Hans Christian Andersen. (18051875) Tales. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN was born in Odense, Denmark, April 2, 1805. He was the son of a poor cobbler who died when Hans was eleven; and after a meager schooling he went to Copenhagen at the age of fourteen in the hope of finding employment in the theater. Here after much discouragement and hardship he finally found patrons who kept him from starving, and arranged for his regular education at the governments expense. His literary career began in 1829 with his humorous extravaganza, A Journey on Foot from Holm Canal to the East Point of Amager, which was followed by plays, poems, and descriptions of travel, and in 1835 by his first novel, The Improvisatore, which was an immediate success. In the same year he found his real forte in the first volume of his Fairy Tales (Eventyr), but neither he nor the general public recognized this at first. Those critics who condescended to consider them at all were troubled about their lack of clear moral teaching and their colloquial style; but children liked them from the beginning.
While the Tales, added to year by year, were gradually finding their public, Andersen continued his writing of novels in his O. T. and Only a Fiddler; of plays in his Mulatto and many others; of travels in his Authors Bazaar, In Sweden, and In Spain; of poetry in his epic, Ahasuerus, and many lyrics. His reputation spread far beyond Denmark and in the many countries he visited he was enthusiastically received. He died full of honors in August, 1875.
As a man Andersen was vain and sentimental, and he suffered more from his mortified vanity than from his actual hardships. The stories which have made his name a household word he underestimated, and strove after a dramatic success for which he was temperamentally unfitted.
Oddly enough, he was not particularly fond of children, though he had an extraordinary capacity for amusing them; and it was this gift that led a friend to suggest his writing down the stories which he invented for their entertainment. Many of the tales are based on folk-lore, many are purely his own imagining, but all are told with a quaintness, humor, and fancy that have given the author a place by himself in letters.