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Kristofer Jansen's Lecture Tour, 1879-80
    by Nina Draxten (Volume 22: Page 18)

New visitors are so warmly welcomed as was Kristofer Janson when he reached the United States in September, 1879. The first announcement of his coming had been made by Professor Rasmus B. Anderson, five months in advance, in Skandinaven (Chicago); and this notice was followed by a second that listed thirty-eight lectures Janson was prepared to deliver. {1} As the news was channeled through the Middle West by such papers as Fædrelandet og Emigranten in La Crosse, Budstikken in Minneapolis, Red River Posten in Fargo, and Decorah-Posten in Iowa, immigrant settlers felt drawn to Janson by the accounts they read of his long career as den djærve maalstræver (the staunch champion of the peasant vernacular).

The epithet indicated more than an interest in linguistics. In Norway, as in other countries that have known foreign rule, there were two languages: the official Dano-Norwegian, used by church and state and mastered by all educated people, and the spoken dialects used in the country at large. Dano-Norwegian, or riksmaal, was the accepted literary medium. Ivar Aasen had developed, from the spoken dialects, a language called landsmaal (New Norse), linking it with Old Norse. That landsmaal had a valid claim as a bona fide [19] language was a central issue in Norway’s nationalist movement; but, up to the advent of Janson, the cause had been espoused largely by peasants — among them, besides Aasen, the newspaper editor, A. O. Vinje. In the mid-1860’s, young Kristofer Janson, himself a member of a distinguished Bergen family, deliberately chose to write his stories of peasant life in New Norse. By doing this he demonstrated that landsmaal, generally despised by the cultivated classes as a crude patois, had a beauty and eloquence peculiarly its own and was suited to the production of a literature. For years Janson met with ridicule and abuse; yet, though his stories received surly and caustic treatment at the hands of many critics, they became popular all over Scandinavia. In Janson’s efforts to popularize New Norse, he used it on the lecture platform, frequently telling Bjørnson’s peasant stories in landsmaal and achieving such effects that even die-hards were forced to acknowledge that his versions gave the tales an added poignancy. {2}

Thus Janson was described as a man who had fought for his ideals and had, through dogged persistence and high courage, forced all Norway to recognize his talent. In 1876, when the Storting (parliament) inaugurated the digtegage (a pension for poets) Janson was among the first four to be honored, the others being Ibsen, Bjørnson, and Lie. Janson knew the bonde or small farmer at first hand: For nine years he had been a teacher in Christopher Bruun’s folk high school in Gausdal. {3}

When Janson arrived in the United States, people realized that just as he had fought for the common folk in Norway, [20] so he was now their spokesman in America. Audiences found themselves fighting back tears as Janson pictured the privations and injustices the humble people of Norway had endured in the past; and then his listeners would feel a surge of pride as he told them that the bonde, in spite of his lack of privilege, had been the guardian of Norway’s native culture, its legends and fairy tales — which Janson called en arvesølv (a silver heritage) and a vast storehouse of folk wisdom. In a historical lecture — even on so well-known a subject as the events that clustered about the Eidsvold convention in 1814— Janson would bring the whole milieu to life, and his listeners would realize how much of the story they had been missing. {4}

For six months Janson traveled through the cities and settlements of the Middle West. Here and there were heard mutterings that his ideas were "liberal and false" or that his talks on folklore were better suited to children than to adults, but these were no more than stray, discordant notes. All along his route he was met by enthusiastic audiences — some people traveled thirty or forty miles to hear him. There were banquets and receptions; he was serenaded and cheered; and even in communities where money was scarce, he was shown some token of affection and gratitude. It was only at the conclusion of the trip — after his final lecture — that some persons came to see a bitter travesty in the whole tour. Many who had applauded Janson’s liberal ideas of social reform had not realized how thoroughgoing his "break with tradition" had been— that it included a radical view of religion. From many quarters came outraged cries that Janson had acted in bad faith, and there was even the insinuation that he was a money-grubbing opportunist.

Reports of Janson’s reception along his tour are to be found in the weekly newspapers of the period. Not all the lectures [21] can be accounted for, nor were they, except in isolated instances, printed in full. The sampling is large enough to be more than adequate, however, and newspaper reviews of the talks are sufficiently comprehensive to indicate their content.

For Janson’s report of what he saw in America we have a few letters, but otherwise must rely largely on his book, Amerikanske forholde, which contains five lectures he delivered on his return to Norway. This volume, as much as anything Janson ever wrote, reveals him as a romantic idealist who, as is generally characteristic of such a person, does not so much search for the truth as carry it in his own heart and look about in the exterior world for confirmation of his own beliefs. Throughout Amerikanske forholde one sees Janson’s heightened enthusiasm for the American republic. He found precisely what he had expected, as he remarked early in his opening chapter: "I will admit I was favorably disposed to America before I went there. As one who favors a republican form of government, I have great faith in the power of democratic institutions to teach, develop, and ennoble a people. As a republican, I longed to see that land whose basic laws expressly declare that all men are equal, and whose government strives to put the theory into practice." {5}

Janson was strongly influenced by Walt Whitman, whose work he knew and whom he most admired among New World writers. In Whitman he recognized a great creative talent, one uniquely native. Throughout Amerikanske forholde Janson quoted from Whitman, reserving his greatest admiration for Democratic Vistas, saying, "I have rarely encountered so noble a work." It was this book, Janson declared, that led him to the United States and brought him to look upon it as the land of the future. In Whitman Janson found the voice of New World conscience. "No one else," he went on to say, "has drawn such a devastating picture of American society in its unadorned nakedness." {6}

Janson accepted Whitman’s strictures, freely admitting that [22] political corruption, crudity, a taste for luxury, and an aversion to physical labor existed in America; but he shared Whitman’s exuberant faith that these were transient evils, bound to give way before the "enlightened might of a democratic people." What concerned Janson far more was this country’s continued practice of absorbing immigrants. He pointed out that the kind of citizenship offered so generously by the United States demanded a level of education that most immigrants did not have. Year after year, he remarked, Europe thrust not only the outcasts of its prisons and poorhouses upon America but also a seemingly endless stream of others, people drawn from the lowest stratum of society with virtually no learning beyond the ability to read and write. In time, Jan-son feared, the United States might find the assimilation of the newcomers so difficult that it would be forced to enact more stringent regulations. {7} Thus, as Janson surveyed the scene, he found the ignorance of the immigrants to pose the big problem, and this was true of the Norwegians as well as of people of other national groups. Later, when Janson came to censure the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church (the Norwegian Synod), his chief criticism was that it fostered ignorance by keeping the immigrants hermetically sealed off from society.

When Janson made his tour he was thirty-eight years old, married to the former Drude Krog, and the father of seven children. He had been trained in theology at the university in Christiania, but not ordained. He wholeheartedly endorsed Grundtvig’s folk-school philosophy, but apparently never took any interest in Grundtvig’s theology, one centered about the Danish bishop’s "marvelous discovery" that redemption was possible after death. Nor was Janson, when he came to America in 1879, an orthodox Lutheran. His break with the state church resulted from his having read Viktor Rydberg, a liberal Swedish theologian, and the sermons, as well as the biography, of Theodore Parker. When Janson made it known that he could no longer accept such beliefs as [23] those involving the divinity of Jesus, verbal inspiration of the Bible, and the existence of an everlasting hell, he was forced to sever his connection with Bruun’s folk school. This event, in fact, precipitated his lecture tour. Professor Anderson had long been urging him to come. As Janson remarked in his autobiography, he felt that the tour would give him an opportunity to see how his countrymen were faring and to study liberal religious movements here at close range. {8}

Kristofer Janson, from all accounts, was a good-looking man — tall, of slender build, with blue eyes and reddish-brown hair and beard. Rasmus B. Anderson has described him as having the appearance of an evangelist, adding that he "had a great resemblance to the conventional portraits of our Saviour." Profile pictures of the period do not in any striking way justify this comparison, but front-view portraits of a few years later reveal a high forehead, regular features, and an unusually serene, even compassionate gaze — and make Anderson’s description something more than plausible. Without doubt, many people found a spiritual quality in Janson. One is struck by their own childhood memories, were not yet fully assimi- about him on both sides of the Atlantic. In this country, persons still living who remember him (although their memories do not go as far back as the lecture tour) speak of him as having an unusually gentle nature, one incapable of malice. {9}

The Norwegian immigrants whom Janson visited in 1879— 80, attached to Norway by ties with beloved kin left there and by their own childhood memories, were not yet fully assimilated into the main stream of American life. They were torn by bitter internecine theological strife. In the late 70’s the chief disputants were the leaders of the Norwegian Synod and of the Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical [24] Lutheran Church in America, each having its cadre of able dialecticians — men trained, for the most part, at the university in Christiania. The ill will engendered by these dissensions was often so pervasive as to divide local communities, making social relations between members of rival synods difficult, if not impossible. As such differences generally do, they tended to make the participants rigidly doctrinaire, in this case much more so than the Lutherans in Scandinavia or Germany. {10}

In Janson’s homeland, on the other hand, barriers were breaking down. Norway had already felt the first tremors of the democratic ground swell that had resulted in the emergence of the Venstre (the Liberal party), in growing tension between the Norwegians and the Swedish crown, and in an increasing demand for social and political reform. In the folk schools, themselves a manifestation of revolt against the old order, social and political issues were commonly explored, as Janson relates in his autobiography. He speaks of gatherings in his home at which such issues were debated, the meetings sometimes moving outdoors when the quarters became too small to accommodate the assembly. He mentions mass meetings at Lillehammer where, among other things, politics and republicanism were discussed; his description of the period concludes with the comment, "Indeed, there was life in Gausdal." {11}


Late in August, 1879, Janson went to Christiania to begin his long journey to America. His last days there were somewhat frustrating. He had planned to have a brief holiday in the city with Drude, to attend the theater and have long talks about what the tour "might mean for the future." {12} But a [25] crisis in the Krog family kept the Jansons apart much of the time. Apparently the only encouraging event during this interval was the appearance of an article about Janson’s forthcoming tour in Dagbladet (Christiania), September 1, so strategically timed that it reached America early enough to be reprinted well in advance of his opening lecture:

"Kristofer Janson is in town on his way to America, where he is awaited by Norsemen and other Scandinavians. This is the first time one of our scalds has gone to visit our countrymen across the sea to refresh their thoughts of their homeland’s saga lore, history, and present-day life. Janson is one of the outstanding lecturers of the North (as a narrator of our lyric-epic tales undoubtedly our very best). He will awaken cherished memories and a nostalgia for Norway and endear himself to his audiences.

"Our people do not have a better ambassador to send to our distant kinsmen; the majority are or have been peasants, and certainly after Janson has spoken to them in landsmaal, they will have an understanding of how much has been done in their old home to honor the peasant who, in their time, was treated with contempt. From his presentation of our struggle they will have greater faith in us and in our future.

