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The True Story of My Life by Hans Christian Andersen

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windows--but picturesque it certainly is.

But if you enter the town itself--where the apothecary's shop is, is
also the bookseller's--poverty is the only impression. Almost all the
houses are built of unhewn stones, piled one upon another, and two or
three gloomy holes form door and windows through which the swallows fly
out and in. Wherever I entered, I saw through the worn floor of the
first story down into a chaotic gloom beneath. On the wall hangs
generally a bit of fat meat with the hairy skin attached; it was
explained to me that this was used to rub their shoes with. The
sleeping-room is painted in the most glaring manner with saints,
angels, garlands, and crowns _al fresco_, as if done when the art
of painting was in its greatest state of imperfection.

The people are unusually ugly; the very children are real gnomes; the
expression of childhood does not soften the clumsy features. But a few
hours' journey on the other side of the mountains, on the Spanish side,
there blooms beauty, there flash merry brown eyes. The only poetical
picture I retain of Vernet was this. In the market-place, under a
splendidly large tree, a wandering pedlar had spread out all his
wares,--handkerchiefs, books and pictures,--a whole bazaar, but the
earth was his table; all the ugly children of the town, burnt through
by the sun, stood assembled round these splendid things; several old
women looked out from their open shops; on horses and asses the
visitors to the bath, ladies and gentlemen, rode by in long procession,
whilst two little children, half hid behind a heap of planks; played at
being cocks, and shouted all the time, "kekkeriki!"

Far more of a town, habitable and well-appointed, is the garrison town
of Villefranche, with its castle of the age of Louis XIV., which lies a
few hours' journey from this place. The road by Olette to Spain passes
through it, and there is also some business; many houses attract your
eye by their beautiful Moorish windows carved in marble. The church is
built half in the Moorish style, the altars are such as are seen in
Spanish churches, and the Virgin stands there with the Child, all
dressed in gold and silver. I visited Villefranche one of the first
days of my sojourn here; all the visitors made the excursion with me,
to which end all the horses and asses far and near were brought
together; horses were put into the Commandant's venerable coach, and it
was occupied by people within and without, just as though it had been a
French public vehicle. A most amiable Holsteiner, the best rider of the
company, the well-known painter Dauzats, a friend of Alexander Dumas's,
led the train. The forts, the barracks, and the caves were seen; the
little town of Cornelia also, with its interesting church, was not
passed over. Everywhere were found traces of the power and art of the
Moors; everything in this neighborhood speaks more of Spain than
France, the very language wavers between the two.

And here in this fresh mountain nature, on the frontiers of a land
whose beauty and defects I am not yet to become acquainted with, I will
close these pages, which will make in my life a frontier to coming
years, with their beauty and defects. Before I leave the Pyrenees these
written pages will fly to Germany, a great section of my life; I myself
shall follow, and a new and unknown section will begin.--What may it
unfold?--I know not, but thankfully, hopefully, I look forward. My
whole life, the bright as well as the gloomy days, led to the best. It
is like a voyage to some known point,--I stand at the rudder, I have
chosen my path,--but God rules the storm and the sea. He may direct it
otherwise; and then, happen what may, it will be the best for me. This
faith is firmly planted in my breast, and makes me happy.

The story of my life, up to the present hour, lies unrolled before me,
so rich and beautiful that I could not have invented it. I feel that I
am a child of good fortune; almost every one meets me full of love and
candor, and seldom has my confidence in human nature been deceived.
From the prince to the poorest peasant I have felt the noble human
heart beat. It is a joy to live and to believe in God and man. Openly
and full of confidence, as if I sat among dear friends, I have here
related the story of my life, have spoken both of my sorrows and joys,
and have expressed my pleasure at each mark of applause and
recognition, as I believe I might even express it before God himself.
But then, whether this may be vanity? I know not: my heart was affected
and humble at the same time, my thought was gratitude to God. That I
have related it is not alone because such a biographical sketch as this
was desired from me for the collected edition of my works, but because,
as has been already said, the history of my life will be the best
commentary to all my works.

In a few days I shall say farewell to the Pyrenees, and return through
Switzerland to dear, kind Germany, where so much joy has flowed into my
life, where I possess so many sympathizing friends, where my writings
have been so kindly and encouragingly received, and where also these
sheets will be gently criticized, When the Christmas-tree is lighted,--
when, as people say, the white bees swarm,--I shall be, God willing,
again in Denmark with my dear ones, my heart filled with the flowers of
travel, and strengthened both in body and mind: then will new works
grow upon paper; may God lay his blessing upon them! He will do so. A
star of good fortune shines upon me; there are thousands who deserve it
far more than I; I often myself cannot conceive why I, in preference to
numberless others, should receive so much joy: may it continue to
shine! But should it set, perhaps whilst I conclude these lines, still
it has shone, I have received my rich portion; let it set! From this
also the best will spring. To God and men my thanks, my love!

Vernet (Department of the East Pyrenees), July, 1846.


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