The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen/Holger Danske

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Holger Danske

IN Denmark there stands an old castle called Kronenburg. It lies near the Sound of Elsinore, where large ships, both English, Russian, and Prussian, daily sail past by hundreds. And they salute the old fortress with cannons that say, "Boom!" And the fortress answers with its cannons, "Boom!" which is the way cannons say, "Good-morning," and "Your servant." In winter no ships sail by, for all is covered with ice as far as the Swedish coast; but it looks quite like a high road, and Danish and Swedish flags are waving, and Danes and Swedes say to each other, "Good-morning," and "Your servant." But not with cannons—no, indeed! but with a friendly shake of the hand; and they mutually purchase white bread and cracknels of each other, because foreign goods taste the nicest. But finest of all is the old castle of Kronenburg, where Holger Danske sits in a deep, dark cellar, which nobody enters. He is clad in iron and steel, and supports his head on his strong arm: his long beard hangs over the marble table, in which it has taken root. He sleeps and dreams; but in his dreams he sees everything that takes place up above here in Denmark. Every Christmas evening an angel comes to tell him that all he has dreamed is true, and that he may go to sleep again in peace, for that Denmark is as yet in no real peril; but should danger ever occur, then will old Holger Danske rise, and shiver the table to pieces as he withdraws his beard. And then he will come forth in his might, and lay about him, till all the world shall ring with his fame.

An old grandfather sat telling all these particulars about Holger Danske to his little grandson; and the little boy knew that what his grandfather said was true. And as the old man sat talking, he was carving a large wooden figure representing Holger Danske, which was to ornament the prow of a vessel; for the old grandfather was a carver of images, whose trade it was to make figures for ship-heads, according as each ship might be named; and, in the present case, he had carved Holger Danske, who stood proud and erect, with his long beard, holding in one hand his broad battle-sword, while he supported himself with the other against the Danish coat-of-arms.

And the old grandfather related so many histories about distinguised Danish men and women that at length his little grandson fancied that he knew as much as Holger Danske himself, who only dreams about things; and when the little fellow went to bed, he kept thinking and thinking, till he pressed his chin against the counterpane, and then imagined that he had a long beard that became rooted to it.

But the old grandfather still sat at his work, carving the last portion of it, namely,—the Danish arms. At last he completed them, and then looked at the whole, and thought over all he had read and heard, and what he had related that evening to the little boy; and he nodded his head, wiped his spectacles, put them on again, and said: "Ay, Holger Danske won't make his appearance in my lifetime, but that boy in bed there will perhaps be able to see him, and will be present when it really comes to pass." And the old grandfather nodded again; and the more he looked at his Holger Danske, the more obvious it was to him that he had carved a good figure,—nay, it even seemed to him as if it assumed the colour of life, and as if the armour glittered like iron and steel: the nine hearts in the Danish arms seemed redder and redder, while the lions, with their gold crowns on their heads, were actually leaping.

"They are certainly the finest arms in the world," said the old man. "The lions stand for strength, and the hearts for mercy and love." And he gazed at the uppermost lion, and thought of King Knut, who chained illustrious England to the Danish throne; and he looked at the second lion, and thought of Waldemar, who united Denmark, and conquered the Vandal states. Then he looked at the third lion, and thought of Margaret, who was the bond of union between Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. But while he was gazing at the red hearts, they glowed yet more


brightly than before, and became flames that moved, and his mind followed each of them in turn.

The first flame led him into a dark and narrow prison, where sat captive a beautiful woman, Eleonor Ulfeld,[1] daughter to Christian IV.; and the flame alighted on her bosom like a rose, and bloomed, and seemed to make one with the heart of the best and noblest of all Danish women.

"Ay, that is, indeed, a heart in Denmark's arms," said the old grandfather.

And his spirit followed the second flame, that carried him out to sea, where cannons were roaring, and ships lay wrapped in smoke; and the flame shaped itself into the ribbon of an order on Hvitfeldt's breast, as he blew up himself and his ship, in order to save the whole fleet.[2]

And the third flame led him to Greenland's miserable huts, where the missionary, Hans


Egede,[3] held his sway by words and deeds of Christian love. The flame that was a star on his breast became one of the hearts in the Danish arms.

And the old grandfather's spirit followed the hovering flame, for his spirit knew whither it was about to lead him. In a peasant woman's poverty-stricken room stood Frederick VI., writing his name, in chalk, upon a beam;[4] the flame was flickering on his breast and in his heart, and it was in the peasant's house that his heart became one of the hearts in the Danish coat-of-arms. And the old grandfather wiped his eyes, for he had known King Frederick, with his silvery locks and his honest blue eyes, and had lived under him; and he claspad his hands, and gazed stedfastly before him. The old grandfather's daughter-in-law then came to remind him that it was late, that he ought to take some rest, and that supper was ready.

