The Europe of Hans Christian Andersen's time
Hans Christian Andersen got to know Europe very well during his many travels to, among other countries, Germany, England, Italy, Portugal and Turkey. This was a Europe with wars, revolutions and epidemics. Andersen must have been quite courageous to set out on such travels - although we know he was also very cautious.
By Benito Scocozza -
On December 2, 1805, eight months after Hans Christian Andersen was born, Napoleon and his troops won their greatest victory so far over their enemies Austria and Russia, at Austerlitz in Bohemia.
After new battles and changing alliances, Napoleon managed to get control of an area reaching from the southern border of Holstein in the north to Southern Italy in the south, and from Portugal in the west to Poland in the east.
In a reckless attempt to conquer Russia, Napoleon got as far as to Moscow in 1812, but then the tide turned. Father Frost and a large Russian army beat off the Napoleonic army.
And the mad escape, which left behind half a million corpses, soon ended with still more defeats for the emperor, so that in the end he had to capitulate, and then abdicate. In April of 1814 he was deported to the island of Elba off the coast of Italy.
In February the year after, he left Elba med a modest 1200 soldiers, disembarked near Cannes on the south coast of France and marched to Paris, cheered by the French people. But the victorious powers, headed by Great Britain and Prussia, lured him to Belgium, where he suffered his last defeat in the Battle of Waterloo southeast of Brussels.
This time his enemies protected themselves against new landings by imprisoning him on the island of St Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean, 1200 miles west of Africa's south-western coast.
The wars naturally caused great suffering for the peoples of Europe, but in the breathing spaces between the battles many citizens in the occupied areas felt that they had been freed from their own autocratic tyrants, and within a few years the name of the banished emperor became the name of a hero.
However unfair it may seem, he came to represent the ideals of the French Revolution ? and the rulers who had defeated him feared the unrest that might occur in the wake of more than fifteen years of war.
The slayers of Napoleon held a grand congress in Vienna, chaired by Russia, Prussia, Austria and Great Britain. It was decided that both geography and politics should be brought back to the time before the French Revolution.
An unctuous pact, The Holy Alliance, was created. It was thought up by the Russian Tsar and it established that the monarchs should rule alone, with no consideration for the will of the peoples nor of national affiliations.
The first attempts to revolt against the reactionary outcome of the Congress of Vienna came already in 1820, when, in connection with rebellions in Spain, Italy and Portugal, people demanded free constitutions.
But under the leadership of the French King Louis XVIII brother of Louis XVI, who had been executed during the Great French Revolution - and Austria's leading statesman, Prince Metternich, the very symbol of the reactionary victors, the rebellions were crushed.
But it was the Greek national rebellion that came to characterize European public life in the 1820's. Through centuries, Greece had been under Turkish, Muslim control, and everybody - Liberals, Christians and beaux-esprits - could agree on supporting the liberation of the country they considered to be the cradle of European civilization. Many volunteers went to Hellas to fight with the Greeks.
In 1829, the Great Powers Russia, France and Great Britain secured the independence of Greece. That was the starting signal for the banishment of the Turks from the Continent that dubbed Turkey "The sick man of Europe". Turkey was strange to a Christian European, but it was precisely that exotic quality that tempted many writers to the Near Orient and its hospitable inhabitants.
The ink on the peace agreement that gave the Greeks their freedom was hardly dry when France, the motherland of revolutions, stirred again.
In 1830, the workers and the Liberal middle class had become tired of King Charles X's aristocratic, reactionary regime, and after only three days of battles in Paris in the end of July, the King ran away.
In his place "the Citizen King" Louis Phillip was inaugurated, later known as "the Money-Bag" ? partly because of his physical proportions, but first and foremost because his regime now leaned on affluent capitalists instead of the aristocracy. The workers felt betrayed, and in the first year after the revolution labour troubles broke out, but were brutally crushed.
The three day revolution of France spread like a fire whose flames reached up to Belgium, which had been united with Holland since 1815. The Belgians did not want to be ruled by a Dutch king, and in August, after a performance of Auber's opera La Muette de la Portici (The Mute Girl of Portici), which depicts an uprising in Naples, the audience stormed out unto the streets of Brussels and demanded that Belgium be detached from Holland.
They succeeded. The Poles, also inspired by the French Revolution, were less successful in their attempt to be detached from Russia. The last remains of autonomy were abolished and Poland became a part of Russia.
In England, where the industrial revolution had created the largest working class in Europe, absolute monarchy was a thing of the remote past. But the influence of the general public on the parliament and government was almost non-existent.
In 1832, however, the new middle class managed to implement an electoral reform that introduced a more far-reaching franchise than the previous one, which had favoured the landowners, but the working class was still left out.
It had to go through some tough battles during its frequent clashes with the authorities in order to, firstly, win the right to form unions and reduce the factory owners' gross exploitation of women and children.
The revolutions of the 1830's, which led to unrest in many of the minor German lands, left constant rumblings of dissatisfaction with the irreversible order of the Holy Alliance, and in 1848 that order was seriously threatened by revolutions.
