash, which, we should
imagine, it must be a great affliction to render into English.

It is curious, and perhaps necessary, to watch this new relationship
which has sprung up in the world of letters, between the original author
and his translator. A reciprocity of services is always amiable, and one
is glad to see society enriched by another bond of mutual amity. The
translator finds a profitable commodity in the genius of his author; the
author, a stanch champion in his foreign ally, who, notwithstanding his
community of interest, can still praise without blushing. Many good
results doubtless arise from this alliance, but an increased chance of
impartial criticism is not likely to be one of them.

When Andersen writes _for_ childhood or _of_ childhood, he is singularly
felicitous - fanciful, tender, and true to nature. This alone were
sufficient to separate him from the crowd of common writers. For the
rest of his works, if you will look at them kindly, and with a friendly
scrutiny, you will find many a natural sentiment vividly reflected. But
traces of the higher operations of the intellect, of deep or subtle
thought, of analytic power, of ratiocination of any kind, there is
absolutely none. If, therefore, his injudicious admirers should insist,
without any reference to his origin or culture, on extolling his
writings as works submitted, without apology or excuse, to the mature
judgment and formed taste - they can only peril the reputation they seek
to magnify. They will expose to ridicule and contempt one who, if you
allow him a place apart by himself, becomes a subject of kindly and
curious regard. If they insist upon his introduction, unprotected by the
peculiar circumstances which environ him - we do not say amongst the
literary magnates of his time, but even in the broad host of highly
cultivated minds, we lose sight of him, or we follow him with something
very much like a smile of derision.

We remember being told of a dexterous stratagem, by which a lady cured
her son of what she deemed an unworthy passion for a rustic beauty. We
tell the story - for it may not only afford us an illustration, but a
hint also to other perplexed mammas, who may find themselves in the like
predicament. She had argued, and of course in vain, against his
high-flown admiration of the village belle. She was a goddess! She would
become a throne! Apparently acquiescing in his matrimonial project, she
now professed her willingness to receive his bride-elect. Accordingly,
she sent her own milliner - mantua-maker - what you will, - to array her in
the complete toilette of a lady of fashion. The blushing damsel appeared
in the most elegant attire, and took her place in the maternal
drawing-room, amongst the sisters of the enraptured lover. Alas!
enraptured no more! The rustic beauty, where could it have flown? The
belle of the village was transformed into a very awkward young lady.
Goddess! - She was a simpleton. Become a throne! - She could not sit upon
a chair. The charm was broken. The application we need hardly make.
There may be certain uncultivated men of genius on whom it is possible
to practise a like malicious kindness.

We would rather preface our notice of the life and works of Andersen, by
a motto taken from our own countryman Blake, artist and poet, and a man
of somewhat kindred nature: - [2]

"Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me -

'Pipe a song about a lamb;'
So I piped with merry cheer.
'Piper, pipe that song again! - '
So I piped - he wept to hear.

'Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe,
Sing thy songs of happy cheer - '
So I sang the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

'Piper, sit thee down and _write_,
In a book that all may read.'
Then he vanished from my sight;
And I plucked a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs,
Every child may joy to hear."

Such was the form under which the muse may be said to have visited and
inspired Andersen. He ought to have been exclusively the poet of
children and of childhood. He ought never to have seen, or dreamed, of
an Apollo six feet high, looking sublime, and sending forth dreadful
arrows from the far-resounding bow; he should have looked only to that
"child upon the cloud," or rather, he should have seen his little muse
as she walks upon the earth - we have her in Gainsborough's picture - with
her tattered petticoat, and her bare feet, and her broken pitcher, but
looking withal with such a sweet sad contentedness upon the world, that
surely, one thinks, she must have filled that pitcher and drawn the
water which she carries - without, however, knowing any thing of the
matter - from the very well where Truth lies hidden.

We should like to quote at once, before proceeding further, one of
Andersen's tales for children. We _will_ venture upon an extract. It
will at all events be new to our readers, and will be more likely to
interest them in the history of its author than any quotation we could
make from his more ambitious works. Besides, the story we select will
somewhat foreshadow the real history which follows.

A highly respectable matronly duck introduces into the poultry-yard a
brood which she has just hatched. She has had a deal of trouble with one
egg, much larger than the rest, and which after all produced a very
"ugly duck," who gives the name, and is the hero of the story.

"'So, we are to have this tribe, too!' said the other ducks, 'as if
there were not enough of us already! And only look how ugly one is!
we won't suffer that one here.' And immediately a duck flew at it,
and bit it in the neck.

"'Let it alone,' said the mother; 'it does no one any harm.'

"'Yes, but it is so large and strange looking, and therefore it
must be teased.'