"But what you have carved is very fine, grandfather," said she; "Holger Danske, and our complete old coat-of-arms! It seems to me as if I had seen that face before."

"No, you can't have seen it," said the old grandfather; "but I have, and I have endeavoured to carve it in wood, such as it remained impressed on my memory. A long time ago, when the English fleet lay in the roadstead, and when we showed, on the memorable second of April,[5] that we were true ancient Danes, I was on the deck of the Denmark, for I served in Steen Billes' squadron, and there I stood beside a man, whom the very cannon-balls seemed to be afraid of He sang old ditties in a cheerful voice, and fired and fought as if he were something more than a human being. I still recollect his countenance, but whence he came, or whither he went, neither I nor anybody else ever knew. I have often thought it might be old Holger Danske himself, who had swam down to us from Kronenburg to help us in the hour of danger. That was my notion and there is his likeness."

The wooden image cast its giant shadow upon the wall, and even on a part of the ceiling. It seemed to be the real Holger Danske himself standing there; for the shadow moved, though it might only be the flickering light of the lamp that caused such an illusion. And his daughter-in-law kissed the old grandfather, and led him to the great arm-chair before the table; and she and her husband, the son of the old grandfather, and father to the little boy who lay in bed, supped with him, while the old man descanted upon the Danish lions and the Danish hearts, the emblems of strength and mercy, and expounded very clearly that there was another kind of strength, that


lay not in the sword, and pointed to a shelf containing some old books, amongst which might be found a complete set of Holberg's comedies, that have been so much read, because they are so amusing, and one can fancy one recognises all the characters of bygone ages delineated in their pages.

"You see, he, too, knew how to fight," said the old grandfather; "he scourged people's follies and failings as long as he could." And the grandfather nodded in the direction of the looking-glass, near which stood an almanack with a print of the round tower,[6] saying: "Tycho Brahe was another of those who used the sword not to hack and hew flesh, but to clear a simpler road between all the stars in heaven. And then he, whose father belonged to my craft—he, the son of the old image-carver—he, whom we have ourselves seen, with his white locks and broad shoulders, and whose name is celebrated throughout all the lands of the world—ay, he is a sculptor, while I am only an image-carver! Yes; Holger Danske can come in many shapes, so that Denmark's strength shall be manifest through all the lands of the earth. Now, shall we drink Bertel's[7] health?"

But the little boy in bed saw old Kronenburg and the Sound of Elsinore quite plainly, and the real Holger Danske, who sat below in the cellar, with his beard rooted to the table, dreaming of all that happens up above here. Holger Danske likewise dreamed of the humble little room where sat the carver of images: he heard the conversation that took place, and nodded in his dream, saying: "Ay, do but remember me, you Danish people! Bear me in your memory! I will come in the hour of need!"

And the bright daylight now shone outside Kronenburg, and the wind bore the sound of the huntsmen's bugles from the neighbouring land. The ships sailed past, and saluted the fortress—"Boom! boom!" And Kronenburg answered, "Boom! boom!" But Holger Danske did not wake, loud as the cannons had roared; for they meant nothing but—"Good-morning!" and "Your servant!" They must fire in another sort of manner before he awakes; but wake he will, if necessary, for there is plenty of strength yet in Holger Danske.

  1. This highly gifted princess (wife of the Corfitz Ulfeld, who was accused of betraying his country), whose only crime was her faithful attachment to her unfortunate husband, languished for twenty-two years in an abominable dungeon, till her persecutor. Queen Sophia Amelia, was dead.
  2. In the naval battle in the Kjöge Gulf, between the Danes and Swedes, in 1710, Hvitfeldt's ship, the Danebrog, caught fire. In order to save the town of Kjöge and the Danish fleet from the flames of his ship, which was driven towards them by the wind, he blew up his vessel with himself and the whole crew.
  3. Hans Egede went to Greenland in 1721, where he followed his calling during fifteen years, amidst incredible privations and hardships. Not only did he spread the lights of Christianity, but was himself a pattern of the noblest Christian virtues.
  4. During a journey to the western coast of Jutland, the king visited a poor woman, who, on his leaving her house, ran after him to request him to write his name on a beam; the king accordingly turned back and complied with her wish. Through the whole course of his life he displayed a great anxiety to better the condition of the peasantry. Hence it was that Danish peasants begged for the privilege of carrying his coffin to its last resting-place, in the royal vault at Roeskilde, a distance of four miles from Copenhagen.
  5. It was on the 2nd April, 1801, that this bloody naval battle took place between the Danes and the English, under Parker and Nelson.
  6. The astronomical observatory in Copenhagen.
  7. Bertel Thorwaldsen.