"His attractive personality and his mild engaging manner will reconcile many whose lot here was not of the best and whose memories are therefore by no means entirely pleasant. He goes, we feel free to say, with our best wishes, and we hope he will be well received and bring back good reports of that great nation in which our emigrants now play no small part." {13}

The article in Dagbladet, though unsigned, was apparently written by Bjørnson. In a fragment of a letter that survives, Janson wrote to thank his friend:

"I feel the need to send you a last greeting and thank you for what you wrote in Dagbladet. People do not realize that you are the author. Actually they imagine that someone here [26] has taken an interest in me — and thus the main purpose has been accomplished. If only our brethren in America will imagine the same, all will be well." {14}

Janson arrived in New York on the "Arizona" September 20. He may have stopped briefly with Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen. No record of such a visit exists, but in Boyesen’s letters to Professor Anderson in the late summer of 1879, he mentions repeatedly having extended such an invitation. It is not clear whether the two men were acquainted, but Boyesen had for some years been bringing Janson’s work to the attention of the American reading public. As early as October, 1872, Boyesen published an article entitled, "Kristofer Janson and the Reform of the Norwegian Language," in the North American Review, and that same month he briefly reviewed Sigmund Bresteson for the Atlantic. {15} In April, 1879, five months before Janson came to this country, Boyesen translated his short story, "Ein tulling," for Scribner’s, giving it the title, "Halfwitted Guttorm."

Boyesen was doubtless aware that a translation of Den bergtekne was in process, although he was not personally involved. Early in 1879, Miss Aubertine Woodward, a friend and collaborator of Rasmus B. Anderson who wrote under the pseudonym Auber Forestier, had begun a translation of the book. This venture, undertaken long before Miss Woodward had any intimation of Janson’s coming, apparently was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Ole Bull, who was a prominent character (though not the central one) in the book. On May 10, 1879, Miss Woodward wrote Anderson, "So Janson is coming to this country. We must have the [27] ‘Bergtekne’ ready when he comes." {16} Her translation, entitled The Spellbound Fiddler, appeared early in 1880, and while Janson was less than delighted with the result (Boyesen, in his review, also deprecated the translator’s work), he made use of the book in introducing himself to Henry C. Lea, the historian, during his later sojourn in the East.

Throughout the tour Janson remained in close touch with Boyesen, a fact which may have been significant in the light of Janson’s later criticism of the Norwegian Synod. Early in 1879 Boyesen published Falconberg, a novel dealing with the machinations of a tyrannical minister in a small Minnesota community, a figure whom Clarence Glasrud has recently characterized as "the blackest villain Boyesen ever introduced into his fiction." The book was an attack on the Norwegian Synod, as Boyesen himself admitted somewhat later. Critics of that day, as well as more recent ones, thought the book so overdrawn as to be a caricature. Yet, whether Falconberg was an unfair picture or not, it clearly reflected Boyesen’s views of the time, and he could not have failed to communicate them to Janson. {17}

Janson was scheduled to arrive about October 1 in Madison, where he and Professor Anderson were to plot the strategy of the trip. From Janson’s account we can follow him imaginatively as he boarded a train headed westward. Friendly toward the scene before his eyes, he was quick to observe features that demonstrated the benefits of life in a republic. Although he described in detail the comforts of American trains, with their facilities for sleeping and dining, he was more impressed by the fact that they had only one class. "The official and the laborer sit side by side," he [28] remarked. "The silk dress is next to the linsey-woolsey." He admired the informal manner of the conductor as he strolled through the train, stopping for small talk with passengers. "It is all so natural and pleasant," Janson said, at once seeing a causal relationship between all this and the conduct of Americans generally. "The fact that the humble get just as good treatment as the better classes and are shown the same concern and courtesy has caused the common people to develop poise and good manners."

He was amused by American advertising, which fascinated him all during his stay. As he sped along toward Chicago, he could hardly glance out the window without seeing, on the sides of barns and on rocks, signs glorifying Rising Sun Stove Polish. Somewhat naïvely, he speculated on how it could be profitable to spend vast sums of money promoting such a small article as stove polish. On billboards he saw "before and after" pictures displaying everything from shoes to washing machines, each product brashly proclaimed to be "the best in the world."

In Madison Janson found not only Professor Anderson but also Ole Bull, with whom he renewed an acquaintance. Plotting the strategy of his tour by no means absorbed all his time; shortly he was going about, exploring Madison. He listened to campaign speeches for the coming fall election. He told of being amused and slightly nettled at the antics of a lively Irishman, who, referring to the candidate of the opposing party, said, "He is a Norwegian. Nothing more need be said," accompanying the statement with a grimace. "He was born across the sea with his eyes closed, and he hasn’t opened them yet."

Janson went to meetings of the Association for the Advancement of Women, which was holding its seventh congress in Madison October 8—10. In describing the sessions, he said, "I consider those three days among the most interesting I spent in America." The congress, which received front-page coverage in the Chicago papers, was attended by women [29] from all over the country, some of them professional people but many of them housewives. Six lectures were given each day, all by women, the subjects ranging from "Occupations Suitable for Women" to "The Physiological Basis of Thought." According to Janson, the talks were excellently delivered and showed considerable research and scholarship.

After each lecture a general discussion was held, something Janson found as remarkable as the addresses. The women, knowledgeable and self-assured, discussed issues with a frankness and liveliness Janson found amazing. He commented that young women in Norway would turn crimson in embarrassment merely listening to the bold talk, for, as he added deprecatingly, there they were hardly expected to have opinions worth listening to, let alone encouraged to speak in public. He learned, however, that the delegates were a comparatively conservative group; he ventured to ask some of them about Mrs. Victoria Woodhull, who among other things had been campaigning for a single standard in sexual mores, only to find that these women held her in great abhorrence. {18}


Meanwhile Chicago awaited Janson. For weeks Norden had been reporting his movements and it reminded readers, as the date of his open lecture neared, that the capacity of Aurora Hall was limited and that Ole Bull might come from Madison for the event. Prominent Scandinavians busied themselves with preparations for a banquet. When Janson arrived in the city on the evening of October 11, he became the guest of Hallvard Hande, editor of Norden. {19}

Hande, according to Johs. B. Wist, was extraordinarily gifted; he had educated himself for the ministry in Norway through independent study, passing his theological examinations with distinction. Here he had served a Norwegian Synod [30] pastorate in Iowa, where the rigors of the life — visiting several congregations and traveling great distances through swamps and over roadless terrain to visit parishioners — had caused him to contract tuberculosis, and after this misfortune he became embittered. Possibly Hande gave his guest a graphic account of his experience, for, as Janson moved westward, he seemed to grow increasingly sensitive to the privations of pioneer pastors, coming to feel that as individuals they were kindly, self-sacrificing men, and that the repressive tactics they practiced on parishioners were forced upon them by the arbitrary synods. {20}

Hande, whose paper, Norden, was generally considered favorable to the Norwegian Synod, was later accused of hypocrisy when he expressed his shock at the tone Janson’s final lecture took. There is strong evidence, however, that the charge was unjust. Hande must have assumed his guest to be an orthodox Lutheran, for he apparently confided to Jan-son his own resentment against the synod, a revelation not likely to be made to an outsider. Janson reported that Hande was reprimanded by the synod for publishing an article in Norden on the cretaceous period which stated that the era lasted several thousand years; the synod had condemned it as freethinking because it conflicted with Scripture. The article had been reprinted from Folkevennen of Norway. {21}

Three days after Janson’s arrival in Chicago, a banquet was held for him, attended by prominent Swedes and Danes as well as Norwegians. The tables were tastefully decorated, a special musical program was provided, and a verse written by H. J. Blegen was sung by the entire assembly as the festivities began: [31]

Welcome to you, our Norseman brother,
To this, our new-found home.
You come, we know, from our dear mother
With greetings from the ancient North,
With mem’ries of our cradle days,
Our spring, our dream, our roundelays. {22}

Toasts and speeches followed, as representatives of various organizations welcomed the guest, Pastor Vilhelm Koren speaking for Norden. Janson, in his response, characterized the time as an age of ideals, in which people were no longer content with dreaming of utopias and coining fine phrases, but insisted on transforming their visions into reality. Aboard ship, he said, he had seen many wretched people bound for a new life — adding parenthetically that he was glad to report that the Scandinavians looked better than most of the rest —and he was grateful to America for giving them a home. The affair lasted until midnight. In reporting it on October 22, 1879, Norden concluded: "We have never been at a banquet where the mood was so cordial. The speakers seemed inspired. We consider this a sign that Janson will have good luck on his tour."

Two days later, on October 17, Janson gave his opening lecture at Aurora Hall. In the audience of five hundred were Ole Bull and representatives from the Swedish as well as the Norwegian-language papers of Chicago. A review in Fædrelandet og Emigranten indicated that F. A. Husher, its editor, had attended from La Crosse. The lecture had been advertised as having three sections: greetings to the Scandinavians, greetings to America, and the main address.

After a men’s chorus had sung, Janson, addressing his audience as "Scandinavian Friends," began: "I greet you, my [32] countrymen. First you, the earliest to come, whose deeds are now legendary. With the valor of your Viking forefathers you made your way through the forest with ox teams. Tireless, ever vigilant, you conquered the wilderness in which you now live as secure and fortunate men. Under your watchful eyes, the wilderness has been transformed to acres of waving grain. You have seen the Indians, with their war cries and bloody tomahawks, supplanted by the locomotive, with its cheerful clang; you have seen cities rise, as if by magic, out of the wilderness. .

"And you, the later arrivals, who came to the open arms of your friends, to the warm rooms of relatives, to the work pioneered by your earlier kinsmen, to the dearly bought experience and advice which has gone like a snowplow before you."

In much the same vein he addressed the courageous women, the young people born in America, even the young girls, who, Janson said, were so far removed from Norway that Bjørnson’s Synnøve Solbakken must seem to them as antiquated as Grandmother’s brooch, packed away in the chest she had brought with her years before.

Then, as if sensing in his audience a brooding nostalgia for Norway, he said, "How I wish there followed with me the fragrance of the forest of home — the roar of its waterfalls, the rushing of its rivers — that just for a moment you could look up and glimpse the melancholy mountains in the distance, see the glimmering light of those proud blue peaks, snow-covered even in summer.

"I have come to tell you about us [at home] as we are, neither worse nor better. I come bearing old and proud memories; I come with the story of our old sins and shortcomings. I come with confessions, for it is only through frank confessions that we can make improvements. I come with laughter and sorrow, with inspiration and bitterness. . . . I hope that something good will result from our meeting. I want to breathe something fresh into your languishing, half-forgotten [33] memories, to strengthen the bond between you and the distant, yet ever near, motherland. I hope, too, that I shall carry back with me a message of a vigorous life, new ideas and strong wills."

