Extracts from memoirs and diariesby Ian Irvine / June 20, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Hans Christian Andersen, who irritated Charles Dickens and family
Peter the Great trashes Sayes Court, the house and celebrated garden in Deptford of the diarist John Evelyn (1698):
February 6: “The Czar Emp of Muscovy, having a mind to see the Building of Ships, hired my House at Sayes Court, and made it a Court and palace, lying and remaining in it, new furnished for him by the King.”
April 21: Evelyn’s bailiff reported that the Czar’s entourage had been “right nasty” and had broken windows, smashed furniture, used portraits for target practice and “damnified” the garden. A favourite pastime for the drunken courtiers was to push the Czar in a wheelbarrow through the hedges.
June 9: “I went to Deptford to view how miserably the Czar of Muscovy had left my house after three months making it his Court, having gotten Sir Christopher Wren his Majesty’s Surveyor and Mr London his Gardener to go down and make an estimate of the repairs, for which they allowed 150 pounds [£290,000 in current values] in their report for the Lord of the Treasury.”
Hans Christian Andersen outstays his welcome (1857):
The writer had met Charles Dickens in 1847 and they kept up a cordial correspondence. On a visit to England he had been invited to stay a fortnight at Gads Hill; he left five weeks later. When Dickens went to London, Andersen fell prey to strange visions, hypochondria and digestive problems. With little English he was forced to rely on gestures, broken utterances and his brilliantly executed paper cuts to make contact. The household found his idiosyncratic habits hard to live with, and were disconcerted by his demand that a servant shave him each morning; cumbersome arrangements had to be made to take him daily by coach to a barber in Rochester. In a letter to a friend Dickens wrote, “Whenever he got to London, he got into wild entanglements of Cabs and Sherry, and never seemed to get out of them again until he came back here, and cut out paper into all sorts of patterns, and gathered the strangest little nosegays in the woods.” On his departure, Dickens wrote on the mirror in the guestroom: “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!” Dickens’s daughter Kate later recalled that Andersen “was a bony bore, and stayed on and on.” Dickens refused to reopen the correspondence, much to Andersen’s confusion as he had very much enjoyed the visit and published a rhapsodic account of it in a Danish magazine.