"'These are fine children that the mother has!' said an old duck,
who belonged to the noblesse, and wore a red rag round its leg.
'All handsome, except one; it has not turned out well. I wish she
could change it.'

"'That can't be done, your grace,' said the mother; 'besides, if it
is not exactly pretty, it is a sweet child, and swims as well as
the others, even a little better. I think in growing it will
improve. It was long in the egg, and that's the reason it is a
little awkward.'

"'The others are nice little things,' said the old duck: 'now make
yourself quite at home here.'

"And so they did. But the poor young duck that had come last out of
the shell, and looked so ugly, was bitten, and pecked, and teased
by ducks and fowls. 'It's so large!' said they all; and the
turkey-cock, that had spurs on when he came into the world, and
therefore fancied himself an emperor, strutted about like a ship
under full sail, went straight up to it, gobbled, and got quite
red. The poor little duck hardly knew where to go, or where to
stand, it was so sorrowful because it was so ugly, and the ridicule
of the whole poultry-yard.

"Thus passed the first day, and afterwards it grew worse and worse.
The poor duck was hunted about by every one; its brothers and
sisters were cross to it, and always said, 'I wish the cat would
get you, you frightful creature!' and even its mother said, 'Would
you were far from here!' And the ducks bit it, and the hens pecked
at it, and the girl that fed the poultry kicked it with her foot.
So it ran and flew over the hedge.

"On it ran. At last it came to a great moor where wild-ducks lived;
here it lay the whole night, and was so tired and melancholy. In
the morning up flew the wild-ducks, and saw their new comrade; 'Who
are you?' asked they; and our little duck turned on every side, and
bowed as well as it could. 'But you are tremendously ugly!' said
the wild-ducks. 'However, that is of no consequence to us, if you
don't marry into our family.' The poor thing! It certainly never
thought of marrying; it only wanted permission to lie among the
reeds, and to drink the water of the marsh.

"'Bang! bang!' was heard at this moment, and several wild-ducks lay
dead amongst the reeds, and the water was as red as blood. There
was a great shooting excursion. The sportsmen lay all round the
moor; and the blue smoke floated like a cloud through the dark
trees, and sank down to the very water; and the dogs spattered
about in the marsh - splash! splash! reeds and rushes were waving on
all sides; it was a terrible fright for the poor duck.

"At last all was quiet; but the poor little thing did not yet dare
to lift up its head; it waited many hours before it looked round,
and then hastened away from the moor as quickly as possible. It ran
over the fields and meadows, and there was such a wind that it
could hardly get along.

"Towards evening, the duck reached a little hut. Here dwelt an old
woman with her tom-cat and her hen; and the cat could put up its
back and purr, and the hen could lay eggs, and the old woman loved
them both as her very children. For certain reasons of her own, she
let the duck in to live with them.

"Now the tom-cat was master in the house, and the hen was mistress;
and they always said, 'We and the world.' That the duck should
have any opinion of its own, they never would allow.

"'Can you lay eggs?' asked the hen.


"'Well, then, hold your tongue.'

"Can you put up your back and purr?' said the tom-cat.


"'Well, then, you ought to have no opinion of your own, where
sensible people are speaking.'

"And the duck sat in the corner, and was very sad; when suddenly it
took it into its head to think of the fresh air and the sunshine;
and it had such an inordinate longing to swim on the water, that it
could not help telling the hen of it.

"'What next, I wonder!' said the hen, 'you have nothing to do, and
so you sit brooding over such fancies. Lay eggs, or purr, and
you'll forget them.'

"'But it is so delightful to swim on the water!' said the duck - 'so
delightful when it dashes over one's head, and one dives down to
the very bottom.'

"'Well, that must be a fine pleasure!' said the hen. 'You are
crazy, I think. Ask the cat, who is the cleverest man I know, if he
would like to swim on the water, or perhaps to dive, to say nothing
of myself. Ask our mistress, the old lady, and there is no one in
the world cleverer than she is; do you think that she would much
like to swim on the water, and for the water to dash over her

"'You don't understand me,' said the duck.

"'Understand, indeed! If we don't understand you, who should? I
suppose you won't pretend to be cleverer than the tom-cat, or our
mistress, to say nothing of myself? Don't behave in that way,
child; but be thankful for all the kindness that has been shown
you. Have you not got into a warm room, and have you not the
society of persons from whom something is to be learnt? But you are
a blockhead, and it is tiresome to have to do with you. You may
believe what I say; I am well disposed towards you; I tell you what
is disagreeable, and it is by that one recognises one's true

"'I think I shall go into the wide world,' said the duckling.

"'Well then, go!' answered the hen.

"And so the duck went. It swam on the water, it dived down; but was
disregarded by every animal on account of its ugliness.