The French were again the first to march, but upheavals in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Denmark followed. The French revolution, which had spread to the working class, was encased, and in the end the road had been paved for the absolute power of Emperor Napoleon III.
Italy had to wait two decades before it was finally united after a series of clashes with the pope, Austria and the princes of the minor states.
The unification of Germany, which had been a vital point since the upheavals of 1848, next to the demands of the Liberals, was not realized until Prussia, with Bismarck as the iron chancellor, united the German Empire into the William empire of 1871, which now become the greatest power in Europe, after France had been beaten in that same year in the Franco-Prussian War and Napoleon III had been dethroned.
In all those decades, from the end of the Napoleonic epoch until the 1870's, actually until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the revolutions and the whole political agenda were characterized by the struggle between the antiquated absolute monarchy, based on the aristocracy, and the Liberal middle class, who strove to gain some influence.
In the centre of attention was always the question of who should be allowed to vote and influence the legislative powers that were being created all over Europe, after the fall of the absolute regimes.
The middle classes did not wish to share that power with anyone, especially after the spread of industrialization that had caused the working classes to stir and unionize in trade unions and Socialist parties. The revolt of the Parisian workers in 1871 and the creation of the Paris Commune in 1871 had especially frightened the bourgeoisie.
The demand for universal suffrage eventually forced the bourgeoisie on the defensive, but it was still only a small minority who supported the idea of women getting the right to vote as well. It was not until the end of the century that the Women's Rights Movement began to be heard.
Another central subject was the right of national self-determination. In Germany and Italy it was the question of the unification into one nation. Elsewhere, for instance in Austria-Hungary, minorities like the Czechs, Slovenians, South Slavonians and Rumanians struggled to break away. And the Poles.
Again in 1863 they revolted against the Russian suppression, but they found to their cost that they fought in vain against the absolute imperturbability of the Tsar, which lasted until 1917.
In spite of frequent censorship on the part of the authorities, the many political struggles of the century gradually gave rise to a debating, public opinion with the establishing of a large number of newspapers that benefited from the explosive progress in printing techniques. When the first stamp saw the light of day in 1840, the written communication between the individual sender and receiver also took a serious step forward.
And it became still easier to travel through Europe. The feeble beginning was the first railway for passenger trains from Liverpool to Manchester, opened in 1830, and from then on the tracks started to spread through the countries of Europe. From 1862, whoever could afford it had the possibility of letting him- or herself be conveyed in a sleeping car.
Horse-drawn transportation gradually improved, among other things by a mail coach route across the Alps. The more choosey traveller could take advantage of the new Hansom Cab, a light two-wheeled wagon with the driver's seat in the back and over the passenger cabin.
The fact that longer travels became more and more regular is illustrated by, among other things, Baedeker's guidebook on Germany and Austria from 1842. And most countries had no restrictions regarding their citizens' travelling abroad.
But of course it was practical if you had a passport or some such thing to prove who you were. And a letter of recommendation from a distinguished family at home worked wonders and opened many a door for the traveller.
The local traffic in the cities was also made easier by the establishing of horse-drawn buses. The first came to Berlin in 1823, and the first horse-drawn tram was seen in London in 1863. Two years later, the first underground railway was established in London as well.
As early as the beginning of the century, people had experimented with wooden bicycles, but they did not catch on, as you were supposed to run with it to get it started, while you were sitting astride it. Not until 1869 did the bicycle come close to being modern by getting a chain-drawn rear wheel.
When the traveller went up in the mail coach or the railway or went aboard one of the steamers that had exiled the sailing ships, she might, if it was in the 1830's, wear an ankle-length bell-shaped skirt with a slender waist and leg-of-mutton sleeves.
Her kapok hat, a bonnet with chin ribbons, would probably annoy the male fellow traveller, who would have preferred to be able to see her lovely face, while he himself would be shut up in a dark suit and an upturned, starched collar, named a "choker", and possibly he was cultured enough to take off his high-crowned cylinder hat for the lady.
But fashions come and go, although the ladies' fashion changed more than the men's. In the 1850's came the crinoline that really knew how to fill up a cab.
The upper and middle classes, who could afford to travel, were most concerned with decency. Virtuous cosiness in the family circle, the so-called Biedermeier culture, was the bourgeois ideal in the beginning of the century.
It later took root with the Victorian period's Puritan and hypocritical moralizing and sex-hating lifestyle, which found a natural counterpart in the frequent infidelity of many men, a certain inquisitiveness concerning the forbidden homosexuality, and the spreading of prostitution.
It is hardly strange that there was much talk of syphilis, but also the greatest scourge of the 19th century, tuberculosis, became a popular subject for tragedy.
While the smallpox was being wiped out as a vaccine against it had been discovered, there was no cure for tuberculosis. And then there were the returning cholera and typhus epidemics, strongly promoted by the bad hygiene of the period.
For someone who travelled a lot, the epidemics were a greater enemy than catastrophes at sea and sudden death.