A Forgotten Tourist

I was leaving my doctor after a fortunately rare visit when I saw that a plaque had appeared on an outside wall of his surgery since I had last been there. It commemorated the visit which Hans Christian Andersen had made to Edinburgh in 1847. I hadn’t known that Andersen had ever visited Scotland.

The plaque had been erected by Edinburgh City Council to mark the bi-centenary of his birth in 2005. The medical centre had been built on the site of the long-demolished lodge of “Lixmount House.” The lodge had guarded the entrance to “Lixmount,” also demolished, where Andersen had stayed in the Edinburgh suburb of Trinity.

Andersen’s fairy stories, “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Princess and the Pea” and many others are considered part of the DNA of our culture. Most people only know them at second or third hand, but the originals are a revelation, concise and witty.

Andersen’s first book had appeared under the name of “Villam Christian Walter”, a combination of the first name of Shakspeare, his own, and that of Sir Walter Scott, whom he greatly admired. The book included a story obviously derived from “The Heart of Midlothian” and was called “Youthful Attempts”. It was eventually pulped as unsellable. The few copies that remain are keenly sought after by Danish book collectors.

Andersen was an inveterate traveller, in an age when few were. Travel then was expensive and difficult. He constantly worried about the cost of his visits, and tried to get a grant from the Danish royal family, or a book out of them.

His trip to Scotland followed on from one to England, where he had met Charles Dickens. He was keen to see the settings of his great hero Sir Walter Scott’s novels and poems, but was reluctant to travel north because of his limited English.

A solution presented itself. Joseph Hambro was an eminent Danish banker who lived and worked in London. His son Carl Joachim, later Lord Hambro, was renting a house in Edinburgh so his wife could enjoy sea-bathing. Some accounts say she was being treated for infertility by Dr.James Young Simpson, the discoverer of anaesthesia.

Andersen would be provided with somewhere to stay, and a guide in Joseph Hambro, who was fluent in English and Danish. He had already intervened in negotiations over English translation rights for Andersen, for he was appalled at the small sum being offered.

The trip to Scotland was only possible because the railway had arrived. The Newcastle-to-Berwick section of the route was only a month old.

Andersen and Hambro set off from London on 10th August. Hambro’s son met them with his carriage in Edinburgh to take them to Lixmount House, which Andersen called “Mount Trinity.” He said “ …that we are dear and welcome, there we soon feel at home.”

Joyce M.Wallace in “Traditions of Trinity and Leith” tells us that Sir James Young Simpson maintained a “country retreat” round the corner from “Lixmount”. Simpson was to be Andersen’s guide to the Old Town.

Andersen thought that Edinburgh was “as picturesque as Constantinople and Stockholm.”

Closer inspection of the Old Town showed the deterioration that had taken place since the New Town had been built. Andersen observed,”…poverty and misery seemed to peep out of the open holes which are used for windows; rags and tatters were put out to dry.”

The New Town Andersen thought was “modern but tedious.” He was especially dismissive of the regular grid pattern of its streets. “The city possesses no other Scottish characteristic than that it has, like Scottish plaid, its regular quadrangles.”

Andersen went to Heriot’s Hospital with Joseph Hambro, and invoked Sir Walter Scott’s “The Fortunes of Nigel” to explain to readers of his autobiography “The Story of My Life” who George Heriot had been. Andersen signed the visitors’ book, along with several people who were accompanying him. The porter read their entries, then asked Joseph Hambro, who looked the part, being sixty-six with white hair, if he was the Danish poet. Hambro pointed to Andersen “No, there is the poet!”

“So young!” the porter exclaimed. “I have read him, and the boys have read him also!” Andersen was overcome at being known. “I was obliged to step aside to hide my tears; God knows the thoughts of my heart.”

Less successful was an after-dinner ether sniffing event held by James Young Simpson at his New Town address. Andersen thought that anaesthesia was a boon for operations, but wasn’t suitable for entertainment. “It was not nice to see the ladies…they laughed with open, dead eyes.”

But for the plaque, I wouldn’t have known of his visit.

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4 thoughts on “A Forgotten Tourist”

  1. An interesting linking of Andersen’s visit with other contemporary events. Intrigued by the name ‘Lixmount’. I haven’t come across it in an Edinburgh context before.

  2. This is fascinating, full of detailed research, I too had no idea that he was ever in Edinburgh.

  3. I too have seen the placque outside the surgery on East Trinity Road. Fascinating article which fills in many gaps. Thanks!

  4. Excellent article. I was totally unaware also, that Hans.C. Anderson had ever visited Edinburgh.

    I visited Odense, Denmark, some years ago, where Anderson had lived, and clearly remember the local museum giving details of his work, travels etc, during his life.

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