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Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75)

A native of Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen is one of the immortals of world literature. The fairy tales he wrote are like no others.

Hans Christian Andersen was born in a one-room house on April 2, 1805. When he was 11 years old, his father died and he was virtually left alone. He went to school only at intervals and spent most of his time imagining stories rather than reading lessons. He could memorize very easily and learned some of his lessons by listening to a neighbourhood boy who was in the habit of studying aloud. He memorized and recited plays to anyone who would listen and imitated ballet dancers, acrobats or pantomists. To put an end on this, his mother apprenticed him first to a weaver, then to a tobacconist and finally to a tailor. Hans Christian knew these occupations were not for him. The only things that held his interest were the theater, books and stories. When he was 14, he decided to go to Copenhagen< and seek his fortune.

There followed three bitter years of poverty. Hans Christian earned a little money singing in a boy's choir until his voice changed. He tried to act and to join the ballet, but his awkwardness made these careers impossible. He attempted to work with his hands but could not do this either. It never occured to him to return home and admit defeat.

At last, when he was 17, Andersen came to the attention of Chancellor Jonas Collin, a director of the Royal Theater. Collin had read a play by Andersen and saw that the youth had talent. He procured money from the king for Andersen's education and sent him to a school near Copenhagen. His teacher, a bitter man, treated him harshly and took delight in taunting him about his ambition to become a writer. Finally Collin took the youth from the school and arranged for him to study under a private tutor in Copenhagen. In 1828, when he was 23, Andersen passed his entrance examinations to the university in Copenhagen.

Andersen's writings began to be published in Danish in 1829. In 1833 the king gave him a grant of money for travel and he spent 16 months wandering through Germany, France, Switzerland and his beloved Italy. His works were poems, plays, novels and impressions of his travels.

In 1835 Andersen published 'Fairy Tales for Children' - four short stories he wrote for a little girl, Ida Thiele, who was the daughter of the secretary of the Academy of Art. People, who had read the stories - adults as well as children - wanted more. Andersen published 168 fairy tales in all. He wrote the stories just as he would have told them. Although he never married and had no children of his own, he was at his best as an interpreter of the nature of children.

Andersen died on Aug.4, 1875.