May We Be on Familiar Terms
The Friendship Between Andersen and Edvard Collin.
By Senior Curator Ejnar Stig Askgaard
Shortly before his death in 1922 famous actor, writer and graphologist Johannes Marer entertained the readers of Nationaltidende about his personal encounters with H.C. Andersen. The many anecdotes were marked by a certain distance, a somewhat reserved attitude to the behaviour and conduct of the poet; we also meet the same neutrality in Edvard Collin's book about his friend, H.C. Andersen og det Collinske Huus from 1882. Johannes Marer was related to the Collin family, his uncle was brother-in-law to Edvard Collin.
Johannes Marer spent many of his childhood years in Dronningens Tværgade nr. 19, where Theodor Collin resided at the ground floor, Edvard and Henriette Collin on the first floor, and architect, Tybjerg - brother of Henriette Collin - married to Marer's aunt Caroline lived on the second floor. H.C. Andersen was a frequent guest in this small "family hotel", and Marer recounted about a certain incident taking place in 1874:
"I had, as well as many others, wondered about what Andersen exactly meant by "The Shadow" ... I often pondered about it as a boy and when I meet Andersen one day it suddenly struck me to ask him myself. I went towards him; he looked down at me with slight contempt. But then asked in a kind voice what I was searching for: - What do you want? - I should really like to know ... then my mouth jammed and I plucked up all my courage and asked: - Who is "The Shadow"? A great smile appeared on Andersen's face. - The Shadow, he said, where upon he turned around and discretely pointed at department of state [Edvard] Collin, who stood by the piano going through some musical notes: - Is over there!"
"The Shadow" is a masterpiece, not only is its completion magnificent; the wording and the psychological drama is thoroughly exposed in a cruel, symbolic and allegorical mosaic. Andersen bares his teeth in "The Shadow", every nerve is strained; modernism is almost anticipated.
The idea was born during a heat wave in Naples 1846. At this time H.C. Andersen was travelling and had just entered an alliance with publisher Lorck in Leipzig concerning Andersen's entire work. It was a huge recognition of his literary genius from the German-speaking audience; the poet approached the highlight of his career, but the very same audience also expected an autobiography to be published along with volume one. Thus during his stay in Rome Andersen commenced the autobiography far away from personal papers with a remembrance most strong and a memory with the usual eye for details.
It was hardly the happiest of feelings that emerged during his Italian summer. He had to weigh and measure everything carefully to, at least, add some poetic value. He had dedicated his existence to art, given up a personal family life; loneliness was his travelling companion and he had struggled so hard since he was fifteen. There had been humiliating experiences, harsh words and criticism all of which had made him insecure as a human being and writer. He wanted to write everything down and make some sense of it all.
H.C. Andersen wrote about his poor background and how any hope of a brighter future seemed almost impossible. He continued to describe his travel to Copenhagen as a soldier of fortune and how he, despite all misery, still became a lucky devil, made friends and gained confidence, received an education and settled down as a writer. He wrote about his increasing success, his love of art, the need to meet and establish contact to other artists in Denmark and abroad and he described the fruits reaped from those experiences - both sweet and bitter. Acknowledgement and disrespect seem to go hand in hand in both Denmark and abroad - and yet it was not so. But Andersen was right when he said that he received more recognition abroad than in Denmark. The German autobiography ends: Exile,"Vernet (Pyrenées orientales) July 1846".
But he was not happy: It was vital for Andersen and his career to receive favours. In 1846 he was very lucky in that respect; a contract waited in Germany along with appreciation. Since he was a child he had received favours from different families and made friends with older men and women who had been parental role models to him, he called them his "sisters" and "brothers" - but none of these persons, "were blood related to me and therefore not by nature bound to love me"1 - he sensed the distance. H.C. Andersen was still a lonely person who needed close friendships.
It was while working on his autobiography that Andersen got the idea to "The Shadow". The fairy tale has troubled quite a lot of Andersen scholars, all eager to decode it and add sense to it. The reason why it has appealed to so many is most likely because it is unresolved and offers no reliance at all.
It does seem like a paradox, that Andersen captured the idea, as he was writing his autobiography, which was supposed to make some sense of his life. A feasible reason could be that whilst the poet was describing his professional career in the autobiography, he presented it as a caricature in a fairy tale in order to show the human costs a poet had to pay: The wish for immortality - as an artist - on behalf of a personal family life. This dilemma splits the learned man in two: being vs. shadow, noble vs. mean, and yet the opposite: nothing vs. shadow; in the end the learned man is destroyed by his own shadow.
