My Dearly Beloved Grand Duke ...
An annotated edition of the correspondence between the Grand Duke Carl Alexander von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach and Hans Christian Andersen is now being prepared and is scheduled to appear in Germany in 1997 (edited by Ivy and Ernst Möller-Christensen).1 The correspondence between Andersen and Carl Alexander in Weimar spans 32 years, with a major gap from 1863 to 1874, and ends with Andersen's death. It comprises 173 letters. The letters from Andersen to Carl Alexander were published by Emil Jonas in Leipzig as early as in 1887; that edition, however, contains several cases of rephrasing, a number of "corrections" and some changes. Some letters and some paragraphs are missing and some dates are incorrect. Therefore, the edition by Jonas is of questionable use for scholars. Quotations from letters by Andersen are normally based on Jonas' edition. Only a few letters from Carl Alexander have as yet been published.
The correspondence is characterized by a high degree of courtesy and reverence, but also by a high degree of emotion. It is of biographical, cultural, historical and literary interest and sheds light primarily on the following aspects, which might perhaps inspire further research:
- The personal relations between the two correspondents - the history of a deep, but also problematical, friendship.
- Hans Christian Andersen's knowledge of German and the manner in which his letters came into being (drafts, translations, stylistic assistance, corrections, linguistic errors).
- The views of the two correspondents on the aesthetics of art and literature.
Another important aspect which I would like to elaborate on is the influence of politics and contemporary events on the relationship between Carl Alexander and Hans Christian Andersen.
The Hereditary Grand Duke Carl Alexander and his wife, Sophie, a princess from the Netherlands, were intimately connected with the court culture of the 19th century. This court culture was anything but provincial; it was, indeed, very international, although it was located in what was probably the seat of the greatest tradition of German culture, where people who had known Goethe and Schiller were still alive. At court, French was the primary language - Carl Alexander's diaries are indeed written in this language; the mother of the Hereditary Grand Duke was a daughter of the Russian Tsar Paul I, and the family also had ties to England. But at the same time, Carl Alexander saw his role as that of a patron of classical German culture, which had reached such great heights in Weimar under the protection of his grandfather, Carl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. This is what Carl Alexander stated very clearly in a letter to Andersen from 5 October 1846, where he said that he felt an obligation to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, and that the "sometimes fairly wild life" that he led because of his work was often a result of both the times and his memories of his grandfather.
It was in this spiritual point of intersection between the regional and the national, the European spirit and the conservative world of the Court that Carl Alexander was placed, but he managed to combine these two influences with a basically spiritual sensitivity. Therefore, it is scarcely surprising that a prince and a personality like Carl Alexander should have taken pains to build up a spiritual centre at Ettersburg. He collected a circle of people, educated men and artists, incessantly communicating with each other, particularly at the soirées, evening gatherings which had a relatively free form. The so-called "Ettersburger Journal", in which texts were privately delivered and later collected at Ettersburg, should be seen in this context.2
For Carl Alexander there was a spiritual community which was above the frontiers and events of everyday politics and had a content and laws of its own. This is the perspective one should use for studying the friendship between the poet Hans Christian Andersen and Carl Alexander the Prince. And Carl Alexander not only regarded the spiritual and artistic space in the way we have just described, he also made visible efforts to keep the political and everyday realities - as well as the usual pinpricks of his position as heir to the throne and later as Grand Duke - apart from his friendship with Andersen. This is evident in the comment by Carl Alexander on the death of King Christian VIII, whom Andersen loved; he wrote that the Monarch had died in "serious times" and that his death made them "even more serious", for the "cup which was almost flowing over in Germany" would now become even fuller.3 But Andersen could be happy, for as a poet beloved by the Muse and recognized by his audience, and as a king in the realm of the imagination, he would find what he sought on earth. Therefore, Carl Alexander asked Andersen to grant him occasional admittance as a guest in the realm of the imagination.
