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The Hans Christian Andersen Center

Nineteenth Evening

"I looked down into a large theater," said the Moon. "The audience filled the house, for a new actor was making his first appearance. My rays glided through a small window in the wall, and I saw a painted face with the forehead pressed against the pane - it was the hero of the evening. The knightly beard curled around his chin, but there were tears in his eyes, for he had been hissed from the stage, and for a good reason. Poor fellow! But incompetence cannot be tolerated in the world of art. He had deep feeling, and loved his art with a fervor, but art did not love him.

"The prompter's bell tinkled. In his part was written, 'Boldly and valiantly the hero advances' - and he had to appear before an audience which ridiculed him.

"When the play was ended I saw a man, muffled in a cloak, sneak down the stairs; it was he, the crushed hero of the evening. The stagehands whispered to each other. I followed the poor fellow to his room. Hanging oneself is an unsightly death, and poison is not always at hand. I know he was thinking of both.

"I saw him look at his pale face in the mirror, and peep through half-closed eyes to decide whether he would look well as a corpse. A man may be very unhappy and at the same time very affected. He thought of death, of suicide, and I believe he pitied himself. He wept bitterly, and when a man has wept until no more tears can come he no longer thinks of suicide.

"A year had passed since then, and again a play was produced, but in a little theater, by a company of poor wandering players. I again saw that familiar face with the curled beard, the painted cheeks. Again he looked up at me and smiled - and yet he had again been hissed from the stage, only a minute before, hissed from a miserable stage, hissed by a miserable audience!

"That same evening a shabby hearse drove out of the gate of the town, with no one following. It was a suicide - our painted and hissed hero. The only attendant was the driver of the hearse, and none but the Moon followed it. The suicide lies buried in a corner by the churchyard wall. Nettles will soon grow over his grave, and the gravedigger will fling over it the weeds and thorns he roots from the other graves."