Many of us are familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Emperor’s Nightingale – Entranced by the song of a nightingale outside his window, the Emperor calls for his most-skilled craftsmen to forge him one of metal and gears, a nightingale of such fine artifice that could imitate the bird’s sweet songs. The emperor fell ill, and the only thing that could cure him was the song of the real nightingale that lived in his own perfumed gardens.
But perhaps there is more to this tale than what meets the eye, and another of Hans Christian Andersen’s secrets lay plain in between the prose where one is cunning.
Hans Christian Andersen, weaver of tales most beloved of children, also fell in love. Alas, it seems Love was not kind to him, as he had a habit of falling in deep love with the unattainable and the unreachable. One such object of the author’s affections was a vision and a songbird named Jenny Lind.
Lind was an opera singer by trade, and Andersen, smitten with love for her, confessed his feelings. Alas, his feelings were not reciprocated, as she preferred to have him as a friend, and that her heart belonged to another man – the composer Fryderyk Chopin. Chopin, suffering from tuberculosis at the time, wrote to Lind that her songs often made him “feel better”. She would then set up a grand concert in order to gather funding for a tuberculosis hospital, but later had to flee from the cholera epidemic. She would later return, only to find her love dead from the consumption. Jenny Lind never recovered, and devoted her entire life to Chopin’s legacy. Hans Christian Andersen continued to receive letters from her, despairing over her “first, deepest, and purest love.”
We can only imagine what that must have felt like for Andersen.