As Janson began his greeting to America, he again altered the tempo:

"But before I roll up the curtain on my scenes, I must bow my head before this land whose earth I now have the honor to tread — Lincoln’s land — Edison’s land — Stanley’s land —the land that has accepted the poor and downtrodden. .

When in my dreams I envisioned my own country’s future, I saw you as a lighted way in the distance. . . . I greet you, America, land of the republic, strong arm of democracy, home of the red-cheeked child, where labor is enthroned and freedom stands watch by the door.

"Here is a land not overshadowed by kingly power, where neither prejudice nor special privilege block the path, where every man makes his way with his own hands, his thoughts, and his will, where people live under laws they themselves have made, where birth does not endow the indolent and stupid with titles but where industry is the only mark of nobility — a land where a rail splitter may become president. . . . Your ship shall dominate the seas, your voice the assembly. With the authority that freedom gives, you will cut the bonds of thralldom which still bind Europe."

The applause that followed this introduction, Norden reported, "in truth must be called thunderous." Janson began his main address by telling Bjørnson’s charming parable, "Hvorledes fjeldet skal blive klædt" (How the Mountain Was Clothed) from Arne. One can imagine a ripple going through the audience, for Janson did not tell the story as Bjørnson had written it — but in landsmaal. Many a person in the audience (still confused as to exactly what landsmaal might be) must have drawn in his breath sharply as he realized he could understand it perfectly. Expertly Janson told how the juniper, fir, oak, birch, and heather, dissatisfied with the lonely place [34] where they grew, set out to scale the naked mountain wall on the far side of a deep chasm. Through centuries they inched along to the very brink of the abyss, reaching the path of a swollen mountain stream, which savagely uprooted them and flung them across the chasm to the mountain opposite. Recovering, they slowly climbed upward, through sleet and ice, rain and snow, until one by one they reached the summit, each uttering, as it came to the top, an exclamation of delight. Before them lay a full-grown forest. "This," said the juniper, "is what happens if one only tries." Janson then proceeded to relate the story to conditions in Norway. Norden reported the address as follows:

"The lecture on ‘How the Mountain Was Clothed’ was heard with great interest, the speaker being interrupted occasionally by vigorous applause. With Bjørnson’s well-known story . . . as his text, Mr. Janson gave a political talk in which he presented Mother Norway’s problems from his point of view, and the remedies. We shall not attempt a review of the address because Mr. Janson naturally expects to repeat it at other places. We shall restrict ourselves to a brief summary of its central thought.

"The Norwegian Constitution of 1814 came into being because of the political conditions of the time, rather than because of a deeply felt need for freedom on the part of the people. The Norwegian people do not yet understand how to develop and utilize the freedom akeady assured them on paper. People still feel a great reverence for a monarchical form of government. They look up to the king and officials as solely responsible for the land’s welfare, and expect them to take the lead in all matters. This blindness and dependency are entrenched by long habituation to monarchy. In democratic countries this is considered unsound; royal power is transmitted through inheritance and carries with it the conception that certain people have prior rights, which in turn leads to the granting of prerogatives and the making of class distinctions. The idea in a democracy, however, is equality. [35] Monarchical rule will always hinder the development of the people’s freedom. The struggle now going on in Norway between the people and the king will continue so long as the monarchy exists. The speaker hoped that the time would come when the Norwegian people would be courageous enough to form a republic. The spirit of republicanism was not, as some political groups at home believed, one of disorder, mobocracy, impiety, and ungodliness, but quite the opposite — one of loyalty, peace, order, morality, and industry.

"There was much that was true and significant in the address, but from our point of view it was a little one-sided. Mother Norway’s faults were painted in strong colors and the monarchy received too much blame for these faults. Many of these, as well as various others, can be found in the hundred-year-old American republic as well as in other republics. But the faults of republics were not allocated a single word in the lecture.

"Norwegian Americans who know from experience what conditions are in a republic as well as under such a monarchy as that in Norway will hardly be persuaded to change their opinion on these matters because of Mr. Janson’s address.

"Yet, although one could not agree with Mr. Janson in everything he said, it was nevertheless a great pleasure to hear him. The address contained, as we have said, much that was true and significant, and it was presented with a force, freshness, inspiration, and individuality, so far as form and delivery are concerned, that we have rarely seen equaled.

"Before the lecture we heard people here and there express fear that they would not understand Janson when he spoke in landsmaal, but his presentation of his text (Bjørnson’s story) was one of the things that won the greatest applause, and the same persons assured us later that Janson’s kind of landsmaal could be understood by any Scandinavian." {23}

F. A. Husher, the editor of Fædrelandet og Emigranten, [36] also felt that Janson had taken too pessimistic a view of conditions in Norway, saying that while many applauded, "not a few were disappointed that he had not a single good word to say about Norway." Other newspapers, however, were disposed to regard this as a relatively minor matter. Verdens Gang urged its readers under no circumstances to miss hearing Janson when he came to their communities, remarking on how pleasing his appearance and manner were, and adding that he did not flatter his audience as American lecturers were wont to do, but spoke in such a forthright and intimate way that those who agreed with him were inspired and those who did not felt no ill will. Skandinaven did not summarize the lecture, on the grounds that it lived up to expectations in every way and would spoil in the retelling. The Swedish papers were also highly complimentary, Svenska-Amerikaner saying that Janson deserved to be included among the great scalds of the North. {24}

Janson, making Chicago his headquarters, spent some four weeks in the area, alternating local lectures with others in cities and settlements lying north along Lake Michigan. From his account in Amerikanske forholde, his curiosity about life in America was insatiable and his industry prodigious.

He gave a full account of Field and Leiter’s mammoth store (the predecessor of the present Marshall Field), along with a description of the company’s ingenious merchandising methods. He visited men’s clothing factories, shoe factories, and the stockyards, marveling at what Americans could produce with steam-driven machinery. In rural communities he seems to have been equally busy. Willingly he tramped across fields to learn how corn was grown, inspected elevators and planing mills, attended church services, visited country stores, studied maps in land offices, inquired into every facet of local government, and listened with absorbed attention to what immigrants had to tell him of their past experiences. {25} [37]

As Norden had predicted, Janson’s lectures on Norse folklore were highly successful. In Lee, Illinois, where he gave "Fylgjesveinen" (The Companion), "Every ear pricked up and every eye sparkled." From a report of his appearance in Leland, Illinois, where he spoke in a church, we get a description of his method of presenting folklore. First he told the story, and then for a few moments paced back and forth as if to give his listeners time to absorb it before he began his interpretation. On his first visit to Racine, Wisconsin, which had a sizable Danish population, he spoke on "Grundtvig and His Times," so delighting his audience that he was offered Dania Hall, free of charge, whenever he wished to return. {26}

One Sunday, returning to Chicago after a week of speaking in country churches, Janson attended the Reverend Mr. David Swing’s Central Church (which held its services in McVicker’s Theater), amused at the paradox of his own lecturing in churches and Swing’s preaching in a theater. Swing, who was a Presbyterian clergyman, had been tried for heresy some years before and acquitted. He had been called to Central Church by an insurgent group from his old congregation who felt that a minister should be given greater freedom than was allowed by the presbytery. Every Sunday, Swing attracted great crowds. The services were conducted in an informal fashion, with people laughing at the minister’s sallies and now and then applauding him. Janson liked all this, remarking that ancient peoples had worshiped in an easy, natural manner. He was deeply impressed by another preacher, Dr. H. W. Thomas, a Methodist who prayed for sects other than his own. In 1879 Dr. Thomas was already under surveillance because of his liberalism, and in 1880 he faced heresy charges in a trial notorious for its bitterness and acrimony. At times during the tour Janson visited other American churches (the times and places cannot be pinpointed); he thought the [38] sermons so recondite that they could not have been intended for working people. {27}

Although Janson lectured twice in Milwaukee, his addresses were not reviewed in the Norwegian papers in Chicago. His three subsequent lectures in Chicago were as well attended as his first. In two he dealt with Norse fairy tales, and Norden remarked that few in the audience had realized how much of life’s wisdom was to be found in the simple stories. In Janson’s final lecture he retold the saga, "Kongen og bonden" (The King and the Peasant), as well as two of Bjørnson’s stories, "Faderen" (The Father) and "Ei farlig friing" — his landsmaal version of Bjørnson’s popular tale about a "dangerous" courtship. {28}


By November 15 Janson was moving away from Lake Michigan. He had sent an enthusiastic letter dated November 2 to a friend in Norway; it appeared in Bergens Tidende and was later reprinted in Budstikken. His lectures were going well, he said, and everywhere people were hospitable and helpful. Yet he had hardly seen the typical America, for he traveled everywhere among Norwegians and spoke only Norwegian. At the time of his writing he was headed toward Neenah and Eau Claire in Wisconsin, and Minnesota. "I have a thousand-mile ticket on the train," he wrote. "I expect to go west to see the Mormons and then ‘way out to California." {29}

On November 17 he spoke in Neenah, and moved on to Winchester, Waupaca, and Scandinavia, in Wisconsin. He was struck by Scandinavia’s close resemblance to a Norwegian community. On the streets, in stores, one heard only Norwegian. The church was a replica of those at home; the minister wore the vestments of the state church; the hymnbooks were the same as those used in Norway. While Janson did not [39] disparage all this, he apparently saw no particular merit in it either. He was much more interested in the immigrants who were taking full advantage of the opportunities in America. It was the custom in Norway, Janson remarked, for the "better classes" to regard the peasant as sluggish, wholly lacking in ambition and enterprise — but here one saw how absurd such a notion was. {30}

What one saw in the old Illinois and Wisconsin communities, Janson declared, was absolutely amazing. There lived men who had been husmænd in Norway — tenant farmers or cotters, belonging to the lowest stratum of the peasantry. In America the former husmand now lived not in a hut but in a two-story frame house, painted white with green shutters on the windows. In back were a spacious barn and a granary, and costly machinery stood in the farmyard. Entering the house, one came into a carpeted parlor, attractively furnished with an organ, a sofa, comfortable armchairs, and decorative lamps. At dinner a lavish meal was served, American style, with a soup course, a meat course, cakes and pastries, and crackers and cheese as an extra dessert. Coffee or tea was served with the meal, and ice water and lemonade were offered, should the guest fancy them. After dinner, in one instance, the daughter of the house played the organ and sang — English songs. She had worked as a domestic in American households and had brought home customs she found there. Her father owned, in addition to his farm, an elevator and a planing mill. Janson gave other examples of similar prosperity, and although he was quick to add that not all immigrants had fared so well, he saw everywhere a tendency among the Norwegians to be more fastidious in the preparation of food than they were at home and to make a conscientious effort to raise their standard of living. {31}

