The statue of The Little Mermaid can still be seen in the harbour at Copenhagen

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75)

Hans Christian Andersen is remembered as one of the great writers, especially for children. The fairy tales he wrote are like none written before or since. The Steadfast Tin Soldier and The Snow Queen are just two stories that have been translated into almost every language. Even today, if you call someone an ugly duckling, you are using a phrase from one of Hans Christian Andersenís best-known stories.

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense (Denmark) on 2 April 1805. When he was 11 years old, his father died and as a result he went to school only when he felt like it, and spent most of his time imagining stories rather than doing lessons. He had a very good memory, and learnt some of his lessons by listening to a neighbourhood boy who studied aloud! He memorised and performed plays to anyone who would listen and imitated ballet dancers, acrobats or pantomimists - much to his mothers shock! In desperation, she apprenticed him first to a weaver, then to a tobacconist and finally to a tailor. But he knew these occupations were not what he wanted. The only things that held his interest were the theatre, books and stories. At just 14, he decided to go to Copenhagen to seek his fortune. He had a letter of introduction to a famous dancer. Andersen sang and danced for her, but though she and her guests laughed uproariously at him, they did not help him make his fortune.

For the next three years he was absolutely poor. He earnt a little money singing in a boy's choir-until his voice broke. He tried to act and to join the ballet, but his awkwardness made this impossible. He attempted to work with his hands but could not do this either. It never occurred to him to give up and go home.

Finally, when he was 17, a director of the Royal Theatre, Jonas Collin, discovered him. Collin saw that Andersen had talent-but needed an education. He obtained some money from the king for Andersens education and sent him to a school near Copenhagen. Andersens teacher, however, treated him harshly and loved to taunt him about his ambition of being a writer. Finally, Collin took Andersen from the school and arranged for him to study under a private tutor in Copenhagen. In 1828, Andersen finally passed his entrance examinations to the university in Copenhagen.

Andersens writings began to be published in Danish in 1829. In 1833 the king gave him a grant of money for travel and he spent 16 months wandering through Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. He wrote poems, plays, novels and impressions of his travels. He hadnít yet discovered that he had a special ability to write for children.

In 1835 Andersen published Fairy Tales for Children - four short stories he wrote for a little girl. Adults as well as children wanted more! Andersen published 168 fairy tales in all. He wrote the stories just as he would have told them. Although he never married and had no children of his own, he was at his best as an interpreter of the nature of children.

Andersen died on 4 August 1875.