”Thank You for the Letters You Sent Me…”

By Curator Ane Grum-Schwensen

In 2005 The Hans Christian Andersen Museum had the good fortune to obtain several interesting letters from the poet. Most important are nine letters from 1868 written by Hans Christian Andersen to the Melchior family.

Hans Christian Andersen, calling card, 1868.

The letters were originally up for bid at Arne Bruun Rasmussen's auction April 19 2005 where the museum bid on two letters to Jonna Stampe and Michael Gjørup, respectively. However, that day the museum was unable to acquire this collection of Melchior letters. But through the kind help from The Danish Commission on Export of Cultural Assets and from The Heritage Agency of Denmark we were able to keep the nine letters in the country and add even more to the museum’s copious and abundant collection of letters mainly to the mistress of the house, Dorothea Melchior.

The museum’s collection of Melchior letters are so extensive that former chief curator, Niels Oxenvad wrote a large volume about this correspondence. The collection consists of almost 150 letters written between 1862 and 1875.

Back of calling card.

From the year 1868 we now have twenty-seven Melchior letters - mainly from the summer period. These nine newly acquired letters fill in holes from exactly that period.



Hans Christian Andersen and the Melchior family

Sisters-in-laws, Therese Henriques (1833-82), front and Dorothea Melchior (1823-85). Circa 1860. When Andersen read out loud to the family they often podded peas – hence the apron.

The poet's letters are mainly to Dorothea Melchior, née Henriques (1823-85). [1] It was through her brother, stockbroker Martin Henriques and his wife, Therese that Hans Christian Andersen became acquainted with the Melchior-family. Therese Henriques had a talent for music and their home in Tordenskjoldsgade was a gathering place for Danish and foreign singers, musicians and composers. The poet started frequenting the Melchior home by the end of the 1850s and the relation soon develop into a deep friendship: Dorothea was the last of Hans Christian Andersen’s close and caring female friends.

April 2 1860 the poet wrote about Dorothea Melchior in his almanac: In a listing of received presents were ”… Paper cutting made by Mrs Melchior…”. But already in May 1859 Hans Christian Andersen thanks Dorothea for an embroidered letter portfolio.[2]

In 1846 Dorothea married her cousin Moritz Gerson Melchior (1816-84). A very industrious businessman who managed the most prestigious commercial houses in Copenhagen for forty years. He was also Chairman of The Jewish Religious Community and a member of many Commissions. Moritz and Dorothea's private residence at Højbro Plads no. 21 in Copenhagen was the rallying point for both family and a large circle of artists, to name but a few: writer Carl Bloch, writer and director Robert Watt – and of course Hans Christian Andersen.

Dorothea Melchior                                       Moritz Melchior

Dorothea and Moritz called him Andersen, and as time went by he became a regular guest in their home both in the city and at their country house ‘Rolighed’ - presently located at Gl. Kalkbrænderivej on Østerbro in Copenhagen. ‘Rolighed’ became the poet's ”Home of homes” when the usual gathering place in Amaliegade was dissolved after the death of Jonas Collin in 1861. The poet’s last fairy tale collection[3] from 1872 starts with a dedicated poem:

”My Home in the home, behind the elderflower
Gave sunshine to my life and made my harp ring,
I am grateful to you and bring you my song!”

Hans Christian Andersen felt completely at home there and named himself ”Son of the House”. Every Thursday he visited the family - when he was not travelling, as he indeed was during summer 1868.


1868: Summer journey

The recently acquired letters cover the time from May 9 – August 18 1868. The first was sent from Gent in Belgium fourteen days after Hans Christian Andersen went travelling abroad for his 26th. time; this time via Holland, Belgium and France to Switzerland and home through Germany. A poet most accustomed to travelling writes home recounting in details about the first weeks. First week at Georg Brandt in Amsterdam:

”…one evening Mr. Georg Brandt gathered a most chosen circle; the poet Ten Kate[4] who so splendidly has produced many verses from my fairy tales, read some of them to the crowd.”

Letters from 1868.









In 1869 Andersen received a copy of Ten Kate’s verified translation with a dedication from the translator. This copy is now on display in the library at The Hans Christian Andersen Museum.

From Gent the journey continued to Paris, where Hans Christian Andersen stayed for one week before leaving for Dijon, Neuchâtel, Lausanne then Genèva, where he spent a few weeks as Jules Jürgensen’s guest.