Yet, in Janson’s eyes the important thing was the personality change in the immigrant, not his prosperity. In Norway, when addressed by one of his "betters," he had stood abjectly [40] humble, eyes downcast, cap in hand, and mumbled a reply. In America he had a straight back and a direct gaze; he was poised and hospitable. The transformation filled Janson with gratification: "When one considers," he wrote, "that these men — prosperous farmers owning their own farms — once slaved year after year without in any way improving their lot, one must be grateful to America for giving our countrymen opportunities to develop." Their lives had dignity because they had become responsible citizens who chose their officials from among themselves. And once knowing this independence, Janson declared, men found it the sine qua non of existence: "These people, through their freedom, have felt the soundness of their own enlightened might, and they love America. A few, clinging to memories of the mountains and fjords of home, sometimes give in to their longing and return. But they are back not more than a few months before they feel they must return to America. They cannot stand the class distinctions at home. I heard that time and time again." {32}

Janson came to realize, early in the second month of his tour, how divisive church strife could be. He lectured November 18 in Winchester, a small town in northern Wisconsin. Side by side on a hill stood churches of the Norwegian Synod and of the Conference for the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the two congregations regarded each other with bitter enmity. On one occasion, Janson was told, hysteria had risen to the point where a body was exhumed from the synod churchyard and the coffin hoisted over the fence to the Conference cemetery. This act was prompted, Janson said, by a concern lest the righteous be embarrassed on Judgment Day by the presence of the unrighteous; he documented his account with a statement taken from a book by Professor Weenaas. {33} [41]

Rasmus B. Anderson had planned to sell a translation of Bjørnson’s play, Leonarda (1879), to Scribner’s Monthly for $1,000. The project fell through because the work had already appeared in a German version; the Atlantic also refused it. When Janson was in the woodland of central Wisconsin, he learned that his mother had died; shortly afterward he had the onerous task, assigned him by Anderson, of writing Bjørnson that Leonarda had not been accepted. In the letter, Janson spoke of having heard from Drude, his wife, that Bjørnson was deeply depressed and was even thinking of selling Aulestad, his home. He urged Bjørnson to take heart, adding that he spoke only from faith; his own spirits were low and he was saddened by the news of his mother’s death and by the prospect of having to give up his own home in Norway. {34}

In the Wisconsin forests Janson saw what grueling labor the immigrants undertook in clearing land. He visited two brothers, former husmandsgutter from Toten, each of whom had a beautiful farm. Both maintained that people in Norway did not know what work was and that they themselves would not repeat their experience for any price. Janson readily believed them, for he could still see the marks left by the Gargantuan tree roots. Often immigrants did not take time to grub roots, but let them rot in the ground. Merrilan, Wisconsin, Janson said, had a comic appearance; there were tree stumps in the middle of the street. He himself had penetrated a wilderness of rotting stumps, broken-down branches, and fallen logs before reaching a hut where a bleak face peered out — that of an immigrant who was just beginning to prove his claim. {35}

By November 25 Janson was in Eau Claire, where he went through the sawmills and visited a wagon factory; he was [42] impressed by the use of machinery in America. Early in December he was lecturing on both sides of the Mississippi; visits to Rochester, Valley Grove, Rushford, and Zumbrota marked his penetration into Minnesota. In some towns his portrait went on sale in anticipation of his arrival. A month and a half before he gave his first lecture in La Crosse, Fædrelandet og Emigranten advertised photographs at fifteen cents for visiting-card style and thirty cents for cabinet size. Below the picture was a verse from one of Janson’s poems, beginning, "Forth to freedom, to all that is good." {36}

On January 2, 1880, Janson gave his first lecture in La Crosse, where attendance was less than might have been expected in a town with so many Norwegians. His talk was a development of two fairy tales, "De tre mostre" and "Lurvebetler" (The Three Aunts, and The Shabby Beggar). F. A. Husher, editor of Fædrelandet og Emigranten, gave a reserved report of the address, saying that many of Janson’s judgments were distorted and false; he granted, however, that from the applause, the speaker’s views were shared by others. A member of the audience sent a report of the lecture to Budstikken, which printed it and Husher’s account on January 13, 1880. This listener did not share Husher’s opinion: he said it was a great delight to hear Janson, who deserved big audiences wherever he went.

Janson was somewhat disappointed with the people in Wisconsin. As he said later, he liked the Minnesotans better, just as he came to prefer rural folk to those in the city. An experience he had in Wisconsin apparently rankled for a long time, for he mentioned it in his autobiography as well as in Amerikanske forholde. Hardly had he finished lecturing when a troop of young people stormed into the room. Boisterously proclaiming, "Now we will have a meeting!" they [43] proceeded to clear the floor for a dance. It was not their boycotting his lecture that distressed him, Janson said, but their complete lack of intellectual interest. They were neither fish nor fowl, and were without concern for the land of their forefathers and indifferent to the opportunities lying before them in America. When he mentioned this to their parents, they blamed it on the fact that the community was torn by church strife, but Janson could not concur with this. The parents, he maintained, had worked hard and wanted life to be easier for their children, but they made the mistake of indulging them to the extent that the young people felt that nothing was expected of them. {37}

In the same community in Wisconsin, people wrangled with the ticket seller to have the admission price reduced to fifteen cents from the twenty-five charged elsewhere. Failing in this, they stood outside and listened, something the thin board walls of the building permitted. {38}


As Minneapolis awaited Janson’s coming, Luth Jaeger, editor of Budstikken, reminded his readers that in Chicago five hundred people had greeted the speaker, and urged that Minneapolis do as well. His hope was doomed, for throughout Janson’s stay there his audiences were relatively small, an understandable disappointment to Jaeger. No one had done more, all through the tour, to keep Janson in the public eye. Besides reprinting reviews of the lectures from other papers, Jaeger carried a lengthy article by Egil Elda entitled "Kristofer Janson and the Nationalist Movement in Norway." {39}

Janson’s first lecture in Minneapolis was scheduled for January 16, the title being "Enevælde og frihed: Historiske billede fra forrige aarhundrede" (Tyranny and Freedom: Historic Scenes from the Last Century). Although it was now winter, the weather was comparatively mild, with daily [44] temperatures ranging from four to thirty degrees Fahrenheit. When Janson arrived in Minneapolis, which he announced would be his headquarters in Minnesota, he was the guest of Gudmund Johnson, one of the publishers of Budstikken. His lecture drew only three hundred and thirty people, mostly men, a situation that prompted Jaeger to remark that presumably the women were busy with their housework, indeed a regrettable circumstance. Jaeger was also disappointed to find so few ministers in the audience. Professor Georg Sverdrup of Augsburg Seminary could not attend because of a cold, but students from Augsburg were present in considerable numbers. After the lecture Janson was serenaded at his host’s residence on Nicollet Avenue. Exactly who did the serenading was not specified, but the implication was that it was the college students. Jaeger’s review follows:

"Since Mr. Janson expects to give the lecture again, we will not, at his request, give a full report of its content. We shall merely remark that the existence of the monarchy was at first a historical necessity for protection against the encroachments of barons and other petty lords. However, the situation tended to encourage the development of the monarchical power until it reached the absolutism found during the reign of Louis XIV in France. Of that ruler’s personal talents, Janson gave a striking, indeed almost a photographic account, describing the spirit of the age as it was embodied both in the magnificent palace at Versailles and in the ever-increasing assumption of power. The dark side of the picture, the misery of the people under Louis XIV, was also portrayed with analytical clarity. He told about the outstanding writers of the period and how their influence brought on the French Revolution. It was not the speaker’s purpose to teach history, but to present a historical period, so that his listeners would have an insight into the forces that brought on the revolution and gave it the precise form it took, the terrible upheaval that occurred in consequence of violating eternal law. For monarchy had reached its summit; it could go no higher. The [45] people had sunk so low that they could not endure more and survive.

"In the French Revolution the monarchy received its death blow, and a new day dawned. That was the central theme of the address, and it was developed with wonderful clarity and sharpness. In that respect the speech was the richest in learning and enlightenment that has ever been given before a Norwegian audience in this city, and no one went home without feeling his own understanding greatly enlarged and his soul enriched with a wealth of thoughts and impressions that he had not had before. So much for the content.

"The effectiveness of any lecture depends upon the manner in which it is delivered. Here Kristofer Janson demonstrated his mastery. To say there is no Norwegian in America who can be compared with him is perhaps not great praise, but we must add that among American lecturers it would be hard to find his equal — a full sonorous voice, now vibrating in righteous anger, now calm and mild, and then soaring in inspiration as he relates something beautiful and good, always the bearer of glowingly poetical, eloquent words. In that respect, we must single out the introduction as the best part of the lecture. From the attention of his audience it is clear people realized what a rare cultural delight they were privileged to experience." {40}

In the week’s interval between Janson’s first and second lectures in Minneapolis, he had a light schedule, speaking once in St. Paul on January 19 and once in Red Wing the next day. In Amerikanske forholde he devoted relatively little space to Minneapolis, although he seemed to have been impressed by the efficiency of the mills, mentioning that a train brought the grain to one end of the building and another carried the flour away at the other. As was mentioned earlier, he liked rural people better than those of the city. He spoke of being irked by immigrant women living in cities (although he did not specifically mention those of Minneapolis). Many [46] of them were accustomed to an aristocratic environment and liked to dwell on how agreeable life had been in Norway and how unsatisfactory it was in America. Janson mentioned, too, the "servant-girl flock" (again without definite reference to Minneapolis), saying that their duties were generally lighter than those of domestics in Norway — especially if they worked for Americans. {41}

On January 23 Janson gave his second lecture in Minneapolis, entitled "Hvorledes Norges frihed blev født" (How Norway’s Freedom Was Born). During the last week in January, he was the dinner guest of Professor Sven R. Gunnersen and later attended a meeting at Augsburg Seminary, where students provided a program of music and declamations and held a debate on whether civilization was causing mankind to advance or regress. Janson, for his part, related some incidents from Bjørnson’s Arne and told his own story, "Gale Arne" (Crazy Arne). {42} In the same week Janson spoke twice at St. Peter, and at Waseca and Madelia. From Madelia, only a few miles from where Janson was to establish his Nora Free Christian Church in Hanska less than two years later, a correspondent sent in a glowing account to Budstikken. The lecture was held in Flanders Hall, where Tosten Hovde, dressed in the costume of his native Romsdal, introduced Janson to an audience of about three hundred. Janson spoke on "Political Conditions in Norway," the new title given to "Hvorledes fjeldet skal blive klædt," presumably in response to criticism that the more flowery name did not indicate the content of the lecture. He was interrupted frequently by cheers and applause. "Here and there," said the account, "one saw tears rolling down bearded cheeks when the audience was reminded what humble people had had to endure in Norway." Almost everyone was well satisfied with the lecture, the reviewer [47] continued; the few who made critical comments were not competent judges. After the speech, the audience gave three rounds of cheers for Kristofer Janson and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. The account ended with the statement that no one would regret the money spent for admission. {43}

Two days later Janson gave his third Minneapolis lecture, "Fylgjesveinen" (The Companion). In the fatherland, Janson explained, the city man not only ignored folklore but was so influenced by foreigners that he imitated them. Thus, he said, Norwegian literature, both of the past and of the nineteenth century, had been dominated by an alien culture. Now that the Norwegians had become a free people, Janson declared, they must go to the peasant who had serenely clung to the native songs, epics, and fairy tales, if they were to reclaim this silver heritage.

