TO MY AMERICAN FRIENDS.
Stockholm, May, 1853.
THESE letters were written in your homes while I lived there with you, as a sister with her brothers and sisters--in the North, in the West, in the South of your great country. They were written during familiar intercourse with you. And without you they would not have been what they now are, for without you I could not have become acquainted with the Homes of the New World, nor have been able, from your sacred peaceful hearths, to contemplate social life beyond. To you, therefore, I inscribe these letters. They will bear witness to you of me, and of my life among you. You said to me,
"We hope that you will tell us the truth."
You wished nothing else from me. I have endeavored to fulfill your wishes. Be you my judges!
That which I saw and found in the New World has been set down in these letters. They are, for the most part, outpourings from heart to heart--from your homes to my home in Sweden. When I wrote, I little thought of committing them to the press, little thought of writing a book in America, least of all in these letters, and of that they bear internal evidence. Had such a thought been present with me, they would have been different to what they are; they would have been less straightforward and natural; more polished, more attired for company, but whether better--I can not say. My mind in America was too much occupied by thoughts of living to think of writing about life. Life was overpowering.
The idea of writing letters on America did not occur to [p. viii] me until I was about to leave the great land of the West, and the feeling became more and more strong in me, that what I had seen and experienced during these two years' journeyings was not my own property alone, but that I had a duty to fulfill as regarded it. I had, it is true, a presentiment from the first that the great New World would supply me with many subjects for thought, to be made use of at some future time, perhaps even in books, but in what manner, in what books--of that I had no distinct idea. I confess to you that I went about in America with the thought of metamorphosing the whole of America in--a novel, and you, my friends, into its heroes and heroines, but that with such subtle delicacy that none of you should be able to recognize either America or yourselves.
But the realities of your great country could not be compressed into a novel. The novel faded away like a rainbow in the clouds, and the reality stood only the stronger forward, in all its largeness, littleness, pleasantness, sorrow, beauty, completeness, manifold and simple-- in one word, in all its truth; and I felt that my best work would be merely a faithful transcript of that truth. But how that was to be accomplished I did not clearly know when I left America.
"You will understand, you will know it all when you are at home!" frequently said that precious friend who first met me on the shore of the New World, whose home was the first into which I was received, whom I loved to call my American brother, and who beautified my life more than I can tell by the charm of his friendship, by the guidance of his keen intellect, and his brotherly kindness and care; whose image is forever pictured in my soul in connection with its most beautiful scenes, its romantic life, its Indian summer, and, above all, its Highland scenery on that magnificent river, where he had built his delightful home, and now--has his grave! Yet [p. ix] no, not alone in connection with these pictures does he live before me; time and space do not contain a character such as his. To-day, as yesterday, and in eternity, shall I perceive his glance, his voice, his words, as they were once present with me; they are united with all that is beautiful and noble in the great realm of creation. His words are a guide to me as well in Sweden as they were in America. I love to recall every one of them.
"You will know it all when you come into your own country," said he, with reference to many questions, many inquiries, which at my departure from America were dark to my understanding.
The thought of publishing the letters which I had written home from America, as they first flowed from my pen on the paper, or as nearly so as possible, did not occur to me until several months after my return, when with a feeble and half unwilling hand I opened these letters to a beloved sister who was now no longer on earth. I confess that the life which they contained reanimated me, caused my heart to throb as it had done when they were written, and I could not but say to myself, "These, the offspring of the moment and warm feeling, are, spite of all their failings, a more pure expression of the truth which my friends desire from me, and which I wish to express, than any which I could write with calm reflection and cool hand." And I resolved to publish the letters as they had been inspired by the impression of the moment, and have, on their transcription, merely made some omissions and occasional additions. The additions have reference principally to historical and statistical facts which I found passingly touched upon in the letters or in my notes, and which are now amplified. The omissions are of such passages as refer to my own affairs or those of others, and which I considered as of too private or too delicate a nature to bear publicity. I have endeavored, in my communications from private life, not to overstep [p. x] the bounds which a sense of honor and delicacy prescribed, nor to introduce any thing which it would be undesirable to publish, either as regarded confidential communication or the names of individuals. I am deeply sensible of the requirements of delicacy in this respect, and nothing would be more painful to me than to feel that from want of due circumspection I had failed herein.
I fear, nevertheless, that some of my friends may feel their delicacy wounded by the praise which I could not always withhold. They must forgive me for my love's sake!
I have lived in your country and your homes with no ordinary affection; your homes received me there in no ordinary manner. If the heaped-up measure sometimes ran over, it was less my fault than--yours. Ah! the deeds of selfishness and of hatred ring every day in our ears with the names of those who practice them. Let us preserve, then, other names to be conveyed round the world on the wings of spring and love, that like a heavenly seed they may take root in the earth, and cause all the best feelings of the soul to blossom. The heart sometimes is ready to doubt of goodness and its power on earth--it must see before it can believe. I would hereby aid it in this respect. I have spoken of you. [1*]
The best, the most beautiful, in your hearts and in your homes, has, after all, not been revealed. I know that within the human heart and home, as in the old temple of the older covenant, there is a holy of holies upon whose golden ark the countenances of the cherubim may alone gaze and read the tables of the covenant.
I have followed my own convictions in that which I have censured or criticised in your country and your people. [p. xi] That which I myself have seen, heard, experienced, felt, thought, that have I written, without fearing any thing, excepting any error as regards truth and justice.
But when you read these letters, my friends, have patience, if possible, till the end; and remember that these are often the impression of the moment, which later impressions mature or change.
Consider them as digits, which you must go through before you are able to combine them into a whole. Four of the letters, those, namely, to H. C. Örsted, to I. P. Böcklin, to her majesty the Queen Dowager of Denmark, and to H. Martensen, are to be regarded as resting-places by the way, from which the ground which has been passed over is reviewed, and the path and the goal reflected upon. Some repetitions occur in these, which it was not possible to avoid. I fear that some repetition may also be found in the other letters, and it might have been avoided. But . . . . . . .
From you, my friends, I hope for that truth before which it is pleasant to bow even when it is painful. Wherever I have erred, wherever I have formed a wrong judgment, I hope that you will freely correct me. I know that you will acknowledge all that which is good and true in what I have written. I fear from you no unjust judgment. It seems to me that I have found among you the gentlest human beings, without weakness; therefore I love to be judged by you.
I here return to your beautiful homes as a spirit, reminding you of the stranger whom you received as a guest, and who became a friend, to converse with you of former days spent on your hearths, to thank and to bless you, and not merely you, whose guest I was, but the many who benefited me in word or deed, the warm-hearted, noble-minded, all those who let me drink the morning dew of a new, a more beautiful creation, that elixir of life which gives new, youthful life to heart and mind. Words [p. xii] are poor, and can only feebly express the feelings of the soul. May, however, somewhat of the life's joy which you afforded me again breathe forth from these letters to you, and convey to you a better expression of thanks than that which can here be uttered by,Your guest and friend,
[1*] In the English and American editions the initials of the names are merely given, where the names belong to private individuals. I have, however, considered this veiling of my friends to be superfluous in the Swedish, where in any case their names merely sound as a remote echo.
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