Hans Christian Andersen had been in Switzerland nine times before.  The first time in 1833 where he was captivated by ” enchanting Switzerland” and became close friends with the clock-and-watchmaker family Houriet-Jürgensen in Le Locle. Andersen felt at home in Switzerland among these friendly people which is most likely why he returned so many times to this mountainous country. He later visited all the ‘tourist areas’ in the country and made friends in both Basel, Brunnen and Genova.

Whenever Hans Christian Andersen was travelling it was not inasmuch the destination itself that was important for the poet – since he hardly ever travelled from A to B but rather in circular routes; all visits had their own meaning and travelling was the purpose. The majority of these letters are about Andersen’s returning trip from Switzerland.

They are mostly travel diaries, that tell us about occurrences large and small, persons he met and the fairy tales he wrote. A key aspect is a tale of suffering, which tormented him all summer long.


”Do Tell Them What a Humpty Dumpty I Am”

The tale of woe starts June 8 when Hans Christian Andersen struck his shin on a wooden trunk in the German town Bad Ems. His first reaction was total equanimity as he writes the following day in the dairy:

Israel B. Melchior (1827-93) Moritz’ younger brother. A famous amateur photographer who took many photos of Andersen.

”… in the middle of the hall was a trunk and my shin was hurt so much that quite a large piece of skin came off; I bathe it with drops of »Arnica«… uncertain if I can leave tomorrow. I thank God it was not a greater misfortune – the little lessons He ”teaches” me are nothing in comparison to more grave trials. It’s so painful! —"

The day after a slightly worried but still cheerful poet writes to his female friend at ‘Rolighed’:

”Dear Mrs Melchior!

[…], I have been most unfortunate on this journey – as you know I had a fall at the railway station in Neuchatel and hurt both my knees and elbows but not severely as now here in Ems! I can hear you say: "what is wrong with this person can he not watch out!" I admit I was not careful and thus it was […] someone placed a large wooden trunk in the hall that I walked into and hurt my shin quite badly, there was a lot of blood and I soothed it with Arnica all night – it had been given to me in Switzerland, I did not sleep much as the sore burned badly and I made a bandage for it in the morning and went to visit Mrs Falsen who insisted I saw a doctor before leaving; she also told me not to use Arnica on an open sore and this frightened me somehow as the sore burnt all the time. The doctor came and examined it, he told me to rest for a day and cool it with ice; last night I had a fever and the doctor returned this morning and told me to rest furthermore. Tomorrow he will make a new bandage so I shall be able to travel on if I take good care. […]Do send my regards to your husband and children as well as all my friends. And tell them what a "Humpty Dumpty" I am. …”[5]

Mrs Falsen[6] was most certainly right in her assessment about the use of Arnica drops.  Arnica Montana is according to concurrent sources a flower which may be used in situations such as:

Arnica Montana

”Arnica has been used as a multi remedy - both externally as well as internally. Only recommended for external use and on intact skin, not on so-called open sores, where it may cause inflammation. This flower extract made with spirits (tincture) increases the blood flow and it used in swellings, sprains and rheumatism. Excessive use may cause inflammation and blisters.”[7]

As a curiosity Johann Wolfgang von Goethe treated his angina pectoris with Arnica and claimed that it saved his life. Others, however, believe that the remedy eventually killed him.

The first doctor who examined Andersen had no problem with recommending its use on open sores and thus the poet continued to treat the sores with the drops – something which only added insult to injury, so to speak.

The next four letters are from Hamborg and Altona, where Andersen had to stay for longer due to the pain. The poet was accommodating at banker John Warburg and wife, whom he had met at Melchior’s residence in September 1866. The host and hostess are most kind to their guest and see to that a doctor examines him. They also arrange dinner parties and concerts. June 17 a happy Andersen writes to his female friend: ”Albeit I am being sorely tried, I still am a lucky child,…”

Some days later the poet is impatient and wants to return to Odense : ”[…] but I am not inclined, […]The healing of the shin is very slow.”[8] Letters marked by despondency are later followed by a heartening and grateful one to Mrs Dorothea in which we clearly read how close the two friends were:

”Dearest Mrs Melchior!

Today you granted me yet another letter! And as always a blessed one! How very kind you are! And so loyal to your friends;[…] Thank you so much for the letters you sent me in Odense, I received them all yesterday and even more awaited me. It was a sheer joy to read them! Oh, I do indeed have kind and loyal friends…”

Rolighed, 1868.

