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.
The Conservative MP Chips Channon smashes a chamber pot (1935):
“I arrived at Elveden [the house of his father-in-law, Lord Iveagh, in Suffolk] late, cold and hungry… In spite of that, of all the Iveagh houses I like Elveden best. I love its calm, its luxurious Edwardian atmosphere. For a fortnight now I have slept in the Kings’ bed, which both Edward VII and George V have used. And this morning, in the wee sma’ hours, I had a humiliating accident—I somehow smashed the royal chamber pot. It seems to be a habit of mine, and one much to be discouraged. At Mentmore once, staying with Roseberys, I broke Napoleon’s pot in similar circumstances, a very grand affair covered with ‘N’s and Bees.”
Actor Nicol Williamson disrupts a party of the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan (1965):
“He behaved like a king stag transported to an alien domain and exercising the territorial imperative as if it were a divine right. To begin with, he turned up an hour early—a masterly play that caught my wife and I unwashed and unchanged. Full of apologies, he volunteered to pass the time Hoovering the living-room, on the mildly annoying tacit assumption that the carpet was dirty. ‘Who is coming?’ he asked when I returned in a clean shirt to prise the Hoover from his grasp. I told him one of the guests was Jonathan Miller, the director, writer and former comedian. ‘Biggest phony in London,’ Nicol said crisply. ‘Who else?’ I said that, apart from the Millers, there would be a pretty girl named Yvonne Stacpoole, who had been having a lengthy affair with the celebrated Italian director Piero Ghiberti. (Both are pseudonyms.)
No sooner had the other guests arrived than he strangled conversation almost at birth by producing an LP of the Mamas & the Papas and playing it at full volume on the stereo. It takes a lot to silence Dr Miller, who had already launched into a vivacious chat about Byzantine art, but even he had no answer to tactics so blatantly anti-social. When we moved downstairs to the dining-room, Nicol munched in silence for several minutes before addressing his first remark to Miss Stacpoole. ‘So you’re the girl,’ he said engagingly, ‘who was being fucked by Ghiberti.’ He reinforced the remark by placing his left hand on his right bicep and making swift upward jab with his clenched right fist. Miss Stacpoole, who had never met Nicol before, was exquisitely unfazed. ‘I’m afraid you’ve got it wrong, Mr Williamson,’ she says simply, ‘I am being fucked by Ghiberti.’ Nicol grinned and nodded, but was obviously affronted by her cool, and a few minutes later he got up and left the room. We soon heard a deafening five-minute blast of the Mamas & the Papas, followed by a clatter of footsteps on the stairs and a slammed front door. ‘I enjoy sacred monsters,’ said Jonathan Miller, ‘but preferably in zoos.’”