Letter: 'Not really dead'

April 27, 2001

The 19th century could be a time of horror to an informed person ("Plight of the living dead", THES, April 20). Hans Christian Andersen, for example, lived in constant fear of airborne diseases that he felt made him itch, caused fevers and pains. He too had fears of people being buried alive.

When his old friend the Danish composer Weyse died in October 1842, it was rumoured that he was still alive. Andersen writes in his 1855 autobiography, The Fairy Tale of My Life : "On the day of his funeral, the body was, remarkably, not yet quite cold in the region of the heart. As I arrived with the rest of the company at the house where his body was, I was told of this and I begged the doctors, in the name of Heaven, to investigate this and do everything to aid his revival, but I was assured, after the most thorough investigation, that he was completely dead: there was nothing unusual in such body warmth, I then implored them please to open one of his veins before the coffin lid was nailed down; this was not done; Oehlenschläger [Danish Romantic author] heard about this and approached me: "What is this? Do you want his body cut up!?" he said, with the anger occasionally characteristic of him. "Yes, that is surely better than his waking up in his grave and presumably you would want the same when your time comes!" - "I!" Oehlenschläger exclaimed, taking a step back. Sadly, Weyse was dead."

Andersen was not convinced. For some time, to avoid mistakes if he was found lifeless in his bed, he would place a slip by his bedside with the words, "I am not really dead."

Sadly, Andersen is now also dead.

Hans Christian Andersen
Tourism management studies
University of Northumbria at Newcastle

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