In this letter the poet tells about the creation of the fairy tale ”The Court Cards”[9] – and how his writing process typically took place when at home: ”In the last eighteen days I have been a patient; I received a short visit from my Muse yesterday, she told me about "The cards" in a card playing. It is a fairy tale for children; as a tribute to my little friend William[10] the main character is named William. When again back at "Rolighed" my Muse will hopefully grant me a longer and very tranquil visit; whether she comes to me in Odense I do not know.”

Hans Christian Andersen eventually got the doctor’s permission to go home and visit bishop Engelstoft[11] in Odense. On July 3 he sends a short note to Mrs Melchior in which he announces his arrival to Copenhagen and ‘Rolighed’ the following day:”[…] by your kind invitation I shall come directly to "Rolighed", I do so look forward to seeing you all and know that I am welcome; I do hope the leg shall heal soon albeit I am not at all pleased by its appearance, and yet it has now been four weeks since the blow.”[12]

Andersen and family at balcony, 1870.

Upon his homecoming Hans Christian Andersen once again returned to the two rooms that came to his disposal in 1865 at ‘Rolighed’. He stayed for a month and then travelled on to visit the manor houses Holsteinborg and Frijsenborg. From Frijsenborg he sent the last of the nine letters in which Andersen tells that the sufferings are almost over: ”Civil servant Ditzel examined my shin and thinks it shall heal itself, the last discomfort is merely caused by this strong heat…”[13]

However, this experience did not make Andersen abstain from using Arnica again. This panacea may have been soothing in most cases but when the poet in 1872 – then in Innsbruck - once more tried to treat sores with the remedy, the sufferings returned.


”A Most Chosen Circle…”

The last letter to Dorothea Melchior.

These nine letters is a testimony of Hans Christian Andersen's travels in Europe. They tell us about everyday life and irksome vexations, something one mostly only share with close friends.

It is obvious that Hans Christian Andersen's letters to Mrs Melchior inspired him as the confidential correspondence partner she was. He was always looking forward to receiving her letters and enjoyed being able to tell her about his experiences. The letters are often characterized by a cheerful and humorous approach to the journey’s happenings, but the poet never hides when he feels down and something is bothering him. Occurrences and experiences that took place in everyday life are more concise and relatively matter-of-factly described but they got body and soul when he wrote to Dorothea.

Deathbed, Rolighed, August 4 1875.

The letters are an important source to understanding the final years of the poet's life, social relations and production. They most certainly constitute of a most chosen circle. We owe great thanks to The Heritage Agency, which ensured that these letters concluded their journey in Danish public possession.


[1] A brief note from Holsteinsborg, August 14 1868 is for Hr. Melchior.

[2] Letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Dorothea Melchior, May 30 1859. Transcript at  the Royal Library.

[3] Poem of dedication in New Tales and Stories, 1872.

[4] Jan Jakob Lodewijk ten Kate (1819-89): Dutch writer, priest and translater. He wrote some religious poems as well as legends and fairy tales.

[5] Letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Dorothea Melchior, Ems June 10 1868.

[6] Jørgine Elisabeth de Falsen, née Rosenkrantz (1799-1869). Widow after rear-admiral Jørgen Conrad de Falsen. Spent time at a health resort in Bad Ems at the same time as Hans Christian Andersen.

[7] Source: www.dsgnet.dk. Morten Arnika(!) Skydsgaard from Steno Museem in Århus says: ”It may have been wrong that Andersen used it in the treatment, although the orthodox treatment was more multifarious at that time.”

[8] Letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Dorothea Melchior, Altona June 24 1868.

[9] ”The Court Cards” was published in English as  - ”The Court Cards” in Riverside Magazine, January 1869.

[10] William Melchior, Dorothea’s seven-year-old grandson died in November that year. Andersen wrote a commemorative poem, ”Little William” (Then you flew to an unknown place …”). No less than three of Dorothea and Moritz’ children and five of their grandchildren died before the age of thirty.

[11] Christian Thorning Engelstoft (1805-89), bishop over the Funen Diocese, 1852-89.

[12] Letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Dorothea Melchior, Odense Juli 3 1868.

[13]  Letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Dorothea Melchior, Frijsenborg,  Århus August 18 1868.



Odense City Museums
Overgade 48
DK-5000 Odense C
Tel +45 6551 4601
CVR: 39156040
EAN: 5790002433825


Get updated with news and offers (Only available in danish)
Sign Up