"One evening - the sun was setting most magnificently - there came a
whole flock of large beautiful birds out of the bushes; never had
the duck seen any thing so beautiful. They were of a brilliant
white, with long slender necks: they were swans. They uttered a
strange note, spread their superb long wings, and flew away from
the cold countries (for the winter was setting in) to warmer lands
and unfrozen lakes. They mounted so high, so very high! The little
ugly duck felt indescribably - it turned round in the water like a
mill-wheel, stretched out its neck towards them, and uttered a cry
so loud and strange that it was afraid even of itself. Oh, the
beautiful birds! the happy birds! it could not forget them; and
when it could see them no longer, it dived down to the very bottom
of the water; and when it came up again it was quite beside itself.

"And now it became so cold! But it would be too sad to relate all
the suffering and misery which the duckling had to endure through
the hard winter. It lay on the moor in the rushes. But when the sun
began to shine again more warmly, when the larks sang, and the
lovely spring was come, then, all at once it spread out its wings,
and rose in the air. They made a rushing noise louder than
formerly, and bore it onwards more vigorously; and before it was
well aware of it, it found itself in a garden, where the
apple-trees were in blossom, and where the syringas sent forth
their fragrance, and their long green branches hung down in the
clear stream. Just then three beautiful white swans came out of the
thicket. They rustled their feathers, and swam on the water so
lightly - oh! so very lightly! The duckling knew the superb
creatures, and was seized with a strange feeling of sadness.

"'To them will I fly!' said it, 'to the royal birds. Though they
kill me, I must fly to them!' And it flew into the water, and swam
to the magnificent birds, that looked at, and with rustling plumes,
sailed towards it.

"'Kill me!' said the poor creature, and bowed down its head to the
water, and awaited death. But what did it see in the water? It saw
beneath it its own likeness; but no longer that of an awkward
grayish bird, ugly and displeasing - it was the figure of a swan.

"It is of no consequence being born in a farm-yard, if only it is
in a swan's egg.

"The large swans swam beside it, and stroked it with their bills.
There were little children running about in the garden; they threw
bread into the water, and the youngest cried out, 'There is a new
one!' And the other children shouted too; 'Yes, a new one is
come!' - and they clapped their hands and danced, and ran to tell
their father and mother. And they threw bread and cake into the
water; and every one said, 'The new one is the best! so young, and
so beautiful!'

"Then the young one felt quite ashamed, and hid its head under its
wing; it knew not what to do: it was too happy, but yet not
proud - for a good heart is never proud. It remembered how it had
been persecuted and derided, and now it heard all say it was the
most beautiful of birds. And the syringas bent down their branches
to it in the water, and the sun shone so lovely and so warm. Then
it shook its plumes, the slender neck was lifted up, and, from its
very heart, it cried rejoicingly - 'Never dreamed I of such
happiness when I was the little ugly duck!'"

It is not only in writing for children that our author succeeds; but
whenever childhood crosses his path, it calls up a true pathos, and the
playful tenderness of his nature. The commencement of his serious
novels, where he treats of the infancy and boyhood of his heroes, is
always interesting. Amongst the translated works of Andersen is one
entitled "A Picture-Book without Pictures." The author describes himself
as inhabiting a solitary garret in a large town, where no one knew him,
and no friendly face greeted him. One evening, however, he stands at the
open casement, and suddenly beholds "the face of an old friend - a round,
kind face, looking down on him. It was the moon - the dear old moon! with
the same unaltered gleam, just as she appeared when, through the
branches of the willows, she used to shine upon him as he sat on the
mossy bank beside the river." The moon becomes very sociable, and breaks
that long silence which poets have so often celebrated - breaks it, we
must confess, to very little purpose. "Sketch what I relate to you,"
says the moon, "and you will have a pretty picture-book." And
accordingly, every visit, she tells him "of one thing or another that
she has seen during the past night." One would think that such a
sketch-book, or album, as we have here, might easily have been put
together without calling in the aid of so sublime a personage. But
amongst the pictures that are presented to us, two or three, where the
moon has had her eye upon children in their sports or their distresses,
took hold of our fancy. Here Andersen is immediately at home. We give
one short extract.

"It was but yesternight (said the moon) that I peeped into a small
court-yard, enclosed by houses: there was a hen with eleven
chickens. A pretty little girl was skipping about. The hen chicked,
and, affrighted, spread out her wings over her little ones. Then
came the maiden's father, and chid the child; and I passed on,
without thinking more of it at the moment.

"This evening - but a few minutes ago - I again peeped into the same
yard. All was silent; but soon the little maiden came. She crept
cautiously to the hen-house, lifted the latch, and stole gently up
to the hen and the chickens. The hen chicked aloud, and they all

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