This unwillingness to let the friendship be influenced, let alone determined, by politics in any shape or form was undoubtedly also what Andersen wished, for although it might be argued that in his own humorous, secret and satirical, ironical way Andersen was a critical and political writer, it is certain that he avoided concrete political squabbles as being of relatively low interest. Andersen's royalist feelings and his wish to adapt to authority, indeed to subject himself to it, which was immediately evident, made his relations with Carl Alexander as head of state in a time of rebellion unproblematical. Yet it seemed to be a problem for Andersen that with his lower-class social background, he did not regard himself as good enough to be the friend of a future head of state, but felt himself inferior, and felt the difference in class to be so extensive as to be a hindrance for human love and closeness, although Carl Alexander denied this and indeed never in any way let him feel it in his letters.
In the troubled times surrounding the introduction of democracy, which indeed made themselves very much felt in Thüringen in the 1840's,4 Andersen emphatically sided with the idea of the dukedom; as the man of feeling that he was, he did not reason, but felt moved to express his sympathy for his friend. This is what he wrote on 14 September 1846:
I will do my uttermost to prove myself worthy of you, for I know that the soul that lives and moves within you will send new rays of sunshine over the country that I love as a second fatherland. I will also do everything to encourage love and interest for the place where I have been received as if I were an inhabitant of that country by its Prince and leading men; I want so very much that everyone should love what I love. You, my noble, beloved Grand Duke, are new proof to me of the nobility of man, which is ever more dear to me and in which I must always believe! Because of you I can love and understand what is noble in princes, who are much too severely criticized nowadays.
It is obvious here how Andersen from his patriarchal point of view sees a close connection between social position and ethics in his assessment of the person Carl Alexander, and how this view naturally leads to his sympathy for political restoration.
As Andersen passed through Holstein on his return from his 1846 journey, we hear that, because of the political unrest and the struggle for independence, he had "feared" that the journey might be unpleasant but, as he wrote, he felt "very much at home" and "heard - thank God! - nothing at all about politics" (26 October 1846).
1848 was a year of fundamental upheaval and revolution all over Europe; in Germany the repercussions of the February Revolution in France were felt, and strong social forces were set in motion to achieve a united Germany. The aim was a league of German states led by Prussia. In Schleswig and Holstein - both regions that were duchies of the Danish King - pro-German and national feelings were aroused, and the desire for a free and united Schleswig-Holstein was born. But if Schleswig and Holstein were to remain together, they would both have to go into the German League together (Holstein had, in fact, been a member since 1815), and Denmark would not accept this. The result was the German-Danish War from 1848 to 1850.
Neither Hans Christian Andersen nor Carl Alexander could remain untouched by the movements of the times. For Carl Alexander, everything was in a way at stake, for the revolutionary, democratical tendencies endangered the duchy with which Carl Alexander totally identified himself.
For Andersen the conflict and the war over Schleswig-Holstein
also meant serious problems; complete pacifist as he was, he felt
excessively sorry that his country should be at war with what was to him his
"second homeland". On the other hand, strong national feelings were also
in Andersen, though always of a mild and peaceful character, as is clearly evident from his patriotic songs. But the fact that Andersen was not able to feel at ease in the realm of the imagination, free of all worldly events, is evidenced by a letter to Carl Alexander, which was written on 16 March 1848, i.e. four days before the outbreak of the war, when the Danish King in Copenhagen had rejected the demands of the deputation from Schleswig-Holstein, and a few days after news of the revolution in Paris had reached Denmark:
World history has been written since I last wrote to Your Royal Highness; the great waves are also washing against the Danish shores; these are serious times, I think that it is too petty to talk of myself in such times; meanwhile I cling to the invisible thread binding the fate of the individual to that of the nations; only one cannot be overthrown or changed - God! Everything is politics now; where the armies exercise, the poet, who is only a winegrower, cannot stake his vines.
Andersen asked in this letter - probably rhetorically - "when shall we meet", and concluded with the wish that God would preserve both Denmark and Germany, and with the statement that if people only understood each other better, then love rather than hatred would bloom.
Carl Alexander on his part agreed with Andersen, but asked pessimistically how this could be hoped for, when "the weeds grow up with the wheat and threaten to suppress the latter". People were driven to enmity by egoism and ignorance. Both writers shared a strong conviction that heaven would lead the course of events to their best conclusion.
