By Hans Christian Andersen (1868)
On one of the Danish islands where the old places of assembly are found in the fields, and great trees tower in the beech woods, there lies a little town, whose low houses are covered with red tiles. In one of these houses wondrous things were brewed over glowing coals on the open hearth ; there was a boiling in glasses, a mixing and a distilling, and herbs were being bruised in mortars, and an elderly man attended to all this.
‘ One must only do the right thing,’ said he ; ‘ yes, the right thing. One must learn the truth about every created particle, and keep close to this truth.’
In the room with the good housewife sat her two sons, still small, but with grown-up thoughts. The mother had always spoken to them of right and justice, and had exhorted them to hold truth fast, declaring that it was as the countenance of the Almighty in this world.
The elder of the boys looked roguish and enterprising. It was his delight to read of the forces of nature, of the sun and of the stars ; no fairy tale pleased him so much as these. Oh ! how glorious it must be, to go out on voyages of discovery, or to find out how the wings of birds could be imitated, and then to fly through the air ! yes, to find that out would be the right thing : father was right, and mother was right truth keeps the world together.
The younger brother was quieter, and quite lost himself in books. When he read of Jacob clothing himself in sheepskins, to be like Esau and to cheat his brother of his birthright, his little fist would clench in anger against the deceiver : when he read of tyrants, and of all the wickedness and wrong that is in the world, the tears stood in his eyes, and he was quite filled with the thoughts of the right and truth which must and will at last be triumphant. One evening he already lay in bed, but the curtains were not yet drawn close, and the light streamed in upon him : he had taken the book with him to bed, because he wanted to finish reading the story of Solon.
And his thoughts lifted and carried him away marvellously, and it seemed to him that his bed became a ship, under full sail. Did he dream ? or what was happening to him ? It glided onward over the rolling waters and the great ocean of time, and he heard the voTce of Solon. In a strange tongue, and yet intelligible to him, he heard the Danish motto, ‘ With law the land is ruled.’
And the Genius of the human race stood in the humble room, and bent down over the bed, and printed a kiss on the boy’s forehead.
‘ Be thou strong in fame, and strong in the battle of life ! With the truth in thy breast, fly thou towards the land of truth ! ‘
The elder brother was not yet in bed ; he stood at the window gazing out at the mists that rose from the meadows. They were not elves dancing there, as the old nurse had told him ; he knew better : they were vapours, warmer than the air, and consequently they mounted. A shooting
star gleamed athwart the sky, and the thoughts of the boy were roused from the mists of the earth to the shining meteor. The stars of heaven twinkled, and golden threads seemed to hang from them down upon the earth.
‘ Fly with me ! ‘ it sang and sounded in the boy’s heart ; and the mighty genius, swifter than the bird, than the arrow, than anything that flies with earthly means, carried him out into space where rays stretching from star to star bind the heavenly bodies to each other ; our earth revolved in the thin air ; its cities seemed quite close together ; and through the sphere it sounded, ‘What is near, what is far to men, when the mighty genius of mind lifts them up ? ‘
And again the boy stood at the window and gazed forth, and the younger brother lay in his bed, and their mother called them by their names, ‘ Anders ‘ and ‘ Hans Christian.’
Denmark knows them, and the world knows the two brothers OERSTED.