Hans Christian Andersen and SorenExtract from The Secret Gloss
A Play on the life of Kierkegaard (2009)
Act 2 Scene 2
Alliance club is in session in a room above the café. It is
a gathering of
Copenhagen intellectuals and artists. Hans Christian Andersen is a
light. The room is rather grand, in a Regency style, and hardly
the bohemian atmosphere aspired to by all present. A large oblong table
central attraction. The members are all male. They stand around the
inordinately relaxed postures: thumbs in waistcoats, hats tilted, legs
as though in pirouette. Tall, cadaverous men with elbows lean on the
shoulders of squat Herculean watercolourists. The air is smoky and
However, Hans Christian is hosting the evening. His rather ponderous diffidence makes the livelier members a bit restless. Hans Christian is a large homely figure, very pleased with the respect universally accorded him. He has a nervous stutter which wins him sympathy, or at least a hearing. He balefully plays with the company, tempering unduly prolonged pauses between clauses with strategic stutters. Noticing the absence of young Kierkegaard he is emboldened to mock him.
Once... upon a time (laughter) there was a Parrot, a young Parrot called Soren with a... chip on his shoulder... and an unprepossessing figure. This Parrot had, despite the beautiful voice of his master, Professor Molbeck, who adopted him at the University... out of charity, of course (laughter)... this Parrot had the most horrible voice in the whole of Copenhagen, and indeed, if we are to believe the Standing brothers who have been to China... so they say (more laughter. The laughter does not necessarily coincide with a joke) ...indeed... in the whole world that knows human speech. This unpleasant Parrot was not blessed by nature... Or, it is said, by his father... a large black woolly Parrot with very rich feathers... and a religious bent. He was... not to put too fine a point on it... a miserable specimen of Parrot-hood. The sort of bird nobody could love.
Because of this, the unpleasant Parrot liked to scratch and... and screech. One day he clawed through his cage, and flew into a row of books on a window-ledge... which is as far as he got. Outside there was a handsome garden with elegant trees and a very blue sky above it. The Parrot hated the garden, particularly some peacock whose noble plumage trailed along the landscaped lawn. He squawked a little, scoffing, threw his eyes up to heaven... and was awfully offended by the blue... Yellow was his favourite colour. He kept looking nevertheless, this very young but unpleasant Parrot. His owl-like eyes, for he did not see very well, fell on some Birds of Paradise who frolicked in the treetops. He squawked and screeched more and more horribly at this sight.
Down below in the garden the good Gardener was at work. He was used to the Parrot’s squawking, as the Parrot hated him even more than the blue sky and the Birds of Paradise. The Gardener was a hardworking man, a... lover of nature. He particularly loved human nature, and indeed could extend his considerable charity to... dumb-creatures too. This included parrots, although all parrots are not dumb, of course... Still, with this unpleasant Parrot he had a... crisis of conscience. Loving what was easy to love... was one thing. The truly virtuous man must go further than that. He knew from his gardener’s bible that... the most beautiful flowers frequently accept the embraces of the most noxious weeds, and seem to tolerate them. ‘Flowers are truly Christian’, he thought. ‘They even love their enemies. I must henceforth seek out the unlovable for my attention.’ Beautiful flowers who are tolerant teach us a lesson. We must learn from the flowers to love our enemies... and...
At this point, Soren Kierkegaard and his friends make their presence felt, having entered the room from the back. The friends are tiptoeing, but Soren makes as much noise as he can. The disturbance generated by his umbrella and lurching gait causes Hans Christian to pause. Soren speaks in a loud grating voice (he does have the sharp delivery of a hunchback or a parrot), heckling Hans Christian.
And we must learn to hate our friends. Carry on, flowery philosopher, and surpass yourself in silliness.
The club-members quell the interruption, and the riot starts amongst the livelier section with good-natured banter. Soren sits down at the table (except for a few very old members, most of the Holy Alliance are standing) and composes himself to stay quiet and be bored. This show of resignation, in the face of Hans Christian’s laborious polemic against him is appreciated by the members (good show!). However, Hans C is flustered and cannot carry on. He compensates by radiating good humour, in mood with the Holy Alliance motto, ART IS GOOD NATURE. GOOD NATURE IS ART (the society poster is prominently displayed behind the speaker). The great man looks down on Soren with paternal benevolence, rather forced in fact.
Israel and Brochner join Soren, who turns to meet them and confides in a loud whisper.
This man is a fool. Why don’t we just take advantage of this stunned silence and get out before he starts twaddling again? We, after all, have a more important engagement.
Soren makes to go.
Stay, Master Kierkegaard. You are young, and we understand youth. Listen to what your elders, and for the moment your betters, have to say. Listen carefully and you may learn something which is not in German books. Experience! You can learn something from others’ experience. Particularly from the more venerable amongst us. You are too young to be...
Old. And you are too old to be young. And still not thirty!
Hans is only seven years older than Soren, in fact
You are too young to be bitter. What are you? Not of age yet. And full of venom. Experience will no doubt sweeten you. Meanwhile, my boy, those who have walked down the long avenue of experience can perhaps give you directions...
Soren has been making his obstreperous way to the door followed by his embarrassed friends. He taps his umbrella loudly on the floor to the rhythms of Hans C’s homily. Soren is in a hopping rage by now. He leaps up on a chair by the door, knocking things over, spoiling the aura of good nature in the Holy Alliance. He is telling his friends, ‘The man is a total etc’. He shouts at Hans Christian.
Experience, experience? You may have had experience, and it has gone to your head. Dogs have experience. Cats have experience. Bishop Mynster has had experience, I dare say. You have had experience, and long may you continue to have had experience. But remember this, experience does not make people wise, more often it makes them mad.
Where is Anders, Israel? I have an appointment with experience elsewhere.
Soren leaps from the chair, and out of the room followed by his friends. Anders remains behind briefly. He has been lurking in the wings. He approaches the table, hat in hand.
Your Excellency, Mr Andersen, forgive my master. He is young and not used to tipple. I, his humble servant, bow to you in apology, the greatest storyteller for children in history, so I’m told.
The Holy Alliance breaks out in spontaneous laughter. Hans C does not like it at all. He knows the joke is on him. Nevertheless, he smiles studiously, indicating another Holy Alliance motto, framed behind him, BROTHERS IN CHRIST AND ART, with upturned palms. No blasphemy intended. Hans C was a good Danish Protestant.