Andersen wrote in a further letter (4 May 1848) about the unhappy state of war between Germany and Denmark and described how he felt the "movements which go through the countries" through "his fingertips" and again doubted that the two friends could meet again. Carl Alexander answered that a "true friendship" was indeed independent "of all space, time and interest". According to Carl Alexander, it was as "free as the spirit" and as nature itself. The Prince assured Andersen that they would meet again and explicitly made the point that their friendship existed in an autonomous spiritual space.
Andersen became ever more troubled and moved by the events of the war, in which also the sons of acquaintances and friends took part; he often lacked inspiration, and the war came physically closer in the sense that Danish and Swedish troops were stationed at the manor of Glorup, where at the time Andersen was yet again staying:
There were indeed some days when I heard the sound of cannons over the island and when I well knew that there was a battle, but not whether some of my acquaintances or even friends might not have found their death. Oh, war is a terrible monster! (16 July 1848).
As can be seen, Andersen was totally open towards his friend at this time, and very worried that the war might part them. Carl Alexander on his side kept assuring him that the friendship of the two should be kept far away from the events of everyday life and political differences; true friendship was like nature, unchanging, and far from the concerns of the madding crowd. "Did we love each other because of our political ideas?" asked Carl Alexander (2 August 1848) and gave the following answer:
No, truly not, but because of the sympathy of our souls, of our hearts, our imagination; it was these things which attracted us to each other, which bound us to each other, and which, God willing, will also keep us together in the future. Oh, promise me, my friend, that the opinions and views of the present and of the day shall never, never influence our friendship. Look up to the sky, to the innumerable worlds up there, and how petty, how poor do our paltry business down here not seem. And should we let our friendship be disturbed for the sake of that! No, truly, it is a fantastic tale, but one which you have not written and which I find poor and unpleasing. Therefore, away with politics! And let me keep the fond hope that we shall soon see each other again and that you will soon come here again.
In the following letter from Andersen (18 August 1848), it becomes clear that the poet was very much pleased by this attitude on the part of Carl Alexander. But for his part he could not manage to keep silent about the political events and deplored the fact that all that was Danish was seen in a false light in the German newspapers. He even talked about the houses of the island of Als which had been destroyed by shells and bullets and about the faithful parent storks as a symbol of peace, as they stayed with their young in spite of the noise produced by the war.
As so often before, Carl Alexander was enraptured by Andersen's poetical eye and talked of the "joyful and pure enjoyment" which he had felt at reading the letter with the sketch of the storks (27 August 1848). Later (24 October 1848) he wrote that "part of the letter was of true artistic merit". Carl Alexander - perhaps very prudently - completely refrained from commenting on Andersen's description of Als - the destruction caused by the war, and the untrue German reports - and at the same time moved the description into a poetical and artistic universe, where only feeling and aesthetics could find a place. Neither did he comment on Andersen's claim in the following letter (16 October 1848) that although Denmark had fulfilled the conditions of the armistice, this did not apply to the Duchies.
Friendship, love and faith as well as art were sacred areas in life for Carl Alexander, and they should be kept separate from everyday life; all these values were identical with the basic values of classical idealistic times, with which Weimar and the Duke and his family were so closely linked: the good, the true and the beautiful as basic values in life, kept apart from everything prosaic.
Andersen was just as intimately linked to this tradition and belief as Carl Alexander and agreed with him as far as aesthetics were concerned. But the problems of modernity appeared clearly both in his art and in his life. It is, thus, true to say that Andersen's approach was altogether ambivalent, although he tried to repress the modern feeling of fragmentation and dichotomy that was present in his art and led to complexity and tension.
In his correspondence Carl Alexander insisted to a certain degree on remaining within this aesthetic sphere; perhaps he was afraid of the effect it would have on their friendship, if he were to enter into a dialogue concerning the events of the times. Perhaps he also needed this free space in times which were so aggravating for him as a Prince. At any rate, this approach was in harmony with his basic beliefs.
