Hans Christian Andersen was born in Denmark on the 2nd of April 1805, into a poor family. Andersen very early showed signs of imaginative temperament, which was fostered by the indulgence and superstition of his parents. In 1816 his father died and he was left entirely to his own devices.
Wishing to be an opera-singer, Andersen took matters into his own hands and started for Copenhagen in September 1819. There he was taken for a lunatic, snubbed at the theatres, and nearly reduced to starvation, but he was befriended by the musicians Christoph Weyse and Siboni, and afterwards by the poet Frederik Hoegh Guldberg (1771-1852). His voice failed, but he was admitted as a dancing student at the Royal Theatre. He grew idle, and lost the favor of Guldberg, but a new patron appeared in the person of Jonas Collin, the director of the Royal Theatre, who became Andersen's life-long friend.
King Frederick VI was interested in the strange boy and sent him, free of charge, to the great grammar-school at Slagelse. Before he started for school he published his first volume, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave (1822). Andersen, a very backward and unwilling student, actually remained at Slagelse and at another school in Elsinore until 1827; these years, he says, were the darkest and bitterest in his life. Collin at length consented to consider him educated, and Andersen came to Copenhagen. In 1829 he made a considerable success with a fantastic volume entitled A Journey on Foot from Holman's Canal to the East Point of Amager, and he published in the same season a farce and a book of poems. He made little further progress, however, until 1833, when he received a small traveling stipend from the king, and made the first of his long European journeys. At Le Locle, in the Jura, he wrote Agnate and the Merman; and in October 1834 he arrived in Rome. Early in 1835, Andersen's novel, The Improvisatore, appeared, and achieved a real success; the poet's troubles were at an end at last.
In the same year, 1835, the earliest installment of Andersen's immortal Fairy Tales (Eventyr) was published in Copenhagen. Other parts appeared in 1836 and 1837. The value of these stories was not at first perceived, and they sold slowly. Andersen was more successful for the time being with a novel, O.T., and a volume of sketches, In Sweden. In 1837 he produced the best of his romances, Only a Fiddler. He now turned his attention to the theatre, but was recalled to his true genius in the charming miscellanies of 1840 and 1842, the Picture-Book without Pictures, and A Poet's Bazaar. Meanwhile the fame of his Fairy Tales had been steadily rising; a second series began in 1838, a third in 1845. Andersen was now celebrated throughout Europe, although in Denmark itself there was still some resistance to his pretensions. In June 1847 he paid his first visit to England, and enjoyed a triumphal social success; when he left, Charles Dickens saw him off from Ramsgate pier. After this Andersen continued to publish much; he still desired to excel as a novelist and a dramatist, which he could not do, and he still disdained the enchanting Fairy Tales, in the composition of which his unique genius lay. Nevertheless he continued to write them, and in 1847 and 1848 two fresh volumes appeared. After a long silence Andersen published in 1857 another romance, To be or not to be. In 1863, after a very interesting journey, he issued one of the best of his travel-books, In Spain. His Fairy Tales continued to appear, in installments, until 1872, when, at Christmas, the last stories were published.
In the spring of that year Andersen had an awkward accident, falling out of bed and severely hurting himself. He was never again quite well, but he lived till the 4th of August 1875, when he died in the house called Rolighed, near Copenhagen.