By Hans Christian Andersen (1872)
Great-Grandfather was so very nice and wise and good that we all looked up to him. He was really called, as far back as I can remember, ‘ Grandfather,’ but when my brother’s little son, Frederick, came into the family, he was advanced to ‘ Great-grandfather ‘ ; higher up he could not get ! He thought so much of all of us, but he seemed not to think so much of our times. ‘ Old times were the best times,’ he said, ‘ they were steady and solid : now there is such a rush and such a turning up and down of everything. Youth leads the talk, and speaks of royalty itself as if they were its equal. Every person from the street can dip his rag in dirty water and wring it out on the head of a gentleman.’
With such talk Great-grandfather got very red in the face, but a little time after, his friendly smile reappeared, and then the words, ‘ Well, well, perhaps I am a little mistaken ! I stand in old times and cannot get a proper foothold in the new. May our Father lead and guide them ! ‘
When Great-grandfather talked about old times it was just as if I had them before me. In thought I drove in a golden chariot with attendants in livery, saw the guilds carrying their signs in procession with music and flags, and took part in the delightful Christmas parties, with forfeits and mumming.
There was certainly, also, in those times much that was horrible and nasty ; the stake, the wheel, and the shedding of blood, but all the horrible had something alluring and exciting about it. I learned about the Danish noblemen who gave the peasants their freedom, and Denmark’s Crown Prince who abolished the slave-trade. It was delightful to hear Great-grandfather tell about all this, and to hear about the days of his youth. Still the time before that was the very best, so strong and so great.
‘ Rough it was,’ said brother Frederick, ‘God be praised that we are out of it,’ and. he said this straight out to Great-grandfather. It was not nice to say that, but yet I had great respect for Frederick ; he was my eldest brother, and he could have been my father, he said. He said so many funny things. He was a very successful student, and so diligent in my father’s office that he would soon be able to go into the business. He was the one that Great-grandfather was most familiar with, but they always ended in disputing about something. These two did not understand each other, and never would, the family said ; but little as I was, I soon noticed that these two could not do without each other.
Great-grandfather listened with shining eyes when Frederick spoke or read about progress in science, about the discoveries of the powers of nature, and about all the remarkable things of our time.
‘ People become wiser, but not better,’ he said ; ‘ they invent the most terrible weapons of destruction against each other.’
‘ The quicker will war be past,’ said Frederick ; ‘ one will not have to wait seven years for the blessings of peace ! The world is full-blooded and must occasionally be bled ; it is necessary.’
One day Frederick told him something which had really happened in our time in a little town.
The Mayor’s clock, the big one on the town-hall, set the time for the town and the people. The clock did not go quite correctly, but all the same the town ordered itself by it. By and by the railways came, and they are connected with all other countries, and so one must know the time exactly, or there will be collisions. The railway got a clock which was set by the sun and so kept good time ; and now the whole of the townspeople settled everything by the railway clock.
I laughed and thought it was a funny story, but Great- grandfather didn’t laugh ; he became quite serious.
‘ There is a great deal in that story of yours,’ he said, ‘ and I also understand your idea in telling it to me. There is instruction in your clockwork. It makes me think of another instance, my parents’ simple old grandfather’s clock, with its leaden weights ; it was their and my childhood’s chronometer : it did not go quite correctly, but it went, and we looked at the hands ; we believed in them and did not think of the wheels inside. So also was it with the machinery of the state at that time ; one looked at it with confidence and believed in the hands. Now the state machine has become like a glass clock, where one can look right into the machinery and see the wheels turn and whirl. One gets quite afraid for this pivot and that wheel ! I wonder how it will go with the striking, and I have no longer my childhood’s faith. That is the weakness of the present time ! ‘
And so Great-grandfather talked himself quite angry. He and Frederick could not agree, but they could not separate either, just like the old and the new time ! They learned that, both of them and all the family, when Frederick had to start on a long journey, far away to America. It was on the business of the house that the journey had to be made. It was a terrible separation for Great-grand- father, and the journey was so long, right across the ocean to another part of the globe.
‘ Every fortnight you will have a letter from me,’ said Frederick, ‘ and quicker than all the letters, you will be able to hear from me by telegraph ; the days become hours, and the hours minutes ! ‘
Over the telegraph wires came a message from England, when Frederick went on board. Quicker than a letter, even if the flying clouds had been the postman, came a message from America when Frederick landed. It was only a few hours since he had done so.
‘ It is a divine thought which is granted to our time,’ said Great-grandfather ; ‘ a blessing for mankind.’
‘ Yes, and Frederick has told me that it was in our country that these powers of Natuie were first understood and made known.’
‘ Yes, said Great-grandfather, and kissed me. ‘ Yes, and I have looked into the two mild eyes which first saw and understood this power of Nature ; they were childish eyes, like yours ! and I have shaken hands with him ! ‘ And he kissed me again.
More than a month had gone, when we had a letter from Frederick with the news that he was engaged to a charming young girl, whom the whole family would assuredly be delighted with. Her photograph was sent, and was examined with the naked eye and with a magnifying glass, for that is the charm of these pictures, that they can stand examination with the sharpest glass, and that the likeness becomes even clearer in that way. No painter has ever been capable of that, not even the greatest of the old times.
; If one had only known the discovery in those times,’ said Great-grandfather, ‘ we should have been able to see the world’s great men and benefactors face to face. How good and sweet this young girl looks,’ he said, and gazed through the glass ; ‘ I shall know her now when she comes in at the door.’
But it was very near not happening : fortunately we at home scarcely knew of the danger until it was past.
The young newly-married couple arrived in England in joy and good health ; from there they proceeded with the steamer to Copenhagen. They saw the Danish coast, the white sand-hills of Jutland : then a great storm arose, and the ship grounded on one of the sand-banks and stuck fast. The sea rose high and seemed as if it would wreck the ship ; no lifeboat could work. The night came, but in the middle of the darkness a rocket was thrown from the shore over the stranded ship. The rocket carried a rope over it, a connexion was made between those out there and those on the shore, and soon a beautiful young lady was drawn through the heavy rolling waves in a cradle, and glad and happy was she when her young husband stood by her side on dry land. All on board were saved, and it was not daylight yet.
We lay sleeping soundly in Copenhagen, thinking neither of sorrow nor clanger. As we assembled for breakfast, there came a rumour, brought by a telegram, that an English steamer had gone down on the west coast. We were in great anxiety, but just then came a telegram from Frederick and his young wife, who had been saved and would soon be with us.
They all wept together ; I wept too, and Great-grand- father wept, folded his hands, and I am certain of it blessed the new times.
That day Great-grandfather gave twenty pounds for the monument to Hans Christian Oersted, the electrician.
When Frederick came home with his young wife and heard it, he said, ‘ That was right, Great-grandfather ! now I shall read to you what Oersted many years ago said about the old and new times ! ‘
‘ He was of your opinion, no doubt ? ‘ said Great-grandfather.
‘ Yes, you may be sure of that,’ said Frederick ; ‘ and you are too, since you have subscribed for the monument to him ! ‘