In a letter dated 31 December 1848 Andersen wrote that concerning his play "Kunstens Dannevirke",5 art was to a certain extent to represent a spiritual compensation for the national losses of the times, and the audience were to be redirected from the battlefield towards art, language and spirituality. This endeavour corresponded closely with the spirit of the age as formulated in the famous words: "Hvad udad tabes, skal indad vindes" (What is lost in the outer world, must be regained in the inner world). The extensive democratic endeavours for reforms in Denmark, where ordinary people and farmers formed co-operatives ("Andelsbevægelsen") and, inspired by the poet and minister Grundtvig, took radical new initiatives in school politics and founded the so-called "Højskoler" (folk high schools), should also be regarded in this context.
As was to be expected, Carl Alexander reacted positively to these attempts at transferring the problems of real politics to an artistic universe and wrote (8 January 1849): "You have, in presenting the two armed parties, of which one is poet, the other an artist, found the right binder to bring the locality and the conditions of the present [unreadable] and of the moment before the eyes of the public, and yet through the very same means you have opened the gate to ethereal realms in which the spirit can soar free."
Perhaps Carl Alexander also thought of this gift of Andersen's that he admired so much when several times he encouraged the poet to use contemporary events as a theme in his art. Thus the Prince asked (9 June 1849) if Andersen had never thought "of creating some kind of dramatic work out of the events of the present?" Carl Alexander drew attention to the fact that "so many new figures emerged from the chaos of the present, such as the proletarians, who offer many important views, as do all the questions of the moment, e.g. Socialism, Communism". As in other cases, Andersen did not react to this encouragement or idea for artistic motives from Carl Alexander - neither in the form of a letter, nor artistically.
The German-Danish war had begun again in the spring of 1849 after the armistice, and in the letter just quoted Carl Alexander enquired about the health of the poet and owing to a long gap in the correspondence humorously asked if Andersen was waging war against him as the Danes were against the Germans. At the same time he drew attention to the fact that at least until then he had believed or hoped that their friendship "should and would know nothing of politics".
However, already in the spring of 1849 Andersen had learnt that his friend Carl Alexander took part in the war on the Prussian side;6 the Hereditary Grand Duke had to contribute a battalion of infantry for an auxiliary brigade and take charge of it himself. It appears from correspondence with friends that this news shocked the poet profoundly,7 and he was not capable of answering the letter of his friend.
On 22 July 1849, Andersen told his friend Edvard Collin that he had received a letter from the Grand Duke and that
he was very sorry that I had not written for months, and had thought that politics would have nothing to do with our friendship and that he would be very sorry if he had been deceived in me. This made me very sad, for surely he must see that I cannot write when it is reported in the newspapers that he is headed for Schleswig-Holstein. I see that perhaps he has been obliged to do so, and I am very sorry for it, but of course I could not and would not write, but now peace will come, and then I will unburden my heart by telling him this, but not till then.8
A letter dated March 1849, in which Andersen congratulated Alexander on the birthday of his daughter, only exists as a draft; it is not known whether it was sent or perhaps was lost - the latter seems plausible, for in a letter of 18 August 1849, Andersen deplored the fact that he had not received an answer to it:
I received no answer to my last letter to you from the spring, later I saw that troops from Weimar had marched towards the north, and finally I read that Your Royal Highness had indeed gone with them to the field of battle - I understood the situation and felt very sad, but I could not write any more - but now I hear happy news of peace here ...
Thus, only when the message of peace reached Andersen during a prolonged journey in Sweden, could he resume the correspondence, and it is easy to feel Andersen's great relief in the letter: "My heart is altogether Danish, but I still love my true friends in Germany - but now peace! Peace! God, let peace reign over our countries!" Finally, in a postscript, he yet again tries to draw Carl Alexander's attention to the "Augustenburg-letters" by C. F. Wegener, in which the political problems are described from the Danish point of view.9
Carl Alexander answered with a report about how he had come into contact with the family of the Duke of Augustenburg. In the political situation of 1849 they were regarded as traitors to Denmark, as they had made common cause with the rebels of Schleswig-Holstein. He gave a detailed account of the grief of the Duchess and the unhappiness of the entire family, to which Andersen had had a close and good relationship before. Carl Alexander may, in fact, have been following a hint from the Duchess and intended to encourage Andersen to make diplomatic efforts on behalf of the family with the Danish government.
