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Descriptions of travel through the United States of North America have proliferated to a great extent for many years in Germany and are always assiduously sought by the public. No other country offers a larger field of objects to examine, and of none are the views more varied than of this celebrated country. On the one hand it is praised too much, on the other deprecated too much, and in all the volumes about America which I read before my trip, I found no satisfactory quenching of my desire for knowledge. In none of them can one find sufficient information about the things most necessary to know if one thinks of emigrating to improve his future. All of these travel commentators give what they promise, descriptions of their travels there, and for this reason one cannot ask more of them. In general they are rich and illustrious men who concern themselves little for what pertains to the middle and common classes; they also do not have enough time to examine everything precisely, to research and finally to evaluate in order to be able to express a completely right judgment about it. They concern themselves least about country life there, about the customs and habits of the country people, their style of thinking, education and morality, about the condition of religion, the schools and churches and so forth. Just as little do they report about the ways of agriculture there, about the fertility of the soil and of the produce there. One seldom reads even a little about it and never anything sufficient. These men spend the longest time in large cities, describe the noteworthy things about the same, the state constitution, trade, and those noteworthy things that they saw and heard in their travels from one city to another; most of their reports, however, they make about impressive American cItIes filled with national pride. It is therefore natural that such travelers, without intending it, disappoint their readers in reporting their collective experiences there.
Others that emigrated there with intentions to undertake great things to improve their future thereby commit the gravest errors, since they do not properly Americanize, and could not and would not in like manner strip off the German skin and slip into the American; they become the most jaundiced complainers, because all their hopes are dashed and all of their great undertakings fail. Their reports arise too much out of their dashed hopes and they pass them along again in disappointment to their countrymen without intending to do so.
Still others who perhaps were avoiding military conscription in their flight to America or otherwise were avoiding other unpleasantries and there found position, bread and good standing praise that land at the expense of truth much too much and do not wish to see its dearth and incompleteness at all or do not mention them in the reports of their collective experiences there. They praise that land to exaggeration and likewise also deceive their countrymen.
Many countrymen and craftsmen who by bitter work in the fatherland perhaps had a hard time of it, but in America found freedom, fortune and good standing, are overcome with joy and describe from that position of limited experiences that land as the happiest land on earth, where milk and honey flow, when they send their relatives written reports about their state and their means. But still others who through talent, fine arts and science sought their fortune there and by these means and in these ways did not find it, but driven by necessity to find refuge in a trade of which they would have been ashamed in the fatherland, feel very unfortunate, decry that land to the extreme and describe it to their friends in the fatherland as a valley of misery. Both, however, delude their readers to no small degree.
America is, as was said, too much praised and too much denigrated. Convinced of this truth, I came to the conclusion quite early to share the experiences which I had during my stay there from a neutral position as I had opportunity.
To this end, from the beginning of my journey there I kept a precise diary, into which I entered everything of note that happened to me. Thus there came to be a collection of notebooks with observations of the most varied kind which I intended to put in order at a more quiet time to give access to the readers, especially for those who would after me also seek their fortune there. After I came to a quiet profession in the fatherland again, it was my favorite occupation to carry out this plan, but the difficulties were many.
Above all, I soon perceived that I lacked the needed writer's inclination to order my thoughts appropriately and to express such so clearly and plainly as to be understood by everyone without becoming too broad and colloquial. I had already written many pages when, upon a second attentive reading, I found them to be insufficient by far and was ready to give up the thought of presenting them to the public. For this reason they were put back without ever intending them for public use. But in the meantime they were shared from time to time with friends and acquaintances, among them men from whom I could trust to receive sound and learned judgment and from them I got them back each time with assurance of their praise. It also happened a time or two that I was asked to give advice by men who as I had the intention of finding a better way in America, whom I, however, did not wish to advise and, because of their otherwise conceived perceptions could also not ill advise. I gave them my papers to read and received them again always with an assurance of thanks, that they found much good in them and had gotten to know America better through them.
Encouraged by this, I took the papers again in hand in order to subject them to a repeated handling, and from that this work was fashioned as it now appears. Hopefully it will not be completely unworthy of public notice, even though it is written throughout in the language of a country schoolmaster, and one will not note the style of a learned author in it. This country schoolmaster language, however, is understood by all and the untutored, especially the farmer, understands it better than any other language; experience teaches this and, with the lack of the author's finesse, it also gave me the courage to complete this work. Should it be found too lacking, I have no excuse for that; I did my best. As the facts were gathered by me with great care, so also I wrote them down with the greatest warmth of truth and shared my views completely without any leaning, without love and sorrow or prejudice, following only my true conviction. With these remarks I submit the work to the judgment seat of the public, and submit myself to their verdicts with modesty.
Hohen-Assel, in June 1828
Heinrich Jonas Gudehus Cantor and Schoolmaster
Source: Edited by Bryan Wright
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