What the Whole Family Said
By Hans Christian Andersen (1872)
What did the whole family say ? Well, listen first to what little Mary said.
It was little Mary’s birthday, the loveliest of all days, she thought. All her little friends came to play with her, and she wore the most beautiful dress ; she had got it from her Grandmother, who was now with the good God, but Grandmother herself had cut and sewed it before she went up into the bright, beautiful heaven. The table in Mary’s room shone with presents ; there was the neatest little kitchen, with all that belongs to a kitchen, and a doll which could roll its eyes and say ‘ Au ‘, when one pressed its stomach ; there was also a picture-book with the loveliest stories to read, if one could read ! But it was nicer even than all the stories to live through many birthdays.
‘Yes, it is lovely to live,’ said little Mary. Godfather added that it was the loveliest fairy tale.
In the room close by were Mary’s two brothers ; they were big boys, the one nine years old, the other eleven. They also thought it was lovely to be alive, to live in their way, not to be a child like Mary, but to be smart schoolboys, to have excellent ‘ in the character book, and to be able to enjoy a fight with their companions, to skate in winter, and to ride velocipedes in summer, to read about castles, drawbridges, and prisons, and to hear about discoveries in the heart of Africa. One of the boys had, however, one anxiety, that everything would be discovered before he grew up ; he wanted to go in quest of adventures then. Life is the most lovely story of adventure, Godfather said, and one takes part in it oneself.
It was on the ground floor that these children lived and played ; up above lived another branch of the family, also with children, but these were grown up : the one son was seventeen years old, the second twenty, but the third was very old, little Mary said he was twenty-five and engaged.
They were all happily situated, had good parents, good clothes, good abilities, and they knew what they wanted. ‘ Forward ! away with all the old barricades ! a free view into all the world ; that is the most lovely thing we know. Godfather is right : life is the loveliest fairy tale ! ‘
Father and Mother, both elderly people naturally they must be older than the children said with a smile on their lips, with a smile in their eyes and hearts : ‘ How young they are, the young people ! things do not go quite as they think in the world, but they do go. Life is a strange, lovely fairy tale.’
Overhead, a little nearer heaven, as one says, when people live in the garret, lived Godfather. He was old, but to young in spirit, always in good humour, and he could also tell stories, many and long. He had travelled widely in the world, and lovely things from all the countries in the world stood in his room. There were pictures from floor to ceiling, and some of the window-panes were of red and some of yellow glass : if one looked through them, the whole world lay in sunshine, however grey the weather was outside. In a big glass case grew green plants, and in a part of it gold-fish swam about : they looked as if they knew so much that they would not talk about it. It always smelt of flowers here, even in winter, and then a big fire burned in the stove ; it was so nice to sit and look into it and hear how it crackled and sputtered. ‘ It repeats old memories to me,’ said Godfather, and to little Mary it seemed as if many pictures showed themselves in the fire.
But in the big bookcase close by, stood the real books : one of these Godfather read very often, and he called it the Book of books ; it was the Bible. There, in pictures was shown the whole history of man and of the world, the creation, the flood, the kings and the King of kings.
‘ All that has happened and will happen stands in this book ! said Godfather. ‘ So infinitely much in a little book ! think of it ! Everything that a man has to pray for, is said and put in few words in the Lord’s Prayer. It is a drop of grace, a pearl of comfort from God. It is laid as a gift on the cradle of the child, at the child’s heart. Little child, keep it carefully ! never lose it, however big you grow, and then you will not be left alone on the changing paths ! it will shine in on you and you will not be lost.’
Godfather’s eyes shone at that ; they beamed with joy. Once in earlier days they had wept, ‘ and that was also good,’ he said, ‘ it was a time of trial when things looked grey. Now I have sunshine about mo and in me. The older one grows, the better one sees both in prosperity and adversity, that our Father is always with us, that life is the loveliest fairy tale, and only He can give us that, and it lasts into eternity.’
‘ It is lovely to live,’ said little Mary.
The little and the big boys said so too ; Father and Mother and the whole family said it, but above all Godfather, and he had experience, he was the oldest of them all, he knew all the stories, all the fairy tales, and he said, and that right out of his heart, ‘ Life is the loveliest fairytale ! ‘