Page images
[blocks in formation]

this is the only correct way to treat historical and political problems. They may be good chroniclers and quite fit statesmen for some commonwealth in the clouds, but they will never be able to write a history or to make us understand the nature and the working of the government of an actual state. There is nothing in the life of a nation into which the nation's way of feeling does not enter as a constructive element of great force; and in order to understand a nation's way of feeling one has to feel with it.

Several European critics of my work have been of opinion that my judgment of the American system of government and its working is an almost unqualified condemnation, and I do not doubt that some American readers will receive the same impression and laugh at my claiming to "feel" with the people of the United States. Yet the claim is well-founded. I came to the United States as an emigrant, and one of the first things I did was to have my declaration of intending to become a citizen registered in the city hall of New York. I, in fact, felt with the people of the United States, before I commenced to study them and their institutions. For a considerable time, however, this feeling was partly of a kind to render my studies pretty fruitless.

On the continent of Europe the United States are, even among the best educated classes, in a really astonishing degree, a terra incognita. Just on this account they have always been used with predilection as an illustration in the service of party ends. Their fate in this quality has been pretty varied. In quick succession and more than once they have run through all the phases from the idol to a bugbear. I was inclined to look upon them in the light of the former, for Laboulaye was the butler who had filled my knapsack of expectations. So I was rather unprepared for Tammany Hall, the first institution I got somewhat better acquainted with.

For a long time I was fairly bewildered by the throng

of most opposite impressions, and even after I had read and studied many a good book, I searched in vain for a thread to lead me safely through this labyrinth. Only very gradually I succeeded in finding out what, up to this day, seems to me the one reason why all my efforts thus far had resembled so much a wild-goose chase. Without being fully conscious of it, I expected to find in everything something particular, quite different from what was known to me either by study or by personal observation; and this all the books I had read had failed to distinctly show me as a mistake which could not but be fatal to the success of my studies. That I at last became aware of the mistake, is the explanation of the claim raised before that I have studied and written with more soberness of mind than any of my predecessors. And I beg leave to add that, after this veil had dropped from my eyes, my interest in the subject assumed quite a new character; from that moment it was decided that I had found the principal task of my life as a student and as a writer, for it is the work of a lifetime I have undertaken. Now it had fully come to what I would call my immediate consciousness that here was only an act of the one great drama, the history of western civilization; and that to express it strongly in order to be distinctthe players in it, the principal ones as well as the great mass, were neither demi-gods nor devils, but men, struggling, under many shortcomings, but with great energy, their way onward, not with startling leaps, but advancing step by step, just as all the rest of the great nations of the earth have had to do. Nothing was left of either the misty vagueness of the grand and wonderful fairy-tale or of the prickling atmosphere of the strange puzzle; I felt myself standing in the fresh and clear air of stern historical truth.

The reflecting reader will find in this "confession of faith" the clue for the "method" of my studies, so far as he need care about it. Whether my hope, based on its



principles, is well founded, that my labor is not lost, though no new materials of any kind have been at my service, this question I have to leave to my readers to decide.




We herewith present to the American people the first part of the most important work on the internal history of the United States that has emanated from the European press, and one of the most valuable contributions that has as yet been made to our historical literature by any writer, whether native or foreign.

We were led to undertake the task of its translation when we did because we considered the Centennial year the most opportune time for its publication. The people of the United States are just now looking back with intense interest over their past to the birth and growth of the nation, and to the lives of the great men who projected the scheme of government under which we live. At such a time they cannot but feel disposed to welcome a production in which so much ability and research have been lavished upon the subject uppermost in their thoughts. That the work is the production of an eminent foreigner, will give it a zest which it might not have coming from an American author.

Professor Von Holst possesses in an eminent degree all the qualifications necessary to fit him to accomplish his undertaking in the most creditable manner. We have heard it said that only an American can write the history of this country. As well say that Grote could not have written the history of Greece, nor Mommsen that of Rome. But if not an American, the author sojourned long enough in this country to catch the spirit of the people, of their history

« PreviousContinue »