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An essay by Hans Christian Andersen

A Row Of Pearls

Title:     A Row Of Pearls
Author: Hans Christian Andersen [More Titles by Andersen]


The railroad in Denmark extends no farther as yet than from Copenhagen to Korsoer. It is a row of pearls. Europe has a wealth of these. Its most costly pearls are named Paris, London, Vienna, Naples; though many a one does not point out these great cities as his most beautiful pearl, but, on the contrary, names some small, by no means remarkable town, for it is _his_ home--the home where those he loves reside. Nay, sometimes it is but a country-seat--a small cottage hidden among green hedges--a mere spot that he hastens towards, while the railway train rushes on.

How many pearls are there upon the line from Copenhagen to Korsoer? We will say six. Most people must remark these. Old remembrances and poetry itself bestow a radiance on these pearls, so that they shine in on our thoughts.

Near the rising ground where the palace of Frederick VI. stands--the home of Ochlenschlaeger's childhood--shines, under the lee of Sondermarken's woody ground, one of these pearls. It is called the "Cottage of Philemon and Baucis;" that is to say, the home of two loving old people. Here dwelt Rahbek and his wife Camma; here, under their hospitable roof, were collected from the busy Copenhagen all the superior intellects of their day; here was the home of genius; and now say not, "Ah, how changed!" No; it is still the spirits' home--a hothouse for sickly plants. Buds that are not strong enough to expand into flowers, preserve, though hidden, all the germs of a luxuriant tree. Here the sun of mind shines in on a home of stagnant spirits, reviving and cheering it. The world around beams through the eyes into the soul's unfathomable depths. _The Idiot's Home_, surrounded by the love and kindness of human beings, is a holy place--a hothouse for those sickly plants that shall in future be transplanted to bloom in the garden of paradise. The weakest in the world are now gathered here, where once the greatest and the wisest met, exchanged thoughts, and were lifted upwards. Their memories will ever be associated with the "Cottage of Philemon and Baucis."

The burial-place of kings by Hroar's spring--the ancient Roeskilde--lies before us. The cathedral's slender spires tower over the low town, and are reflected on the surface of the fiord. One grave alone shall we seek here; that shall not be the tomb of the mighty Margrethe--the union queen. No; within the churchyard, near whose white walls we have so closely flown, is the grave: a humble stone is laid over it. Here reposes the great organist--the reviver of the old Danish romances. With the melodies we can recall the words,--

"The clear waves rolled,"


"There dwelt a king in Leire."[1]

Roeskilde! thou burial-place of kings, in thy pearl we shall see the lonely grave on whose stone is chiselled a lyre and the name--WEYSE.

[Footnote 1: Leire, the original residence of the Danish kings, said to have been founded by Skiold, a son of Odin, was, during the heathen ages, a place of note. It contained a large and celebrated temple for offerings, to which people thronged every ninth year, at the period of the great Yule feast, which was held annually in mid-winter, commencing on the 4th of January. In Norway this ancient festival was held in honour of Thor; in Denmark, in honour of Odin. Every ninth year the sacrifices were on a larger scale than usual, consisting then of ninety-nine horses, dogs, and cocks--human beings were also sometimes offered. When Christianity was established in Denmark the seat of royalty was transferred to Roeskilde, and Leire fell into total insignificance. It is now merely a village in Zealand.--_Trans._]

Now come we to Sigersted, near Ringsted. The river is shallow--the yellow corn waves where Hagbarth's boat was moored, not far from Signe's maiden bower. Who does not know the tradition about Hagbarth[2] and Signelil, and their passionate love--that Hagbarth was hanged in the galley, while Signelil's tower stood in flames?

