True Story of My Life

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"How dare you strike me, when God can see it?"

The strong, stern man looked at me, and at once became mild; he patted me on my cheeks, asked me my name, and gave me money.

When I brought this to my mother and showed it her, she said to the others, "He is a strange child, my Hans Christian; everybody is kind to him: this bad fellow even has given him money."

I grew up pious and superstitious. I had no idea of want or need; to be sure my parents had only sufficient to live from day to day, but I at least had plenty of every thing; an old woman altered my father's clothes for me. Now and then I went with my parents to the theatre, where the first representations which I saw were in German. "Das Donauweibchen" was the favorite piece of the whole city; there, however, I saw, for the first time, Holberg's Village Politicians treated as an opera.

The first impression which a theatre and the crowd assembled there made upon me was, at all events, no sign of any thing poetical slumbering in me; for my first exclamation on seeing so many people, was, "Now, if we only had as many casks of butter as there are people here, then I would eat lots of butter!" The theatre, however, soon became my favorite place, but, as I could only very seldom go there, I acquired the friendship of the man who carried out the playbills, and he gave me one every day. With this I seated myself in a corner and imagined an entire play, according to the name of the piece and the characters in it. That was my first, unconscious poetising.

My father's favorite reading was plays and stories, although he also read works of history and the Scriptures. He pondered in silent thought afterwards upon that which he had read, but my mother did not understand him when he talked with her about them, and therefore he grew more and more silent. One day, he closed the Bible with the words, "Christ was a man like us, but an extraordinary man!" These words horrified my mother, and she burst into tears. In my distress I prayed to God that he would forgive this fearful blasphemy in my father. "There is no other devil than that which we have in our own hearts," I heard my father say one day and I made myself miserable about him and his soul; I was therefore entirely of the opinion of my mother and the neighbours, when my father, one morning, found three scratches on his arm, probably occasioned by a nail, that the devil had been to visit him in the night, in order to prove to him that he really existed. My father's rambles in the wood became more frequent; he had no rest. The events of the war in Germany, which he read in the newspapers with eager curiosity, occupied him completely. Napoleon was his hero: his rise from obscurity was the most beautiful example to him. At that time Denmark was in league with France; nothing was talked of but war; my father entered the service as a soldier, in hope of returning home a lieutenant. My mother wept. The neighbours shrugged their shoulders, and said that it was folly to go out to be shot when there was no occasion for it.

The morning on which the corps were to march I heard my father singing and talking merrily, but his heart was deeply agitated; I observed that by the passionate manner in which he kissed me when he took his leave. I lay sick of the measles and alone in the room, when the drums beat and my mother accompanied my father, weeping, to the city gate. As soon as they were gone my old grandmother came in; she looked at me with her mild eyes and said, it would be a good thing if I died; but that God's will was always the best.

That was the first day of real sorrow which I remember.

The regiment advanced no farther than Holstein, peace was concluded, and the voluntary soldier returned to his work-stool. Everything fell into its old course. I played again with my dolls, acted comedies, and always in German, because I had only seen them in this language; but my German was a sort of gibberish which I made up, and in which there occurred only one real German word, and that was "_Besen_," a word which I had picked up out of the various dialects which my father brought home from Holstein.

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