A stylish trick is adopted, in which the association related to the learned man is projected and finally disclaimed. There is no noble cause and the shadow is nothing but mean yet wins it all - if nothing is anything to 'win'. The injustice remains unresolved. The tale is unable to let justice win although it is in this genre that we often encounter poetic justice in a miraculous manner. "The Shadow" offers no such relief. Injustice conquers noble intend: "Do you want to read the story again? - It will still be the same ", H.C. Andersen writes in the tale about the snail and the rose bush. It leaves room for speculation about what and who the "The Shadow" is. Johannes Marer was the only one who asked the poet who discretely pointed at Edvard Collin and said: "There he is!"
Andersen and Collin are in the same room and presence; friends and sworn brothers, yet still unknown and distant to the other in a social and emotional context. We immediately recognise the distance and intangible affinity from the tale about the learned man and his shadow, which is being set free in order to 'spy on' poetry. Many years later when The Shadow has 'grown', it seeks out its "master" for a friendly talk. The Shadow meets its old master on his way to the baths. This is the turning point:
"One day the master said to the shadow, "We have grown up together from our childhood, and now that we have become travelling companions, shall we not drink to our good fellowship, and say thee and thou to each other?" "What you say is very straightforward and kindly meant," said the shadow, who was now really master. "I will be equally kind and straightforward. You are a learned man, and know how wonderful human nature is. There are some men who cannot endure the smell of brown paper; it makes them ill. Others will feel a shuddering sensation to their very marrow, if a nail is scratched on a pane of glass. I myself have a similar kind of feeling when I hear any one say thou to me. I feel crushed by it, as I used to feel in my former position with you. You will perceive that this is a matter of feeling, not pride. I cannot allow you to say thou to me; I will gladly say it to you, and therefore your wish will be half fulfilled." Then the shadow addressed his former master as thou."
The motive was not Andersen's idea. Stories about shadows are as old a mankind and H.C. Andersen pointed directly at a specific writer: Chamisso and his Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (The Wondrous Tales of Peter Schlemihl) , in which the key figure sells his soul to the Devil to get his hands on Fortunatu's purse.
H.C. Andersen actually knew Adelbert von Chamisso. On his first long trip abroad in 1831 a meeting with the great German author was one of the poet's aims and wishes. H.C. Ørsted forwarded a letter of introduktion on behalf of the famous poet. Chamisso kindly received him and introduced Andersen to his circles in Berlin. H.C. Andersen gave Chamisso a copy of Digte (Poems) and within a year Chamisso translated and published some of them and even included a part of them in his own Gedichte, (Poems) 1834. The first meeting with Chamisso took place June 12 1831. The dairy notes:
"Chamisso was a tall, strong and slim man wearing a dark coat, his hair grey and his face good-natured; he reminded me of a hermit from the desert with a large crowd of children. Chamisso thought the world was too busy to read poetry, the world acted!"
Sixty-year old Chamisso did not look lightly on poetry as a living; when departing with Andersen, he presented him with a small poem in which Chamisso's view is aired: "The world acts and no one lends his ear to poetry."
We encounter this view in The Shadow: " "Ah!" said the learned man; "I am writing about the true, the beautiful, and the good; but no one cares to hear anything about it. I am quite in despair, for I take it to heart very much. "That is what I never do," said the shadow; "I am growing quite fat and stout, which every one ought to be. You do not understand the world' ".
Why such bitterness expressed via Chamisso and what part did Edvard Collin play therein? The answer lies in the dairy, same date where H.C. Andersen met Chamisso: "At Freund I came across a letter from Eduard; I looked up Horn and Chamisso". The reader must pay attention to the letter from Edvard.
When H.C. Andersen began his first long trip abroad May 16 1831, he had met Riborg Voigt the previous summer and fallen hard in love with her - although he later learned she was engaged to be married. Despite the sad news a bold H.C. Andersen wrote her a letter in which he proposed to her and declared:
"You could make me become anyone! I will work and do anything you and your parents demand of me! You are my only thought...everything to me..."
