The Rags – Illustration
By Hans Christian Andersen (1874)
Outside the factory lay heaps of clouts piled up in stacks, gathered together from far and wide ; every rag had its story, every one was telling his own tale, but one cannot listen to them altogether. Some rags were native, others came from foreign countries. Here a Danish rag lay close to a Norwegian rag ; real Danish was the one, and thoroughly Norwegian the other, and that was the amusing thing about the two of them, every sensible Norwegian and Dane will say.
They knew each other by their speech, although each of these, said the Norwegian, was as different as French and Hebrew. ‘ We do our best to get ours raw and original, while the Dane makes his sickly-sweet flavourless language for himself.
The rags talked, and a rag is a rag in every country ; they only count for something in the cloth-heap.
‘I am Norwegian,’ said the Norwegian rag, ‘ and when I say I am Norwegian, I think I have said enough I I am of firm stuff, like the ancient hills in old Norway, the country which has a constitution like free America ! It tickles me in my threads, to think what I am, and to let my thoughts ring out in granite words.’
‘ But we have a literature,’ said the Danish rag. ‘ Do you understand what that is ? ‘
‘ Understand ! ‘ repeated the Norwegian. ‘ Inhabitant of a flat land, shall I lift him to the mountains and let the Northern Lights shine on him, rag that he is ! When the ice melts before the Norwegian sun, then Danish fruitboats come up to us with butter and cheese, very appetizing wares ! and there comes as ballast Danish literature. We do not need it ! one prefers to dispense with flat ale where the fresh spring bubbles, and here it is a well which is not bored, not gossipped into European fame by newspapers and authors’ travels in foreign countries. I speak freely from the lungs, and the Dane must accustom himself to the free sound, and that he will do in his Scandinavian clinging to our proud, rocky country, the primaeval clump of the world.’
‘A Danish rag could never talk like that/ said the Danish rag. ‘ It is not our nature. I know myself, and all our rags are like me ; we are so good-natured, so modest ; we have too little confidence in ourselves, and one gains nothing by that, but I like it all the same, I think it so charming ! As a matter of fact, I can assure you I know to the full my own good qualities, but I do not talk about them, no one shall be able to blame me for such a mistake. I am soft and tractable, bear with everything, envy none, speak good of all, although there is not much good to be said of most of the others, but let that be their affair. I only laugh at it all, being so gifted as I am.’
‘ Don’t speak that flat-land’s soft pasty language to me, it makes me sick,’ said the Norwegian rag, and lifted itself in the wind from the heap and went over into another one.
Both of them were made into paper, and as chance would have it, the Norwegian rag became paper, on which a Norwegian wrote a faithful love-letter to a Danish girl, and the Danish rag became the manuscript for a Danish ode in praise of Norway’s strength and grandeur.
Something good can come even out of rags, when they have been on the clothes-heap and the transformation into truth and beauty has taken place ; then they shine in good understanding, and in that there, , is blessing.
That is the story ; it is quite enjoyable, and need offend no one except the rags.