A Poet's Bazaar. Pictures of Travel in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient

By HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN. New York : Hurd and Houghton.
IN 1840 the author journeyed from Copenhagen down through Germany and Austria into Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and his “ Bazaar” is stocked with his reminiscences of those lands and their people, and the graceful fancies which travel must suggest to a spirit so peculiarly open and sympathetic. It is in these, of course, rather than in the facts narrated or the information given, that the value of the book lies ; it is because the “Bazaar” is full of Andersen, that it is so charming. It abounds in his characteristic descriptions of persons and places, in which the finest effect is attained without elaboration or detail. His impressible mind is immediately attuned, and, entering with his whole soul into the situation, he never fails to bring it vividly before the reader’s eye. He never omits anything essential to the ensemble, yet he never disturbs the artistic result by overloading his picture. If there were any special school of colorists in literature, as there is in painting, Andersen would be in the foremost ranks of such a school. The color, or what artists call the tone, seems to be the prevailing element in every picture from his pen ; and the drawing exists, only so far as it is necessary to bring the colors out in the strongest relief.
Andersen has the happy faculty, in common as we believe with the more prominent writers of Denmark generally, of being able to strike the medium between that aerial lightness of the French, which almost seems too slight to give expression to deeper sentiment or passion, and the massive heaviness, which in German literature so often hides the beautiful under the rubbish of ponderous words and clumsy phrases. There are passages in “A Poet’s Bazaar” which, as they read in the Danish, are both in rhythm and sentiment musical enough to make you question whether there is anything hut the rhyme lacking to make them poetry ; and in some instances you half unconsciously stop to examine whether they are not actually written in metre. Although this musical rhythm greatly suffers, if it does not entirely disappear, in translation, the real pathos of the narrative and the grace of the style are still apparent in such a passage as this, describing a Roman convent: “They related of one of the sisters, who had sung the sweetest of them all and was palest of them all, that strangers had missed her one Sunday morning ; that at the same hour two old men dug her grave in the cloister garden ; and the spade sounded,—it struck against the hard stone ; the earth was thrown up, and a marble figure, from the olden time, was raised from the earth. A handsome Bacchus, the god of enjoyment, rose to the light of day from that grave, which was to receive one who had never enjoyed life. The grave also can be ironical.”
A fair example of Andersen’s humor is his description of “a real Danish toothache ” : “The evenings were somewhat long, but then my teeth began to give some nervous concerts, and it was remarkable how they improved in dexterity. A real Danish toothache is not to be compared to an Italian one. Pain played on the keys of my teeth as if it were a Liszt or a Thalberg. Sometimes it rumbled in the foreground, and then anon in the background, as when two martial bands answer each other, whilst a large front tooth sang the prima donna’s part with all the trills, roulades, and cadences of torture. There was such harmony and power in the whole, that I at last felt no longer like a human being.”
Independent of its own literary value, “The Poet’s Bazaar” is a work of more than ordinary interest as affording a key to all the other writings of the same author. On every other page we find sketches of scenes, objects, and persons which we immediately recognize as having furnished the material for the plots, descriptions, and characters in the author’s later works, “A Poet’s Bazaar” is thus, perhaps, an autobiography in a truer sense than “ The Story of my Life.”