His love was without hope and future. The romantically poet suffered terribly during autumn and winter 1830/31 and even had to face ridicule in the newly published and extremely popular - and anonymous - book Gjengangerbreve (Ghost Letters).
Riborg married April 27 1831. Andersen felt such grief and intense love that he two years after the event noted: "(A wednesday). 1831. The wedding."
Andersen embarked upon his first journey abroad two weeks after Riborg's wedding. He sent his first "carrier pigeon" to Edvard from Hamburg:
"This trip will do me a world of good, no matter how short it is I so need the taking out of myself, in order not to become a dreadfully monotonous poet; I almost fell in that trap. I daresay, you have sensed how bad my mood has been this winter - I almost confided in you twice - I'm sorry but I cannot help myself. I chose not to as I feared you would not understand it fully. Please do not think that Ghost Letters are the reason - nor is the hardness of the recensent ..."
H.C. Andersen needed to share his agony with a close friend, but such intimate conduct was not considered proper behaviour in his day and age. A certain distance among freinds was required. The letter continues:
"Of all people I consider you to be my true friend in all matters, please never cease to be that, dear Collin, I truly need to lend your ear ... since we are of the same age, I feel I can confide in you. I have another favour to ask, you might laugh now, but I should be very happy and take it as a sign of esteem - if deserved - please do not get angry! - please address me in a familiar manner! I would never dare to ask you in person but I am asking you now that I am away, if you are against it then please do not ever mention it and I will never again bring up the subject! When I get your next letter I shall see if you have obliged me, indeed I shall drink a toast to you with all my heart. - Are you angry? - You would never believe how anxious it makes me to bring this request forth- even where you are not present. Enough about this now.-"
H.C. Andersen posted his letter May 24 from Braunschweig, and Edvard received it but four days later when he had already started a letter to Andersen:
"You ask if I have noticed your mood last winter, and I have. I have not been expecting to know the reason why. I assume the nature of the secret is of a certain disposition; please do not think I shall encourage you to confide in me, I trust you will know if this is the right decision. Some secrets are better kept to oneself, their nature is too delicate and not meant for others. But do rest assured that if your dole were too heavy, then you would find a true friend in me who would console you - not with reasons but with compassion. To the best of my knowledge I know you are aware of this".
Edvard Collins kindly writes in his letter of reply, where as the following must have been more than disappointing:
"I have reached the point in your letter...how can I put it, dear friend - reasons will not convince you as this is not the time or place for reasons, but you must believe me as a friend when I say that I have a side to my nature that I truly shall display for you. It is the only way to avoid misunderstandings - I fear them so. I wish to display my disposition regarding being on familiar terms with you; as said, dear Andersen, take my word for it: I am being completely honest! When in merry company with other students etc. one might say: shall we address each other in familiar terms, and I confirm it positively, because I lack a careful consideration in that moment, and I also do not want to insult the asker, albeit I do know that the person now thinks we are more intimate friends; it did happen once that I insulted a young man after such a merry evening where he had asked me to be on familiar terms with him and I afterwards - when having given the matter more mature consideration refused to be so. But although I insulted him I have never had any regrets; and why did I do it? I had known him a fair while and cared for him. Yet something inside me felt it was right to do so, I cannot explain it. We humans have many odd dispositions, I feel a natural detestation - I heard about a woman who detested grey paper she was aching all over when she saw a piece, how can one explain that? And I, when I get the offer from a friend that I care for, I feel inexplicably uncomfortable. Wiborg once told me that Baggesen, with whom he had had a long and close friendship suggesested they addressed each other in familiar terms but Wiborg felt so uncomfortable about this that he began to dislike Baggesen; I want to emphasize that I do not mean the same goes for the two of us, and I do not compare you with Baggesen - as far as I know that man could never be a true friend to anyone - he is far too selfish for that. I only used the familiar tem when I was a boy and in merry company as a student where one did not think twice or was too timid to decline; I believe that I am showing my genuine sincerity and I hope you do not misunderstand me as I have nothing to hide - oh no, Andersen! Please do not misunderstand me! Does our friendship need this change? Is it a way of showing that we indeed are friends? Needless to say it is superfluous; our friendship is of mutual comfort and benefit, is it not? why change its shape - really, it is a triviality; yes, I do admit, I seem a misfit in such matters since it renders me uncomfortable. Indeed it saddens me to say this and maybe it is but an idea or a whim because I swear - by God, I never wished to insult your feelings. So, once more Andersen! why make this change. Let us not bring up the subject again - let us both forget about these lines to each other. When you arrive back home I shall be in Jylland; I shan't see you again until wintertime.-If your suggestion would make me angry? Oh no, never; and I would not misunderstand you, if only you will not misunderstand me either."