Following his usual custom, Janson proceeded to tell a story, an account of a young man who interrupted his quest for a princess while he gave Christian burial to the body of an unscrupulous wine dealer — a corpse that had long been encased in a block of ice, spat upon by everyone passing by. Janson then explained the deep meaning to be found beneath the surface of the story. In reviewing this part of the lecture, Budstikken’s editor commented:

"Kristofer Janson’s interpretation was indeed a great revelation to the majority of his listeners. That the tale could contain so many truths, teach much that was beautiful, had escaped most of us, but it is certain that in the future every thoughtful person will look upon such tales with greater understanding and appreciation than before. We cannot give the poet’s full treatment, but merely remark that it concerned the necessity of living for an ideal, and showed how the ideal might triumph. The boy was always true to his vision. What was most significant for our Norse-American circumstances was the boy’s treatment of the wine dealer’s corpse. The young man had come into the land of the righteous, where, [48] in accordance with the law, the wine dealer had been executed and his body frozen in ice. The boy, however, was merciful and loving, and when he buried the wine dealer, the man’s soul was released and ascended to God. Love is stronger even than righteousness; it does not condemn, but forgives, stretching out its arms to the sinner." Jaeger was again disappointed at the attendance; he said that two hundred and fifty people were not many, and urged that more turn out for the final address on February 13. {44}

Meanwhile Janson himself was looking forward to hearing another lecturer. When he arrived in Minneapolis he had noticed placards that read, "Mrs. Livermore Is Coming!" followed by others that read, "Mrs. Livermore Is Here!" If he read the Minneapolis Tribune for February 3 (and probably he did) he saw, prominently displayed on the front page, "Mrs. Livermore Tonight!" In Amerikanske forholde Janson mentioned the placards as another instance of American ingenuity in advertising, saying that his own curiosity was aroused. The lady was a prominent lecturer whose two addresses in Minneapolis bore the titles "Beyond the Sea" and "Concerning Husbands." Since Janson had a free evening on February 3, he attended the first talk. {45}

Mrs. Livermore’s speech was based on observations she had made during a trip to Europe. She was seriously concerned with the status of women, and spoke feelingly of the contempt with which they were treated abroad, even in England. If consideration of women was an index of a nation’s level of civilization, Mrs. Livermore declared, "Our land is ‘way ahead of the rest of the world." She spoke of the achievements of American women and went on to say that they were also the best-looking in the world. Even the actress Lily Langtry, so celebrated in England for her beauty, would hardly cause a head to turn in America. Janson apparently was in complete accord with all this. In no other country, he said in [48a]


[49] Amerikanske forholde, were women treated with such chivalry as in America. He spoke of the laws that had been enacted for their protection. "I have never seen a finer, more beautiful, or nobler group," he added. "They are ordinarily smarter than European women, with intelligence lighting up their lively, alert faces — with charm and assurance revealed in their every movement. On the streets of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, every third woman one sees is a beauty." {46}

Janson spoke in Willmar February 4 and in Benson the following day. Then, during a four-day interval, he made a flying trip to Chicago. In a note to R. B. Anderson dated February 9 he spoke of going to the Griggs Publishing Company and receiving nine copies of The Spellbound Fiddler. He also announced that he would take a week off, beginning the following Sunday, February 15, to visit Boyesen in Ithaca, New York. Apparently that trip did not materialize, for the Budstikken review of Janson’s last lecture, published February 17, indicated that he was going on to Fargo, where he was to speak February 20. He was not returning to Minneapolis after that but would go directly south. Until the end of March he was to be lecturing, concluding the tour in Chicago. From there he would go to the East, where he expected to spend a couple of months. His previous plan of visiting California had been abandoned. Instead he expected to sail for Europe early in June, stopping off in England before he returned to Norway. {47}

Attendance at Janson’s final lecture in Minneapolis dropped to two hundred and twenty, and Jaeger interpreted this as evidence of a deplorable lack of cultural interest among the [50] people. The talk, a repetition of the first given in America (now called "Political Conditions in Norway"), prompted Jaeger to say that Janson, though obviously a warm and sincere republican, was hardly a practical one, for he said nothing about how a Norwegian republic might be implemented. This, however, Jaeger added generously, was actually outside the speaker’s purpose, and indeed Janson did say that the republican idea was being spread by the letters of immigrants to relatives back home. Janson also mentioned specific problems that demanded immediate attention, among them the extension of the franchise, the position of women, the flag controversy, and the state church. To Jaeger, the value of the lecture lay not only in what Janson said. "Back of the speeches stood a man. One recognized that fact instantly, and without doubt it played a part in the warm reception he won everywhere. . . . There was always a faithful and by no means small circle of people who listened to him with interest and enthusiasm, really appreciating the value of what he said. In their name and in the name of the Norwegians here generally, we feel justified in wishing for Janson’s return and in promising him a warm welcome should that wish be realized in the future." {48}

Comments like the above drew a mild protest from Erik L. Petersen, an Episcopal minister in Faribault, himself an accomplished lecturer. Writing Professor Anderson February 19, Petersen said: "Janson is doing well here in Minnesota, but I think the reviews in Budstikken. are too one-sided, almost fanatically so, and it becomes tedious in the long run." {49}


In the middle of February, Kristofer Janson was traveling across the frozen Minnesota prairies en route to Fargo. From the first, the prairie had fascinated him — months before, when he had seen the Illinois plains, and more recently in Brown and Kandiyohi counties in Minnesota. The vast [51] stretches of land filled one with loneliness, he said; it was like being at sea. Danger was always imminent, for storms and blizzards could erupt without warning. Yet there he found people who seemed to be nature’s own children, as spirited and adventuresome, he said, as if the piercing wind that was always blowing had found its way into their blood streams. {50}

Visiting a sod house, he saw how primitive the life of an immigrant could be. He also mentioned how this rude shelter came to be supplanted, in time, by a log cabin and eventually by a frame house, the latter two phases indicating great strides in prosperity, for the logs and lumber had to be hauled immense distances. He saw the privations endured by pioneer pastors— often greater than those of their parishioners, for they were frequently housed in makeshift dwellings where the snow sifted in on their beds at night. {51}

On one occasion Janson spoke in a primitive community in which an unheated warehouse had been cleared to make space for the audience. Some of the more agile of his listeners climbed up to the rafters, where they perched so precariously that Janson, in his preliminary remarks, implored them to hold on firmly, lest they hurtle down on the audience or on him. Huddled before him on the cold plank benches, half buried in robes, were people who punctuated his address at intervals by stamping their feet to revive circulation. In overcoat and cap, bundled up in scarves, Janson held forth. The title of his address gave an ironic note to the whole proceeding. It was "Iceland." {52}

In Amerikanske forholde Janson gave considerable space to describing the rigors of life on the prairie. He spoke of the arduous work of plowing up the coarse prairie grass, an operation slow to bring results, for the earth had to lie fallow for a time before it could take the seed. He spoke of the [52] problem, created by the alkaline soil, of getting good drinking water, of the threat of Indian violence (largely past by 1880, as he acknowledged), of the danger of prairie fires; and he climaxed all this by saying that the immigrants’ worst troubles were those they had brought with them: drunkenness and immoral customs, in particular one he designated as "night courtship." Such things, Janson wrote, gave his countrymen a bad reputation among Americans, whom he found to be an unusually courteous and morally upright people.

These serious faults (and Janson added another by maintaining that all Norwegians, in both Norway and America, were sorely lacking in graciousness) resulted from ignorance. As has been mentioned, Janson remarked several times in Amerikanske forholde that most immigrants were from the working classes and had virtually no education beyond the ability to read and write. Often he was distressed to find an audience amused by the antics of a drunken man. On other occasions — apparently more than once — intoxicated men actually vomited in the lecture hall. Since many people drove for miles through the bitter winter cold to get to the lecture, Janson understood that they might need a warming drop or two, but, as he said, the custom of standing treat prevented moderation in drinking. The Norwegians needed to be taught how degrading it was for a man to lose possession of himself.

"Night courtship" Janson traced to customs immigrants had brought with them from rural communities in Norway. He maintained that Americans looked upon this with great repugnance, and consequently regarded Norwegians as a morally loose people. As Janson saw it, the practice could best be discouraged through improved community life, one in which young people were given more opportunities to meet openly. {53} [53]


From Fargo Janson returned to La Crosse. There, on February 26, he wrote Rasmus B. Anderson. He was showing signs of weariness. He told Anderson to accept no more engagements, that he had decided to forgo Michigan altogether. He was still concerned over Bjørnson and the Leonarda matter, and urged Anderson to write and relieve Bjørnson’s anxiety. {54} A few days later he was on his way again, revisiting Rushford, Lanesboro, and Spring Grove in southeastern Minnesota. On March 2 he arrived in Decorah, Iowa, where his stay was to culminate in what was virtually a community celebration.

Accepting an invitation received shortly after his arrival in America, "should Decorah be on your itinerary," Janson became the guest of the Reverend Laur. Larsen, president of Luther College. On March 3 he gave a lecture based on "The Three Aunts" and "The Shabby Beggar." According to Decorah-Posten, an audience of three hundred and fifty people awaited eagerly. Promptly at eight o’clock Janson appeared on the platform. The reporter described his surprise:

"So you are Kristofer Janson. I had not expected den djærve maalstræver, who so early broke with tradition and endured hate and abuse because he dared to speak to Norsemen in their own tongue, to look like this. I had anticipated someone who seemed harder. But there stood a tall form with a mild, friendly face and the eyes of a dove, which lighted up as a torrent of thoughts flowed from his lips in eloquent words. It must be that his life in poesy and legend has preserved in him the vigor of youth and protected him against the attacks which his inordinate labors for his ideals have brought upon him."

