« ZurückWeiter »
Author's meaning, whatever may be the statements or sentiments he puts forth; which of course does not involve an endorsement of every thing contained in the book. Indeed I have often felt inclined to add a correcting or explanatory note, but in general have refrained from every thing of the kind: because want of time would not have permitted me to do it except in a very partial degree; and because, as the Germans would say, it is rather the subjectivity than the objectivity of the book that will claim the attention of readers in this country. Americans will not resort to a work of this kind, written by a foreigner, and which treats of such a variety of delicate and difficult topics, to obtain minute information on matters of fact. What they will feel curious to know is, what are the opinions of an intelligent and well informed man, placed by circumstances beyond the reach of local passions and prejudices, on the various topics that have long agitated and continue to agitate the national mind.
Although the Author's anxiety not to decide on hasty or onesided grounds, but to do justice to all the valid arguments advanced on either side, may sometimes give him an appearance of wavering, it will be found that the principles of the widest liberty are every where adopted as his own. The opinions which he thus expresses are not without their value in another point of view, for those whose sympathies are not confined within the physical boundaries of their own country; for they show us what are the thoughts and aspirations that now engage the minds of the foremost men among our German brethren. The cheering sun of liberty is now scattering its effulgent beams over all the habitations of men. And as the nations turn towards its divine light, and bless its genial life-restoring warmth, they laugh the scowling despots to scorn, who would persuade them it is but a scorching and devouring flame. The Anglo-Saxon offshoot of the great northern family of nations has long basked and thriven in this sunshine of the soul. The glistening eyes of Germans and Scandinavians look upon the success and happiness of their more fortunate kinsmen with feelings, not of envy, but of honest pride and emulation. They too are resolved to share these high privileges. Already they buckle on their armor for the field; the notes of preparation sweeping across the Atlan tic already meet our ears; nay, already the combat with the powers of tyranny and superstition has begun,-and who can doubt of a glorious victory at last? Lord, hasten the day!
W. W. T.
NEW YORK, November, 1845.
In the course of my historical labors I have been led from ancient to mediaval, and lastly to modern, the most modern history of all. Here the French Revolution is usually designated by its admirers, as the highest point of human development; while it is condemned by its opponents, as an incontrovertible proof of human folly and sinfulness. To the former, any further progress beyond what has been attained seems scarcely possible; the latter despair of the future altogether. Neither of these views satisfied me in the least; and the more I desired to become acquainted with the actual present and the probable future of mankind, the more I became convinced that this latter was by no means to be sought in Europe alone, and that amid the splendors and horrors of the French Revolution the Germano-American one had been too much overlooked.
Eager for information, I took up in succession a great number of books of travels. But what for the most part were the representations I encountered? A country of late origin and in every respect more imperfect than the other parts of the world, an unhealthy climate, infectious diseases, a dead level of democracy originating in a lawless and villanous rebellion, a presumptuous rejection of all the natural distinctions of society, together with shameful ill-treatment of the negroes and Indians. Politics every where a prey to party spirit; religion split up into a multitude of sects; indifference to science and art, an immoderate worship of Mammon, an eager striving after material advancement with a neglect. of the spiritual and the amiable; nowhere truth and faith, nowhere the amenities of refined social existence; a total want of history and of great poetical recollections, &c. &c.
Can it be wondered at, when a well-informed writer angrily exclaims : "I have read nearly all the statements of travellers in the United States for the last thirty years; and it has filled me with astonishment that
such a mass of contradiction and absurdity could have been produced on any given subject." Since 1786, remarked John Jay, I have found scarcely six foreign travellers that knew any thing of America ;†-and this number, adds a skilful reviewer, is still too high!
Yet in spite of this censure, and of these leaders or misleaders, my longing to behold the youthful present of this remarkable country increased, and with it my desire to hear true prophets discourse of a brilliant future. Still I was often told plumply and plainly by Americans (although I had carefully prepared myself and used every exertion to become a diligent learner), that "no foreigner could accurately judge or properly describe any thing American." Declarations of this kind rendered me more and more sensible of the magnitude and difficulty of my undertaking, and urged me to redoubled scientific exertions; but they could not wholly discourage me. In the first place, because it can scarcely be denied, that the native who always stays at home very easily becomes partial in his views; that travelling, on the contrary, widens and clears up the intellectual horizon. It is not until a man has one or more times left his native land, that he can thoroughly comprehend both that and foreign countries. Again, when native-born Americans, as is very natural, entertain different opinions on a host of topics, a traveller must also be allowed to adopt the views of one or the other. Lastly, so long as they are praised, most Americans do not require either a long residence or native birth; it is only when this is intermingled with blame, that complaints are almost invariably heard of prejudice, ignorance, difficulty of understanding the American character, too short a stay, &c. &c.