[Footnote 2: Hagbarth, a son of the Norwegian king, Amund, and his three brothers, Hake, Helvin, and Hamund, scoured the seas with a hundred ships, and fell in with the king of Zealand's three sons, Sivald, Alf, and Alger. They attacked each other, and continued their bloody strife until a late hour at night. Next day they all found their ships so disabled that they could not renew the conflict. Thereupon they made friends, and the Norwegian princes or pirates accompanied the Zealanders to the court of their father, King Sigar. Here Hagbarth won the heart of the king's daughter Signe, and they became secretly engaged. Hildigeslev, a handsome German prince, was at that time her suitor; but she refused him, and in revenge he sowed discord between her lover and his brothers and her brothers. Alf and Alger murdered Hagbarth's brothers, Helvin and Hamund, but were killed in their turn by Hagbarth and Hake. After this deed Hagbarth dared not remain at Sigar's court; but he longed so much to be with Signe, that he dressed himself as a woman, and in this disguise he obtained admission to the palace, and contrived to be named one of her attendants. The damsels of her suite were much surprised at the hardness of the new waiting-maid's hands, and at other unfeminine peculiarities which they remarked; but Signe appointed him her especial attendant, and thus partially removed him from their troublesome curiosity. Fancying themselves safe, they relaxed their precautions. Hagbarth was discovered, secured, and carried before the _Thing_, or judicial assembly. Before he left her he received a promise from Signe that she would not survive him. He was condemned to death; to be hanged on board a galley, in view of Signe's dwelling. To prove her love and faith, he entreated that his mantle might be hung up first, in order, he said, that the sight of it might prepare him for his own death. It was done; and when Signe saw it she fancied her lover was dead, and instantly set fire to her abode. Hagbarth beheld the flames; and no longer doubting the constancy of the princess, he died rejoicing in following her to the other world.--_Trans._]

"Beautiful Soroe, encircled by woods!" thy tranquil, cloistered town peeps forth from among thy moss-covered trees; the keen bright eyes of youth gaze from the academy, over the lake, to the busy highway, where the locomotive's dragon snorts, while it is flying through the wood. Soroe, thou poet's pearl, that hast in thy custody the honoured dust of Holberg! like a majestic white swan by the deep lake stands thy far-famed seat of learning. We fix our eyes on it, and then they wander in search of the simple star-flower in the wooded ground--a small house. Pious hymns are chanted there, that echo over the length and breadth of the land; words are uttered there to which the very rustics listen, and hear of Denmark's bygone ages. As the greenwood and the birds' songs belong to each other, so are associated the names of Soroe and INGEMANN.

To Slagelse! What is the pearl that dazzles us here? The monastery of Antoorskov has vanished, even the last solitary remaining wing, though one old relic still exists--renovated and renovated again--a wooden cross upon the heights above, where, in legendary lore, it is said that HOLY ANDERS, the warrior priest, woke up, borne thither in one night from Jerusalem!

Korsoer--there wert thou[3] born, who gave us

"Mirth with melancholy mingled,
In stories of 'Knud Sjaellandsfar.'"

[Footnote 3: Jeus Baggesen.--_Trans._]

Thou master of language and of wit! the old decaying ramparts of the deserted fortification are now the last visible mementos of thy childhood's home. When the sun is sinking, their shadows fall upon the spot where stood the house in which thine eyes first opened on the light. From these ramparts, looking towards Sprogoes hills, thou sawest, when thou "wert little,"

"The moon behind the island sink;"

and sang it in undying verse, as afterwards thou didst sing the mountains of Switzerland; thou, who didst wander through the vast labyrinth of the world, and found that

"Nowhere do the roses seem so red--
Ah! nowhere else the thorn so small appears,
And nowhere makes the down so soft a bed,
As that where innocence reposed in bygone years!"

Capricious, charming warbler! We will weave a wreath of woodbine. We will cast it into the waves, and they will bear it to Kielerfiord, upon whose coast thine ashes repose. It will bring a greeting from a younger race, a greeting from thy native town, Korsoer, where ends the row of pearls.


"It is, truly enough, a row of pearls from Copenhagen to Korsoer," said my grandmother, who had heard read aloud what we have just been reading. "It is a row of pearls for me, and it was that more than forty years ago," she added. "We had no steam engines then. It took us days to make a journey which you can make now in a few hours. For instance, in 1815, I was then one-and-twenty years old. That is a pleasant age. Even up in the thirties it is also a pleasant age. In my young days it was much rarer than now to go to Copenhagen, the city of all cities, as we thought it. After twenty years' absence from it, my parents determined to visit it once more, and I was to accompany them. The journey had been projected and talked of for years. At length it was positively to be accomplished. I fancied that I was beginning quite a new life, and certainly, in one way, a new life did begin for me.

"After a great deal of packing and preparations we were ready to start. Then what numbers of our neighbours came to bid us good-by! It was a very long journey we had before us. Shortly before mid-day we drove out of Odense in my father's Holstern wagon--a roomy carriage. Our acquaintances bowed to us from the windows of almost every house until we were outside of St. Joergen's Port. The weather was delightful, the birds were singing, all was pleasure. We forgot that it was a long way and a rough road to Nyborg. We reached that place towards evening. The post did not arrive till midnight, and until it came the packet could not sail. At length we went on board. Before us lay the wide waters, as far as the eye could see, and it was a dead calm. We lay down in our clothes and slept. When I awoke in the morning, and went on deck, nothing could be seen on either side of us, there was such a thick fog. I heard the cocks crowing, and I knew the sun must have risen. Bells were ringing: where could they be? The mist cleared away, and we found we were lying a little way from Nyborg. As the day advanced we had a little wind: it stiffened, and we got on faster. At last we were so fortunate, at a little after eleven o'clock at night, as to reach Korsoer. We had taken twenty-two hours to go sixteen miles.