Such was the wording in the letter H.C. Andersen received from Edvard in June 1831. The small note in the dairy was a glaring contrast to the bitter humiliation the poet must have felt.
H.C. Andersen was older than Edvard Collin; they were both academics and frequented the same circles. Andersen must have been tremendously hurt by this rejection: on one hand an onlooker might think the poet was quite intrusive since he asked Collin in a letter and not directly, Andersen might have sensed a distance in his friendship with Edvard. A written letter is more binding than the spoken word and H.C. Andersen was given a reason for the rejection.
One certainly wonders when reading Collin's rejection: the reason does not seem genuinely honest. Initially Edvard Collin reassures his friend that he always will be there for him in the time of hardship but it cannot be on intimate, familiar terms. The explanation was very odd indeed, since the ground given is an inner, inborn dislike of being on familiar terms with another person - and it cannot be explained.
According to Edvard Collin the only close, familiar relations he had was derived from either his childhood or when in merry company - or from situations where it was impossible to decline. This diffuse explanation by Collin to Andersen suggests that a close friendship only is possible as long as they are not on intimate, familiar terms: the explanation seems not only unlikely but also untrue.
Edvard's words echoes in the "The Shadow": the ambiguous rejection and false obligation to a genuine friendship:
"You will perceive that this is a matter of feeling, not pride. I cannot allow you to say thou to me; I will gladly say it to you, and therefore your wish will be half fulfilled." Then the shadow addressed his former master as thou."
H.C. Andersen's reaction was noble although he understood the hidden reason behind it:
" - No, I shan't misunderstand you, in fact, I do not feel sorrowful, as you are baring your soul to me; lucky is he who has your character, your whole Self; I dare say: I feel very below you in so many ways! Please do always continue to be my truest - and perhaps - most honest of friends, I truly need one", Andersen responds in an emotional reply from Berlin. In this letter the poet cautiously implies that the rejection is grounded in class differences.
H.C. Andersen most certainly felt wrongfully degraded bearing in mind that he did not write "The Shadow" until 15 years later where the incident was still very much alive in his memory although the motif had been altered poetically. The Shadow was written along the time when the poet was writing his autobiography; a time when one has to strain one's memory to the fullest.
Throughout his life Andersen never forgot the disgrace, and he commented the incident it in his letters.
In a humble fashion:
"You once wrote that it left you cold and inexplicable uncomfortable if someone wished to be on familiar terms with you; you know my outburst was heart-felt, a wish long cherished, but I do not see that I have done anything to make you change your mind about me in a way that I do not wish?" (November 2 1831).
And later in acceptance:
"Yes, I feel it very much now; the two of us will always be good friends although we are not on familiar terms as such, we still are in our hearts and I shall bring you much joy!" (July 3 1832), "Your turning down my proposal left a mark in me, which made me doubt whether you only thought of me as a curious item. My thought was this: in future when having risen to a higher position it would be burdensome for you to be on familiar terms with me, the thought has tormented me for two years now, I refuse to hide it but now I have seen sense and realise how wrongheaded I was - please do not be angry with me!" (April 24 1833).
Thereupon in indignation:
"With the blind trust of a child I offered to be on familiar terms with you and was rejected! I then wept and turned silent, since then it has felt like an open wound but my weakness, my feminine side made me cling to you and allowed me to see so many splendid qualities in you, and I had to like you, and realise that such a small mistake could not ruin the bigger picture.- Eduard, do not misunderstand me! Now it is I that use the expression you so often do!" (September 24 1833),
And eventually a laconic remark with an edge:
"Whether or not we are on familiar terms with one another and whether you shall become prime minister and I merely Mr H.C.: we are friends, as loyal and devoted to the other as friends could ever be..." (June 24 1836),
"You, whom I am not on familiar terms with, when I think about this I find it quite affected, I feel so very opposed to it - but enough about that. You too wanted to be original!" ( July 2 1844),
"... I am your insignificant friend, and you are too above me to address me in a familiar way - even once! - When I become head of department and has a son he shall not be on familiar terms with your Jonas (son of Edvard) - not if you only are deputy head. Nonsense!, you say. A good letter must contain some nonsense!" (April 26 1846),
"... You are too genteel to be on familiar terms with me - ugh! - I am tempted so make the proposition once more: Eduard, let us address each other in a familiar way, and you shall respond as I have let my shadow respond." (June 27 1847).
