The following is a guest post from Taru Spiegel, reference specialist in the Library’s European Division.
How would you like to receive a phone call out of the blue, asking if you are interested in a gift of priceless original letters by your favorite author? When you work at the Library of Congress, fairy-tale offers like this can come true.
For a Hans Christian Andersen fan, the Library’s collection of his first editions, manuscripts, letters, presentation copies and pictorial material is a treasure trove. The collection was recently expanded with a donation of four new Andersen letters from a descendant of Louis Bagger, a 19th-century journalist, lawyer and ardent admirer of the Danish author of the classic children’s stories “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina” and “The Ugly Duckling.”
Bagger, who immigrated to the United States from Denmark in the late 1860s, helped Andersen as a translator, editor and proofreader – assistance appreciated by the author and Horace Scudder, his U.S. promoter. Hans Christian Andersen was quite popular in the U.S. and some of his stories – “The Great Sea Serpent,” about the trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, for example – first appeared in the U. S. and in the English language.
The Andersen letters to Bagger span 1863 to 1872 and discuss, among other things, Andersen’s fear of crossing the Atlantic, which kept the author from his admiring U.S. public; allusions to the married singer Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt, for whom Andersen held romantic feelings; and young Danish authors Andersen thought were worthy of translation into English.
Bagger also at one time entertained his own ambitions as a poet – efforts that drew a diplomatic assessment from Andersen:
Your letter and the enclosed short poems tell me that you have a warm heart and much love for poetry, but how much talent you have or do not have, I cannot possibly tell,” Andersen wrote Bagger. “To put one’s thoughts in verse form in our time is as easy as writing an essay. If you feel a truly intense need to compose, do it, but only when it quite overcomes you. I cannot and dare not encourage you, but neither will I discourage you. Time will disclose whether or not you have talent. — Your well-wisher, H. C. Andersen.
The letters will be housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.