The writer went on to say that Janson’s interpretation of the first tale showed what might result from human effort [54] that is not guided by the light of the spirit. In the second, the poet explained how industry and beauty, when properly blended, might be utilized in the education of women. Often, he said, they are regarded as delicately nurtured plants, or as dolls in a dollhouse. The account concluded with the statement: "A member of the audience said at the close of the lecture, ‘I have seldom heard so many truths expressed at one time.’ He was not alone in his opinion." {55}

Janson’s schedule was a tight one. The evening after his first appearance in Decorah, he spoke at Ridgeway, Iowa. The hall was decorated with flags and greenery and there was a good audience. The next night Janson was back in Decorah, delivering his address on "How Norway’s Freedom Was Born." The subject matter was familiar to his hearers, but Janson seems to have held people enthralled. So vividly did he depict the political and religious awakening of the time, interweaving the account with intimate biographical sketches of such figures as Kristian Lofthus, Hans Nielsen Hauge, and Kristian Fredrik, that the audience felt that the whole era had come to life.

Students from Luther College attended Janson’s lectures in great numbers. On Saturday morning, he spent half a day in the college convocation hall reading his landsmaal version of a fairy tale, "Austanfyre sol og vestanfyre maane" (East of the Sun and West of the Moon). Meanwhile the citizens were preparing a banquet; for, as Decorah-Posten explained, "They had received so much that was good and beautiful from Janson that they wanted to show their appreciation with something more than applause."

That evening, between two and three hundred people, most of whom had brought food, were present at the dinner. Following selections given by a mixed chorus (which won the praise of the guest of honor), Professor O. J. Breda spoke. Professor Thrond Bothne told a charming fairy tale in which a boy (Kristofer Janson) freed a bewitched princess (the Norwegian people in America). It is interesting that the [55] correspondent in Decorah-Posten, in describing Janson’s effect on the community, used figurative language similar to his. Janson was "the sower," who "took with him a friendly memory of his countrymen in our little city. We, for our part, have loved him. We hope that the winged, shining seed which he has sown among us will grow quickly and bear good fruit." {56}

Before leaving Iowa, Janson spoke in St. Ansgar and in Northwood; then, crossing into Minnesota, he visited Albert Lea and Fountain before returning to La Crosse. A report of the March 13 address given in Albert Lea that appeared in Budstikken indicated that people had been somewhat surprised by Janson’s remark that the Norwegians were inclined to be suspicious of the word "free," often confusing free-mindedness or liberalism with freethinking. The writer predicted that Janson was likely to meet opposition from those "who stood in fear of authority," but apparently there were no other reverberations from the talk. By mid-March Janson was in Madison, where he remained for about two weeks. Then, on his way to Chicago, he stopped off at Beloit. Norden spoke of the tour as a "triumphant journey." {57}


Janson lectured in Chicago April 1, and appeared in Racine the following night. On April 7 he attended a memorial service held for William Ellery Channing at the Central Music Hall in Chicago. There, before a huge audience, tribute was paid Channing’s great contribution to American culture by Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Jewish clergymen, as well as other prominent men with no designated religious affiliation. Janson, profoundly affected by what he heard, described the occasion in Amerikanske forholde, and recalled it some thirty years later in his autobiography: "I sat amazed. Were such things possible? Could such tolerance and cooperation between sects actually exist? I thought of the Lutheran congregations that devoured one another in hate [56] with accusations of heresy. I thought of conditions at home, where the heretic was branded, condemned, and hunted down."

Curiously, in the autobiography Janson described his reaction to the services much more graphically than he did his own final address, "Den saa-kaldte rene lære" (The So-called Pure Teachings), which he delivered the following night. He did not mention this lecture in Amerikanske forholde and spoke of it only briefly in his autobiography: "Before I left, I held a lecture in Chicago in which I strongly criticized the church’s fundamentalism and intolerance. The speech aroused both acclaim and great bitterness and was the event that led to my later return to America as a minister." {58}

On April 8 the scene was again Aurora Hall. Janson began, mildly enough, by remarking that the church strife was in-deed regrettable. During his tour, he said, whenever the minister of one synod entertained him, the pastors of the others warned their parishioners to stay away from him. He related the incident of the corpse being removed from the Norwegian Synod graveyard. Once, he went on, a minister invited him to read a manuscript entitled "To What Congregation Should I Belong?" Janson expected the paper to state that one must choose the church that he feels teaches the truth — "for a man must never be a hypocrite before God." Instead, the writer insisted that the choice must be the Norwegian Synod, the only one that possessed God’s teachings pure and undefiled. All other synods, Janson commented sardonically, were thus consigned to "a certain warm place."

How unfortunate, Janson continued, that a realm in which love should prevail had been pre-empted by a fanatical zeal to protect "the pure teachings." All groups claimed the Bible as their authority, and cudgeled one another with Biblical citations. Yet the Norwegian Synod was the apostle of ignorance: It opposed the public schools, warned its parishioners [57] not to read American periodicals, and held the threat of church discipline and excommunication over its people. Thus Norwegian Lutherans were hermetically sealed off from American society. For the most part, the theological debate was over the heads of the laymen. A few persons with the ability to make fine logical distinctions entered the controversy and became procurators, but the majority slept through it. Being so isolated, the Norwegian immigrants did not even know the names of the leading American writers. Janson declared he had never encountered a policy more likely to create freethinkers or to cause people to become bored with Christianity than the one the Norwegian Synod had adopted to protect its doctrines. Later generations, he predicted, would go over to other denominations — if they did not go in an opposite direction and become followers of Robert Ingersoll.

Janson was not, he said, attacking ministers personally. He had had many opportunities during his tour to talk freely with pastors of both the Norwegian Synod and the Conference. He was impressed with their dedicated stand, their patience, their selflessness in enduring all kinds of privation. These men, Janson declared, were better than the organizations they served. At home they were lively and full of jest; it was only in their official capacity that they became harsh and narrowly parochial.

Throughout history, Janson continued, certain groups had declared themselves to be sole possessors of the pure teachings. In Jesus’ time it was the Pharisees who put their faith in outer forms — in a literal interpretation of the sacred writings. Jesus himself had no creed or dogma, but advocated love, and his apostles had done the same. Paul had said that there was one God, and only one medium between God and man —Jesus, who offered himself as a sacrifice. The division into sects and the persecutions followed later. The early church fathers formulated the Athanasian Creed, which turned the emphasis from Christianity to dogma.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Janson [58] continued, the Catholic Church proclaimed itself the guardian of pure teachings. Luther and Calvin became the leaders of the opposition. Later, in ignorance, they, as well as the Catholics, burned dissenters without really knowing what the dissenters believed. In America, Janson said, he had heard unwarranted attacks on freethinkers. If you are to oppose a man, he insisted, you must do it on the ground of what he says, not what he did not say or did not intend.

Luther did not consider himself infallible, Janson went on. He had the prejudices and superstitions of his milieu: He believed in witches; he had personal encounters with the devil. If one holds such beliefs, the devil becomes the central figure, stronger than God and Jesus together. For his own part, Janson declared, he could accept all Christians as brothers, be they Catholics or members of the Reformed sects. The Augsburg Confession was not intended to be binding for all time. Fear of critics and freethinkers should not cause one to crawl under dogma for protection from the lightning. Since the Reformation, man had only two options: to be a Catholic and accept the Roman Church as the sole authority, or to be a Protestant and believe in the freedom of individual conscience. One thing on which all Christians are agreed is that God is our father and Jesus is our saviour. Rely on a pope and you bind the individual conscience. Unfortunately, Protestants made the mistake of by-passing essential Christian principles. Janson concluded with a plea that love be given a place, quoting I John 4:7 — "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God."

Throughout the Middle West the Norwegian-American community was stunned. Neither Fædrelandet og Emigranten nor Decorah-Posten reviewed the lecture, and Hande’s first reaction was that he would ignore it in Norden. After reflecting, however, that the speech would be widely discussed and that those likely to be offended could not help hearing about it, he decided otherwise. "It is Janson’s final word, his judgment of us," Hande wrote. "He has talked of coming back in a few years, and now people will know what to expect. The [59] tone and the spirit of the speech were un-Lutheran, to say the least. But there is truth in it. The quarreling over religion has been conducted in an uncharitable, brawling, and cruel manner, but that is not the fault of the teaching. Even with Jan-son’s doctrine that God is our father and Jesus our saviour, there would be differences as soon as people sought to determine in what sense God was our father and Jesus our saviour." {59}

In Minneapolis Luth Jaeger, staunch defender of Janson though he was, reported the comments of the various papers scrupulously. As the debate gathered momentum, editors accused one another of misinterpretation and even duplicity, and the discussion enlivened the Norwegian press in this country until Janson returned to Norway. Thus Budstikken reported how Verdens Gang had taken Den Nye Tid to task for calling Janson a hypocrite. Verdens Gang, which in its own way now looked on Janson with a jaundiced eye, stated that he had faithfully expressed what lay before his inner vision "when he entertained the public with a new act of his ‘American Fantasies’ at Aurora Hall." Jaeger also quoted the editor of Red River Posten, who stated that it was unfortunate the speech had ever been given, and hoped that Janson’s ideas would make no inroads among Norwegians. Jaeger then published a satirical piece from Verdens Gang (and later reprimanded the paper for its scurrilous gibes at Norden):

"Our readers now know the principal content of Janson’s farewell address. It is superfluous to remark that there is nothing new in it that has not been said many times before, both verbally and in print. What gives his words a significance on this occasion is that Janson has now returned from what Norden has called his ‘triumphant journey’ in the Northwest, and the ministers and congregations which Janson now criticizes in the sharpest terms are the very ones who have been singing of his triumphs. The situation is almost laughable. When Janson was in Decorah, the synod’s professors, ministers, and [60] students gave a reception in his honor at which time one of the professors told a fairy tale (in landsmaal, naturally!) called ‘The Bewitched,’ that dealt with a prince who freed a princess under a spell, the allusion being that Janson was the prince who had come to America to dispel the intellectual darkness which envelops our people here. When the synod professor reads this week’s papers, he will realize that he had the wrong fairy tale. He should have chosen an Arabic one called ‘The Princess Who Got a Long Nose.’ This Oriental tale has now been performed on American soil; the prince, Kristofer Janson, alter spending many pleasant days, and carrying a well-filled purse, has forsaken the disappointed princess, the Norwegian ministry, which now has a long nose in return for its efforts to tempt Janson with endearing overtures and flattery.

