ANDERSEN, HANS CHRISTIAN (1805-1875), Danish poet and fabulist, was born at Odense, in Fünen, on the 2nd of April 1805. He was the son of a sickly young shoemaker of twenty-two, and his still younger wife: the whole family lived and slept in one little room. Andersen very early showed signs of imaginative temperament, which was fostered by the indulgence and superstition of his parents. In 1816 the shoemaker died and the child was left entirely to his own devices. He ceased to go to school; he built himself a little toy-theatre and sat at home making clothes for his puppets, and reading all the plays that he could borrow; among them were those of Holberg and Shakespeare. At Easter 1819 he was confirmed at the church of St Kund, Odense, and began to turn his thoughts to the future. It was thought that he was best fitted to be a tailor; but as nothing was settled, and as Andersen wished to be an opera-singer, he took matters into his own hand and started for Copenhagen in September 1819.
There he was taken for a lunatic, snubbed at the theatres, and nearly reduced to starvation, but he was befriended by the musicians Christoph Weyse and Siboni, and afterwards by the poet Frederik Hoëgh Guldberg (1771-1852). His voice failed, but he was admitted as a dancing pupil at the Royal Theatre. He grew idle, and lost the favour of Guldberg, but a new patron appeared in the person of Jonas Collin, the director of the Royal Theatre, who became Andersen's life-long friend. King Frederick VI. was interested in the strange boy and sent him for some years, free of charge, to the great grammar-school at Slagelse. Before he started for school he published his first volume, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave (1822). Andersen, a very backward and unwilling pupil, actually remained at Slagelse and at another school in Elsinore until 1827; these years, he says, were the darkest and bitterest in his life.
Collin at length consented to consider him educated, and Andersen came to Copenhagen. In 1829 he made a considerable success with a fantastic volume entitled A Journey on Foot from Holman's Canal to the East Point of Amager, and he published in the same season a farce and a book of poems. He thus suddenly came into request at the moment when his friends had decided that no good thing would ever come out of his early eccentricity and vivacity. He made little further progress, however, until 1833, when he received a small travelling stipend from the king, and made the first of his long European journeys. At Le Locle, in the Jura, he wrote Agnate and the Merman; and in October 1834 he arrived in Rome. Early in 1835 Andersen's novel, The Improvisatore, appeared, and achieved a real success; the poet's troubles were at an end at last. In the same year, 1835, the earliest instalment of Andersen's immortal Fairy Tales (Eventyr) was published in Copenhagen. Other parts, completing the first volume, appeared in 1836 and 1837. The value of these stories was not at first perceived, and they sold slowly.
Andersen was more successful for the time being with a novel, O. T., and a volume of sketches, In Sweden; in 1837 he produced the best of his romances, Only a Fiddler. He now turned his attention, with but ephemeral success, to the theatre, but was recalled to his true genius in the charming miscellanies of 1840 and 1842, the Picture-Book without Pictures, and A Poet's Bazaar. Meanwhile the fame of his Fairy Tales had been steadily rising; a second series began in 1838, a third in 1845. Andersen was now celebrated throughout Europe, although in Denmark itself there was still some resistance to his pretensions. In June 1847 he paid his first visit to England, and enjoyed a triumphal social success; when he left, Charles Dickens saw him off from Ramsgate pier. After this Andersen continued to publish much; he still desired to excel as a novelist and a dramatist, which he could not do, and he still disdained the enchanting Fairy Tales, in the composition of which his unique genius lay.
Nevertheless he continued to write them, and in 1847 and 1848 two fresh volumes appeared. After a long silence Andersen published in 1857 another romance, To be or not to be. In 1863, after a very interesting journey, he issued one of the best of his travel-books, In Spain. His Fairy Tales continued to appear, in instalments, until 1872, when, at Christmas, the last stories were published. In the spring of that year Andersen had an awkward accident, falling out of bed and severely hurting himself. He was never again quite well, but he lived till the 4th of August 1875, when he died very peacefully in the house called Rolighed, near Copenhagen.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911