Have you ever felt slightly uncomfortable at a party where you didn’t know very many of the other guests?
Have you ever told someone “Oh, I’d hate to impose,” then stayed for dinner but felt like you’d done something wrong?
Put your fears and self-doubts to rest: you are a better and a kinder visitor than Hans Christian Andersen ever was, and Charles Dickens would almost certainly never have immortalized you as a greasy ginger snake in a work of classic literature.
They met at a party in 1847 and got along pleasantly enough. Charles complimented Andersen’s work and Andersen did the same. Afterwards they struck up on occasional correspondence and things rather trundled along nicely in the world of literary English-Scandinavian relations.
A cordial correspondence developed between the two and Andersen returned to England for a fortnight as Dickens’s guest at Gad’s Hill in the summer of 1857. Before his arrival, Andersen had written to Dickens, promising: “I shall not inconvenience you too much.”
Sometimes we have friends who, when we say to them, Let’s really get together sometime soon, it’s been much too long, we truly mean it. Sometimes we have let time slip away and have failed to set a date to renew a friendship that truly means a great deal to us.
Sometimes, we have friends with whom Let’s get together soon, you really ought to come by sometime is a polite way of saying I wish you no particular ill; these are the words we say to one another when we meet, but they are words without meaning and without promise.
The Danish man of letters, a tall, gaunt and rather ungainly character stayed for five weeks.
Dickens dropped polite hints that he should leave. After he finally left, Dickens wrote on the mirror in the guestroom: “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES!”
Dealer David Brass, who is bringing the volume to the fair, said: “To Andersen, the visit was a timeless Elysium, a holiday, a fairytale come true.”
To the Dickens family it was eternal torment. Dickens’s daughter, Kate, would later recall that Andersen “was a bony bore, and stayed on and on”.
He was, she added, “a social blockhead. Andersen never quite understood why Dickens ceased to answer any of his letters”.
Do you live in fear of being the kind of person who invites a social blockhead to your house and cannot get rid of them for five weeks? Or do you live in fear of being the kind of person who accepts an invitation that was not sincerely meant and overstaying your welcome without ever realizing you have made yourself ridiculous? I fear the latter much more; I cannot imagine staying more than twice as long as promised in someone else’s house. How many guest towels he must have gone through. How much of the jars of marmalade that Cook had set aside specially for Mrs. Dickens, who loved a bit of marmalade at Christmastime, must he have gone through during his sad-eyed breakfasts. It must have been like having Eeyore as a houseguest.
Charles Dickens Writes To Hans Christian Andersen
you’ll have to come and see us if you’re ever in town
do you mean it
do you really mean it
you can’t possibly mean it
not for a sad-eyed friendless old wandering willow like me
of course, stop by anytime
I’LL BE THERE TOMORROW
well don’t put yourself out
when my best friend asks me to share his bed
nothing in the world will keep me from flying to his side
well i wouldn’t say i’m —
it will be nice to see you again
what pajamas do you wear
send me a drawing of your pajamas so i can be sure to get a pair to match
i don’t —
what am i saying
of course we’ll go pajama shopping together
Hans Settles In
are you awake
what time is it
i don’t know
i can’t sleep
try to get some sleep
what if a duck was sad
i don’t know
what if a pine tree were lonely
i’m sure pine trees have lots of other pine tree friends
what if this one didn’t
what if all the other pine trees were cruel to him and then he was chopped down and made into firewood
or the cross that Christ was murdered on
i don’t think they made crosses out of pine trees
what if a serving-ladle fell in love with a snuff-box but they could never touch each other
do you think
that maybe this could wait
yes of course
how rude of me
it’s all right
i’ll come in and get in bed with you and Mrs. Dickens and that way i can ask you in person once you’re properly awake
please don’t do that
oh i don’t mind
The Dickens Family Plays The Waiting Game
Hans, it’s Charles
are you going to come out of your room today, do you think?
the maids would like very much to tidy it
the candles are sad
in this room
they look so sad
is that why you haven’t come out?
they seem so lonely, Charles
i’m sure they’re not lonely
you’re just saying that because they’re so brave
the candles need me, Charles
can i at least send the maids in to clean the room
while you stay with the candles
Wherein Hints Are Dropped
Hans, I’ve left a train schedule on your bed
it’s so you can see when all the trains are leaving
oh how fascinating
I thought it might be useful
I’ve always thought trains seemed very sad
yes, they probably are
what are you doing this afternoon
well I was going to go into town and see my a–
let’s go look at the trains
and talk to them
and pet their heaving metal bellies
and comfort their chained spirits
oh i’d just love to, Hans
but i’m on a deadline
i’m going to go smoke on the roof for three days then
and i’m taking all the towels with me
i’m so glad we’re best friends and you just understand what i need
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.