The strongest letter was to the wife of Edvard Collin, Henriette, written October 1865, which Andersen did not have the heart to send after all. It was found among his posthumous possesions. Excerpts from it:
"Sixteen years ago when I was visiting [Sweden], the Honourable lord [Swedish baron and poet, Beskow], with his many decorations said: "Andersen, let us be on familiar terms. I felt most self-conscious, but obliged him. I shun it, as you may know, your husband refused me, when I - in juvenile friskiness - asked him to address me in a familiar way. It all came back to me in a flash! he rejected me but at the same time he accepted it from the decent Mr stationery trader Wanscher, I have never forgotten...I presume it shall flatter him that I am still writing about it; I had a reminiscence this evening, my relation to Beskow is not as long and deep as to the one with your husband yet we are not on familiar terms. He is still so dear to me as when I first met him as the son of mighty Collin senior and I was poor the Andersen everyone kicked - and spat upon! Why am I writing this! and to you, to whom I would never utter an unkind word, as I cherish you so very much! but when I am soaring in the company of men of high esteem, my past sometimes emerges in a strange manner; I feel void without God, but I also sense how little people think of me and the blessings given to me by our Lord, and it all flares up inside of me."
H.C. Andersen reacted strongly against not being fully accepted. He was not "good" enough; his humble extraction and social position in 1831 was too insignificant, which was why it was not considered proper for a son of the Collin family to be heard on familiar terms with the poet.
Edvard Collin was appalled by the thought of being familiar with Andersen but not with bourgeois son Wilhelm Wanscher. According to H.C. Andersen this differential treatment derived from social reasons. "The World is Lies and Vanity",2 the poet concluded; the spirit contains the true nobility. The learned man in "The Shadow" represents this true nobility yet still he perishes.
All his life H.C. Andersen felt wedged between descent and rank: "Had supper at Mrs. Scavenius' ... the young people ... cheerfully discussed 'riffraff' versus 'students', I felt as if having been submerged into brackish water..."3
The formal friendship between Andersen and Collin tell us a great story about 19th century Denmark; a story about destiny, privileges connected with rank and social 'original sin'. It is the tale about the greatest poet in Denmark, his life long loneliness and "life submerged into brackish water". It is also a tale about feelings difficult to convey from a museological point of view if no objects are present to support; it is no longer the case for us - the museums in Odense - since the Augustinus Fund, in 2006, acquired en interesting specimen with a H.C. Andersen inscription to Edvard Collin. It is from H.C. Andersen's cycle of poems Twelve Months of the Year Drawn in Ink and Pen, published December 1832. On the inside H.C. Andersen wrote:
Eduard, vores venskab er i sig selv Poesie,
Med Formen,- og dog sandt Gehalt deri.
Vi kjende dybt hinandens Sjæl og Tanker,
Vi dele vil hinandens Lyst og Vee,
Og Hjertet trofast imod Hjertet banker,
Mens Læberne udsige Formens "De".
- For Poesien i vort Jordelivs Nu,
Vi takke hist med - Broderkys og Du.
The most devoted of friends
December 15 1832
(Heart-felt poem about the close friendship between Andersen and Collin.)
It is hard to imagine an object more precious to a museum than this inscription. A writer's present in form of a book to a friend and with a poem inside describing the friendship as deep, empathetic and genuine yet with an artificial distance due to the lack of being on familiar terms. In the afterlife, H.C. Andersen writes, a different tone among friends reigns, there one will meet in a brotherly kiss - all are equal on the other side.
1) The Story of my Life, revised by H. Topsøe-Jensen, Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Kbh. 1951; kap. VI, p. 172.
1) H.C. Andersen's journals VI. p. 139; Oct. 14 1864
2) H.C. Andersen's journals VIII, p. 18, February 8 1868
3) The Most Devoted of Friends. H.C. Andersen: Twelve Months of the Year, inscription to Edvard Collin, December 15 1832.