"Norden expresses — exactly as one would expect that sycophantic, hypocritical paper to do — its great distress, yes, even shock, over Janson’s lecture!" {60}

Jaeger, himself long a critic of church controversies, regarded the criticism Janson made in his last address to be fully justified: "It was a torch cast into the fields of the Philistines, and we hope it will burn, for enough inflammable stuff is there. As Verdens Gang says, there is really nothing new in it, but never has the issue been represented so basically and comprehensively. . . . It is Janson’s judgment of us, and we can’t flatter ourselves that another would have interpreted the situation otherwise. . . . His judgment is an enlightened stranger’s view of conditions. Coming from a man of his gifts, with his reputation, the criticism will carry greater weight than it would otherwise. It will not give us too flattering a reputation abroad. Perhaps it will open our eyes." {61}


Meanwhile, Janson was already in the East. Apparently he stayed in Chicago at least until noon of Sunday, April 18, for [61] that morning he attended services in a spiritualist church there, drawn to it through his omnivorous reading of American newspapers. Through the medium, Mrs. Cora Richmond, "the late Dr. Thompson" delivered a sermon, which Janson found satisfactory, although he questioned the identity of the author. After the service he bought a copy of a sermon William Ellery Channing had presented the Sunday before in the same manner. In Amerikanske forholde he related the whole experience with droll humor, remarking on how onerous it must be for the dead to be on call for such duties. {62}

Two days after this incident, Janson reported in a post card sent to Professor Anderson from New York City that he was having a good time. That evening, he said, he expected to see Edwin Booth as Iago in Othello, and the following evening he would see him in Macbeth. Then he was going to Philadelphia to attend the Lincoln memorial services conducted annually by Walt Whitman. In Philadelphia he also visited historic shrines, industrial sites, and department stores. He thought Wanamaker’s a notable achievement, particularly because Wanamaker was a self-made man. (The great number of Americans of lowly origin who had risen to prominent positions impressed Janson throughout his visit in the East.) He called at the luxurious home of Henry C. Lea, the historian, and was awed by Lea’s comprehensive knowledge of the eddas and Icelandic saga lore. He went to Camden, New Jersey, to call on Walt Whitman, but unfortunately did not find him at home. He did, however, gather considerable information on the poet’s simple mode of life, all of which increased Janson’s admiration. As he continued to question Americans, he found, more often than not, that he himself knew Whitman’s works far better than they did. {63}

Early in May Janson was in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile [62] the excitement engendered by "The So-called Pure Teachings" was still at a high pitch in the Middle West. On April 27 the Reverend Erik L. Petersen wrote Professor Anderson his opinion of the lecture: "‘The Pure Teachings’ is brilliant, but it will hurt him very much — especially for any kind of a future in this country. I have often said the same and worse from the pulpit — but in Janson’s place, I don’t believe I would have spoken so frankly. It was brilliant — but it will hurt him." {64}

By this time the Norwegian Synod had replied to Janson’s lecture in its own publication, Evangelisk Luthersk Kirketidende. Someone must have sent Janson a copy, for he seems to have read the article before it was reprinted in the weekly papers. It began with the observation that Janson had, in the course of his tour, delivered many fine lectures drawn from Norwegian history, presenting them in excellent form. Therefore, the account continued, it was all the more distressing that his farewell address should have been "The So-called Pure Teachings." And what, the writer asked rhetorically, was the summation of this talk? That the greatest and most beautiful accomplishment of our people in this country, building our church and preserving the faith of our fathers, had been put into the same class as the activities of the Pharisees and the atrocities of the Inquisition — a fate that the synod must share with the ancient church for protecting the pure teachings of the Bible.

True enough, the article continued, Janson admitted that the pastors were honorable men. But in dealing with differences between churches, he mentioned slander. {65} He had also said that the author of "To Which Congregation Should I Belong?" had relegated members of all other church groups to "a certain warm place." Since the synod’s reply to Janson appeared in its church calendar, some four to five thousand [63] copies of which had been distributed, the falsity of his charge could be readily ascertained. Again, Janson had remarked that his own belief was broad, that he was willing to accept Catholics and members of the Reformed sects. By the same token he might also, it seemed, include Jews and Mohammedans. Finally, Janson attacked the Athanasian Creed, formulated at the Council of Nicaea, and spoke of the doctrine of the Trinity as the work of men. "When he attacks Christianity on fundamentals — in its essential tenets which, in the clearest manner possible, are in agreement with Scripture — something accepted by all church groups — then we will have to tell him that regardless of how much church strife there may be among us, the members of the various churches who regard themselves as serious Christians will have nothing to do with him should he ever again come to our country as a guest." {66}

From Washington, on May 4, Janson answered the criticism in a communication to Budstikken. He had known, he said, that the lecture would cost him friends, but because he expected to air the same views on his return to Norway, he had felt it only honest to state his opinions candidly before leaving America. As he was now on his way home, he did not wish to become involved in any long discussion of the Trinity. He admitted that his own religious belief was broad — to love those of other sects whom he considered to be as Christian as he. Nevertheless, he insisted, it must be remembered that he was a Christian — not a Jew or Mohammedan. He was criticizing not the building of the church but its reliance on outer form. "When I look at the fruit, I cannot admire the result." Janson went on to say that he understood why the Norwegian Synod might warn people to stay away from his lectures when they dealt with religion, but he could not see why such a prohibition should be placed against those about [64] fairy tales and saga lore. Nor was he to be forced out of the Christian fold. He still believed in the articles of faith in which he had been baptized, and he felt he had as much claim to salvation as the author of the Kirketidende article.

Jaeger, in publishing this reply in Budstikken, added his own defense of Janson. Janson, the editor declared, had not compared the building up of the church to the activities of the Pharisees or the atrocities of the Inquisition, but had attacked the uncharitableness, intolerance, and prejudice that had accompanied the task. Janson’s criticism, Jaeger stoutly maintained, was wholly justified, for in the church history of the Norwegians in America so much emphasis had been put on doctrine that everything else had been thrust aside. {67}

Meanwhile Janson was going about in the nation’s capital, where he was struck by the paradoxes evidenced in American life. On one occasion, when he was a dinner guest at the home of a Northern Civil War general, Janson was surprised to hear the host speak of Negroes with great disdain. As Janson was quick to discern, the position of the Negro, even for one of proven ability, was far from enviable. Sympathetically he followed the newspaper accounts of a young Negro cadet then at West Point. He had been found bound to his bed, his body marked with superficial wounds; investigation revealed that he had arranged the predicament himself with some help from a classmate. Visiting Congress, Janson found himself drawn to Senator Blanche K. Bruce, then its only Negro member, a man so light-skinned that he might have been taken for an Italian or a Spaniard. Janson was disappointed that he missed seeing him act as temporary presiding officer in the Senate, for he had heard reports of how bitterly Southern senators resented Bruce’s gavel. On the other hand, he was amazed at the lack of ostentation he found at the White House. When he called on Rutherford B. Hayes he was quietly ushered into the chief executive’s office, where the President, [65] dressed as any other businessman, cordially shook hands with him and invited him to sit down. {68}

He took a trip down the Potomac to Mount Vernon, where he saw tablets indicating that Washington’s lineage could be traced to the English and Scottish petty nobility. Janson disparaged this, believing that the President had reflected honor on the nobility, rather than the reverse. The traveler was pleased to see bills of lading displayed that showed how Washington had sold his produce like any other farmer. On May 11 Janson sent a card to Professor Anderson saying that he had had a fine trip through Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and was going to Boston, where he intended to stay for a week. {69}

By May 20 he was in Cambridge, where he called on Longfellow. Again he brought up the subject of Walt Whitman. Longfellow "in his usual mild manner described Whitman as a wild, untamed spirit whose poems were nevertheless (he apparently had not read many of them) full of warm, forceful thoughts." {70} Janson also ventured to ask Longfellow about Mrs. Victoria Woodhull, only to have the poet shake his head resignedly. Some time later Janson attended a meeting of Mrs. Woodhull’s Free Love League in Boston. He was disappointed to find that the lady was lecturing in England, but he listened to the speeches of her colleagues, both Negro and white, finding the ideas presented somewhat visionary but in no way shameful or indecent. The league’s reform program was based on the assumption that man is inherently good and [66] should be released from the restrictions placed on him by government and orthodox religion — particularly the latter. It roundly berated Christianity and its concept of original sin, tracing most of society’s evils to that source. Janson, reporting all this in Amerikanske forholde, was prompted to make a spirited defense of Christianity, finding in the league’s attack additional evidence of how people confused dogma with what he regarded to be essential Christian principles. {71}

Janson, searching as he was for ways in which America differed from Europe, found little in American art or literature that interested him. Pictorial art, when it was not humorous, tended to be tediously sentimental, causing him to remark that the American artist could not depict a young girl looking up at the sky without having the heavens open and angels descend. He considered the architecture more promising. The imposing mansions in the East and the buildings erected in Chicago alter the fire displayed an ingenious use of red sandstone, white marble, glass, and iron. Poets and writers — with the notable exception of Walt Whitman — followed traditional styles and frequently drew their material from faraway places and remote times. Such writers as Mark Twain and Bret Harte, who did deal with the American scene, were, in Janson’s judgment, faithful reporters but hardly men of great creative talent. {72}

On May 23, shortly before he sailed for home, Janson heard Henry Ward Beecher preach in Brooklyn and was agreeably impressed by his informality, much as he had been by that of the Reverend David Swing in Chicago months before. He arrived in Christiania June 3; he had abandoned his earlier plan to spend some time in England.

In the Middle West the controversy over "The So-called Pure Teachings" was still being threshed out in the newspapers. Norden, piqued at Jaeger’s stout defense of Janson, had remarked that the editor of Budstikken was apparently [67] unaware that Janson, long before he had any personal experience with conditions in the New World, had given essentially the same speech in Lillehammer, Norway, later tailoring it to fit his audience in America. Jaeger admitted that he had not known this before, but insisted that the news in no way altered the central issue: "When a man with Janson’s gifts criticizes how we conduct our spiritual life, it is what every intelligent stranger with Janson’s opportunity to see and hear must think, even if he does not say it to us." {73}

More than a month later, Budstikken reprinted a second article on Janson from the June 4 issue of Evangeilsk Luthersk Kirketidende. In acknowledging Janson’s response to the previous Kirketidende article, the commentator called attention to the poet’s statement that he did not want to become involved in a long theological discussion. All of this by-passed a vital point, he said. The question was not whether Janson was "Synoden" or a Lutheran, but whether he was a Christian. He had spread slander. In spite of his having heard the account of the cemetery incident from a pastor, he should have known, by reference to the eighth commandment, that Christians are in duty bound not to carry such tales. Furthermore, Janson claimed to believe in the articles of faith in which he had been baptized. If so, he had taken out the kernel and kept merely the shell, for the articles were nothing more than an acceptance of the triune God.