It is true nevertheless, that the observer very seldom places himself at the proper point of view for America; hence it results that even wellwishers have frequently regarded things in a crooked, distorted, false light. Scattered and trivial anecdotes hastily caught up, have been used to characterize and even to depreciate an entire people; and observations made in rail-cars, steam-boats, and hotels, have often been the only sources of confident representations. In their zeal against undeniable and unpleasant trifles, they fail to see any thing of the great and unparalleled historical phenomena offered to their view; they find fault with all that differs from what they have been accustomed to at home; sigh after kings, courts, nobles, soldiers, orders, titles, an established church, rights
*Hinton, Topography, ii. 412.
† American Review, xvi. 281.-The witty Clockmaker says, in his peculiar way (p. 39): "Wishy-washy trash they call tours, sketches, travels, letters, and what not-vapid stuff, just sweet enough to catch flies, cockroaches, and half-fledged gulls."
O wad some Power the giftie gie us,
of primogeniture, and the like; look for routs, soirées, and perfumed fine gentlemen and dandies in the western wilds; and reproach the Americans with all sorts of defects (of which they themselves have long been aware), without ever undertaking to show how they should be treated and removed.
Perhaps I too would have fallen into the like errors, had I not been supported and instructed in the most obliging and courteous manner by the best informed men in every department of life. For this I here publicly render them my most sincere and heartfelt thanks: and if I do not name every individual among my instructors and friends, or mention every obliging act, every instructive and pleasant companionship which I enjoyed, it is by no means owing to lack of feeling, but because I must fear that repetitions, accruing on every page, would weary even the kindest reader. On this account I have printed only fragments from the Letters written during my tour, by way of addenda to the book. They have a personal although not an objective truth, and exhibit the first impressions of the moment. The demand, that I should have delineated more sharply, have written with greater piquancy, and not have shunned even the violence or offensiveness of caricature, is one to fulfil which would be foreign to my nature. If, notwithstanding, I have fallen into this fault against my will, I beg that it may be forgiven, and that the errors (which in a book of such varied contents are unavoidable, in spite of the most careful endeavors) may be kindly excused. As for the rest, the moderate compass of my book will show that I have not even desired to touch upon every topic, much less could I exhaust them.
But many will probably object, as they often have done before, that I am obnoxious to a much severer censure, and am devoid of gratitude and feeling; because I do not see the whole truth in one extreme, but endeavor to penetrate to the centre from which life and motion radiate on every side. Extremes however—as in the vibrations of a pendulum-show only the points of stoppage and return; and it is not from them that the force which impels in both directions proceeds. Certainly Aristotle never intended by his energy of being, thinking, and feeling, to signify a mere negation; his energic medium was no stupid letting of oneself down between two stools,-a line of conduct which no man can praise or recommend who retains the use of his five senses.
Should my book reach America, I request my readers there not to forget, that it is especially intended for Germany, and can offer nothing new to the well informed inhabitants of the United States. On that account I was obliged, among other things, to give a summary of the constitutions and a somewhat lengthy historical introduction. The latter was rendered necessary by the fact that in Europe many imagine
that the great confederation grew out of a rebellion, and consequently can never enjoy a sound existence or bear wholesome fruit.
The peculiarities of Europe cannot be indiscriminately imitated in North America, nor those of North America in Europe. Excellences as well as defects may serve for mutual instruction and improvement.
Many at home had prophesied to me, that when I returned from the United States, I should be cured of all favorable prejudices, and bring with me an unfavorable opinion of the country and the people. How differently has it turned out! All the trifling disagreeablenesses of the journey have utterly lost their importance; while the truly great and wonderful phenomena and facts still remain like the sun-lighted peaks of the Alps, in full splendor before my eyes.
But in proportion to the depth and sincerity of this my love and admiration, I feel it to be my sacred duty not to dissemble or cloak the dark side of the picture. In the censures I have uttered, regardless of consequences, yet according to the best of my knowledge and belief, there will be found expressed at the same time the wish for improvement, and faith in the possibility of such improvement.
While there is but little hope of a new and more extended development of humanity in Asia and Africa, how sickly do many parts of Europe appear! If we were forced to despair too of the future progress of the Germanic race in America, whither could we turn our eyes for deliverance, except to a new and direct creation from the hand of the Almighty!