A week after the final and official peace (12 July 1850), Andersen wrote an exuberant letter to Carl Alexander, in which he said that he had received the message of peace in the forests of Glorup in Funen. Earlier in 1850 there had been letters in which he clearly expressed his sincere hope for peace. It is easy to feel his strong relief in this letter:
So I can yet again think of visiting my neighbours, my brothers on the other side of the Elbe, the country where Goethe sang, Luther preached, where art and science have won so many friends. Peace! Peace with Germany and may it be recognized that Denmark only wanted to have its right - that makes my heart so light. May no more blood flow, may the works of peace, which now have begun, thrive with God. -
That Carl Alexander judged the newly won peace somewhat more pessimistically can be seen from his answer of 29 July 1850. This is what he wrote about the peace:
May it bring you joy, may it finally also lead to general peace, which, alas, we long for so much and, I fear, which is nevertheless yet so far away! But I will not disturb your joy at this, and especially will I take part in your joy, if your heart again draws you to Germany and to Weimar.
His fears were to prove true, for in the year 1864, war over the Duchies broke out again.
From the summer of 1850 until Hans Christian Andersen's death there were no further comments on political matters in the correspondence. For various reasons, primarily personal, but also political, connected with the tension of the early 1860's, the correspondence was suspended in 1862, as mentioned above, and was only resumed in 1874 - on Carl Alexander's initiative - because of Andersen's mortal illness.
3. The death of the king was in fact followed in Denmark by intensified pressure from the liberal forces who demanded a free and democratic constitution. See Politiken's Danmarks Historie, Vol II, p. 226. The peaceful revolution that put an end to the absolute monarchy took place in 1848 with acceptance from King Frederik VII. back
6. According to the Fourierbuch in Weimar (HA E, No. 119), Carl Alexander took part in the "Danish-Schleswig-Holstein Campaign" from 22 April to 4 June 1849. See also Hedegaard, p. 61 and p. 313, note 32. back
8. C. F. Wegener, Ueber das wahre Verhältniss des Herzogs von Augustenburg zum holsteinischen Aufruhre, eine actenmaessige Darstellung nebst Beilagen aus den augustenburgischen Papiren. Copenhagen 1849. back
9. Conjecture in Hedegaard, p. 76.
Bobé, Louis, H. C. Andersen og Storhertug Carl Alexander af Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. Copenhagen 1905. (See also article by Bobé in Deutsche Rundschau, Vol. 132, 1907, pp. 52-71.)
Hedegaard, Ole, H. C. Andersen 1848-50 og 1864. Et historisk bidrag. Copenhagen 1980. (See also article by Hedegaard in Jyllands-Posten, 29 March 1980.)
Jonas, Emil (ed.), H. C. Andersens Briefwechsel mit Sr. Königlichen Hoheit dem Grossherzog Carl Alexander von Sachsen-Weimar und anderen Zeitgenossen. Leipzig 1887. XVI, 284 pp.
Möller-Cristensen, Ivy, Den gyldne trekant. H. C. Andersens gennembrud i Tyskland 1831-50. Odense 1992.
Olesch, Reinhold, et al., Geschichte Thüringens, Bd. 48/V. 2. Teil: Politische Geschichte in der Neuzeit.
Pöthe, Angelika, Schloss Ettersburg. Weimars Geselligkeit und kulturelles Leben im 19. Jahrhundert. Weimar 1995.
Skovmand, Roar, Folkestyrets fødsel 1830-1870. Copenhagen 1985. (Politikens Danmarkshistorie, Vol. 11.)
Stichling, Gottfried Theodor, Aus drei und fünfzig Dienstjahren. Weimar 1891.
Topsøe-Jensen, Helge (ed.), H. C. Andersens Brevveksling med Edvard og Henriette Collin. Vols. 1-6. Copenhagen 1933-37.back
Hans Christian Andersen and Henrik Hertz in Naples. Fresco by Niels Larsen Stevns. 1931-32. Hans Christian Andersen Museum, Odense.