"Glad we were to land; but it was extremely dark, and the lanterns gave very little light. However, all was wonderful to me, who had never been in any other town but Odense.

"'Here Baggesen was born,' said my father, 'and here Birckner lived.'

"It seemed to me that the old town, with its small houses, became at once larger and more important. We were also rejoiced to have the firm earth under us once more; but I could not sleep that night, I was so excited thinking over all I had seen and encountered since I had left home two days before.

"Next morning we rose early. We had before us a bad road, with frightful hills and many valleys, till we reached Slagelse; and beyond it, on the other side, it was but little better; therefore we were anxious to get to Krebsehuset, that we might early next day go on to Soroe, and visit Moellers Emil, as we called him. He was your grandfather, my worthy husband, the dean. He was then a student at Soroe, and very busy about his second examination.

"Well, we arrived about noon at Krebsehuset. It was a gay little town then, and had the best inn on the road, and the prettiest country round it: you must all admit that it is pretty still. She was a very active landlady, Madame Plambek, and everything in her house was as clean as a new pin. There hung up on her wall a letter from Baggesen to her. It was framed, and had a glass over it; it was a very interesting object to look at, and to me it was quite a curiosity. We then went into Soroe, and found Emil there. You may believe he was very glad to see us, and we were very glad to see him--he was so good and so attentive. We went with him to see the church, with Absolon's grave and Holberg's coffin. We saw the old monkish inscriptions, and we sailed over the lake to Parnasset--the sweetest evening I remember. I recollect well that I thought, if one could write poetry anywhere in the world, it would be at Soroe, amidst those charming, peaceful scenes, where nature reigns in all her beauty. Afterwards we visited by moonlight the 'Philosopher's Walk,' as it was called--the beautiful, lonely path by the lake and the moor that leads towards the highway to Krebsehuset. Emil remained to supper with us, and my father and mother thought he had become very clever and very good-looking. He promised us that he would be in Copenhagen within a few days, and would join us there: it was then Whitsuntide. We were going to stay with his family. These hours at Soroe and Krebsehuset, may they not be deemed the most beautiful pearls of my life?

"The next morning we commenced our journey at a very early hour, for we had a long way to go to reach Roeskilde, and we were anxious to get there in time to see the church. In the evening my father wished to visit an old friend, so we stopped at Roeskilde that night, and the next day we arrived at Copenhagen. It took us three days to go from Korsoer to Copenhagen; now the journey is made in three hours. The pearls have not become more valuable--that they could not be--but they are strung together in a new and wonderful manner. I remained three weeks with my parents in Copenhagen, and Emil was with us there for a fortnight. When we returned to Fyen, he accompanied us as far as Korsoer. There, before parting, we were betrothed; so you can well believe that _I_ call from Copenhagen to Korsoer a row of pearls.

"Afterwards, when Emil and I were married, we often spoke of the journey to Copenhagen, and of undertaking it once more. But then came first your mother, then she had brothers and sisters, and there was a great deal to do; so the journey was put off. And when your grandfather got preferment, and was made dean, all was thankfulness and joy; but we never got to Copenhagen. No, never have I set foot in it again, as often as we thought of it and projected going. Now I am too old, and I could not stand travelling by a railroad; but I am very glad that there are railroads--they are a blessing to many. You can come more speedily to me; and Odense is now not farther from Copenhagen than in my young days it was from Nyborg. You could now go in almost the same space of time to Italy as it took us to travel to Copenhagen. Yes, that is something!

"Nevertheless, I shall stay in one place, and let others travel and come to me if they please. But you should not laugh at me for keeping so quiet; I have a greater journey before me than any by the railroad. When it shall please our Lord, I have to travel up to your grandfather; and when you have finished your appointed time on earth, and enjoyed the blessings bestowed here by the Almighty, then I trust that you will ascend to us; and if we then revert to our earthly days, believe me, children, I shall say then as now, 'From Copenhagen to Korsoer is indeed A ROW OF PEARLS.'"

[The end]
Hans Christian Andersen's short story: Row Of Pearls