How, the writer asked, could Janson consider Christ his saviour if he did not consider him to be divine? He could not be a Christian unless — as another paper had suggested — he was a Unitarian. If he was not a Christian, he was not a Lutheran. "No serious Christian will have anything to do with him, should he ever visit our land again. His words will [68] be regarded as poisonous. He came as a guest, was honored as a writer and a son of the fatherland. He will not be so treated by Christians again. Had he been sufficiently honorable to give his talk at the beginning of his series rather than at the end, he would have seen that we are right." {74}

Curiously, Rasmus B. Anderson failed to mention "The So-called Pure Teachings" in his summary of the lecture tour. The omission was serious, making Anderson’s account a distortion: "Kristofer Janson was at the time, though somewhat tainted with Grundtvigianism, thought to be fairly orthodox in his theology. In his addresses he abstained rigidly from touching upon religious topics. Accordingly, he was hospitably received at all Norwegian Lutheran parsonages, and he was permitted to speak in a large number of Norwegian Lutheran churches. He was received and entertained as one of Norway’s distinguished sons and his visit did much to promote an interest in Norwegiandom on this side of the Atlantic." {75}

In Amerikanske forholde, Janson gave a more comprehensive and far more devastating description of church conditions in America than that in "The So-called Pure Teachings." He spoke of five rival synods, naming the Norwegian Synod and the Conference as the largest and most acutely inimical. He elaborated at some length on the Norwegian Synod’s claim to the sole possession of the "pure teachings," of its adamant stand on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and of its complete rejection of latter-day Biblical scholarship. He described the Norwegian Synod’s close affiliation with the German Missouri Synod; this was the only other Lutheran body with which it was in accord, for it found the Lutheran Church in [69] the Scandinavian countries and Germany to be lacking in vigilance against the encroachment of liberal elements.

The Norwegian Synod, Janson went on to say, characteristically took a narrowly partisan stand on public issues, viciously denounced those who differed with it in theological matters, and exercised a tyrannical control over its own members. He spoke of the synod’s opposition to the public schools and its earlier defense of slavery. He cited instances of attacks on pastors of other synods, documenting his statements. He spoke of the multiple prohibitions placed on its parishioners, listing secret engagements and marriages, lotteries, life insurance, membership in secret societies, lending out money at interest, and a widower marrying his deceased wife’s sister as forbidden activities. Transgressors, Janson maintained, were subjected to such severe disciplinary measures as public examination and excommunication.

In the conduct of family affairs, Janson saw the synod exercising a pernicious influence. He reported that it gave parents absolute authority over their children, and the husband complete dominion over his wife. To illustrate the latter point, Janson cited two cases. The first (which he later used as the nucleus for his story, "Wives, Submit Yourselves unto Your Husbands," in Præriens saga) concerned a woman who fled from a brutal husband and was forcibly returned to her home on the advice of a minister. This account, Janson declared, he heard from the woman’s brothers. The other case was the Bernt Julius Muus story, which Janson described at some length, drawing details of the pastor’s alleged callous treatment of his wife from testimony reported in the newspapers during Janson’s stay in America. {76}

To what extent Janson looked upon his lecture tour as a tryout for a career in America is not clear, but there are indications that the prospect was in his mind. In a note to Bjørnson written at the time of his departure from Norway, he had spoken of "what the tour might mean for the future" —although the phrase is broad enough to suggest various [70] possibilities. {77} During his trip he must have spoken often of coming again, for the newspapers discussed it in reviews of "The So-called Pure Teachings." Erik L. Petersen apparently saw the trip as a sort of trial balloon, for he mentioned to Anderson the harmful effect Janson’s final lecture was likely to have on his future in this country. {78}

At any rate, Janson’s observations during his tour determined the direction his later ministry was to take. As he viewed it, the Norwegian immigrants needed guidance in adapting to American life, a function he felt the Lutheran clergy ignored. Upon his return to Minneapolis late in 1881, he published a statement in Budstikken of December 13 offering himself as the leader and spokesman of his countrymen.

Throughout the years his ministry had virtually as strong a social orientation as a religious one. During his first year he was giving dramatic readings from literature; later he organized study and discussion clubs, set up reading rooms, offered special programs and concerts. He made a conscientious effort to introduce the refinements of polite society into parochial activities. Thus, after he took the church at Hanska in rural Brown County, the farmers and their families would spend all of Sunday in the area; a small orchestra played while coffee was being served as the conclusion of the day’s events. An aura somewhat reminiscent of the folk school hovered about his churches.

True enough, Janson propounded his theological views vigorously from the pulpit and in print, but since tolerance was [71] a cardinal point with him, he was always willing, in the last analysis, to concede that what one believed was largely his own business. His criticism of his opponents could be sharp and pointed — as in the case of the Norwegian Synod — but never vituperative or abusive. In replying to his critics (for he soon became a target for Professor Sven Oftedal of the Conference as well as for various Norwegian Synod spokesmen) Janson rarely gave way to anger. Most of the time he adopted a somewhat humorous, satirical tone. In his sermons, the Lutherans came to figure as "our orthodox brethren."

The great appeal of Janson’s personality, so evident from the accounts that appeared during his lecture tour, continued to draw admirers — often people with little or no interest in his theology. He was not long established in Minneapolis before expressions of thanks appeared in Budstikken for the noble humanitarian message in this or that sermon of his. From time to time poems addressed to him were printed. Detractors sometimes taunted him with the suggestion that his followers were worshiping not God but Janson. As a popular speaker he seems to have been without rival. Critics have charged that Janson tended to oversimplify and was generally superficial in his treatment of many issues — and this judgment had been made during his lecture tour too. Certainly one would be hard pressed to maintain that Janson was either a profound or a highly original thinker, but in weighing the criticism it must be remembered that he was acutely sensitive to the limitations of his audiences, and knew from experience what the traffic would bear. He spoke of how frequently, during his lecture tour, he found himself forced to simplify and simplify again; he mentioned how often he refrained from using an allusion because his hearers would find it meaningless. Today his sermons still make good reading.

As Janson had been during his lecture tour, throughout his years in America he remained very much the polemicist. All the fiction he later produced in this country served as a vehicle for his ideas, something that gave him a reputation as [72] a "tendency writer," a term common in the late nineteenth century. He continued to espouse freedom, temperance, the equality of women. His admiration for American industrialism, however, died shortly after he became a resident here. His novels Bag gardinet (Behind the Curtain) and Sara contain scathing indictments (somewhat melodramatically presented) of capitalist exploitation of immigrants and of the working class generally.

The circumstances that led up to Janson’s second trip to America may be more appropriately discussed in conjunction with his early ministry, but a few comments are in order. Apparently Bjørnson set in motion the chain of events that led to Janson’s return to the United States. Anderson has said that Bjørnson, during his visit to the Middle West in the winter of 1881, urged him (Anderson) "to find a position for Kristofer Janson among his countrymen in America" — and the later correspondence between Anderson and Bjørnson seems to indicate that this was the case. Bjørnson’s primary motive may well have been concern for Janson’s welfare. There can be no doubt, however, that Bjørnson, as a result of his own observation of the Norwegians in America, felt they were in need of a "liberator." On his return to the East, Bjørnson gave his impressions of the Norwegian immigrants in an interview that was later reprinted in the Freeborn (Minnesota) County Standard: "They [the Norwegian Americans] are unfortunately still a priest-ridden people. The Norwegian church synod in the west, composed of 175 pastors, controls the conscience of almost all our emigrants and for fear the latter may lose faith in their rigid Calvinistic creed, they are forbidden even to attend American public schools. They grow up in ignorance of the great social questions of the day and are good only for manual labor." {79}

Professor Anderson has told an engaging story in his autobiography of how, well in advance of Janson’s return, he secured financial support for him from the American Unitarians. As Anderson related it, he chanced to meet two [73] prominent Unitarian clergymen, Jenkin Lloyd Jones and H.

M. Simmons, whom he knew well. Hearing that they were about to attend a church conference in Boston, Anderson suggested that the Unitarians would find Kristofer Janson an excellent choice as their missionary to the Scandinavians. The two clergymen promised that they would try to persuade the American Unitarian Association to offer Janson financial support. Anderson informed Janson of this, and when he later received confirmation that the efforts of the two clergymen were successful, he cabled a single word: "Come!" {80}

In telling the story, Anderson has enhanced his own role considerably. Actually the matter was not so expeditiously arranged. Apparently Anderson found it difficult to make any headway in interesting American Unitarians in the plan without the candidate’s being present. Hence, in the late summer of 1881 he summoned Janson, who, with considerable trepidation, consented to come. Bjørnson disapproved, but apparently Janson felt that he had no choice if he was to retain Anderson’s help. He was in this country almost two months, however, before negotiations with the Unitarians were completed. The directors of the American Unitarian Association met November 21, 1881; their report reads:

"It having been represented that Kristofer Janson, a Norwegian poet and writer, who for his literary services has received distinguished notice from his own government, had come to this country, and desired to enter the Unitarian ministry and to devote himself to missionary labors among his Scandinavian countrymen, numbering now in the Northwest hundreds of thousands, the Committee recommended that $1,000 be appropriated to assist him in the execution of this noble purpose. The recommendation awakened great interest. It was believed that a new work of largest importance would be commenced under happy auspices, and be committed to a most competent person. The recommendation was cheerfully adopted." {81} [74]

But before the issue of obtaining Unitarian support was resolved, Anderson was faced with informing Norwegian Americans of Janson’s imminent return. In a letter of September 8, 1881, to Skandinaven, he made this announcement, prudently avoiding all mention of a prospective ministry: "I have the honor and pleasure to inform the public that I received a cable from Kristofer Janson today in which he says he will be in Madison by November. In the course of the fall and winter, he expects to hold a series of lectures, and he has authorized me to arrange the preliminaries. Any further recommendation from me is superfluous, since his name is so well known and many had the pleasure of hearing him two years ago. Those organizations or committees in the West that wish to secure a visit from the famous poet and lecturer should write to me so that I can arrange his route as soon as possible. I will then send information on costs, etc. Let us give our renowned countryman a worthy reception." {82}

For many the memory of "The So-called Pure Teachings" still rankled. Several protests appeared in the Norwegian press, but one will suffice here. On October 12, 1881, a notice appeared in Norden, signed only "J":

To the Norwegian Church People in America

The Norwegian press tells us Kristofer Janson is coming again. Last time he was given a warm welcome and entertained by our pastors. At first he hid his beliefs and then lashed out at our churches. Now when the freethinker and poet comes again, what? I call upon Norwegians of any Lutheran Church body to oppose this man who is trying to lead us away from our childhood faith. Regardless of his gifts, which are considerable, do not listen to his lectures even though they do not deal with religion. Norwegian Lutherans, what choice will you make?


<1> Skandinaven, May 13, July 5, 1879.

<2> Egil Elda, "Kristofer Janson og den nationale bevægelse i Norge," in Budstikken (Minneapolis), November 5, 11, 1879; Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, "Kristofer Janson and the Reform of the Norwegian Language," in North American Review, 115:379—401 (October, 1872); Decorah-Posten, October 15, 1879.

<3> The Norwegian folk schools, modeled after those established in Denmark by Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig, were set up in rural communities to educate young adults. Students were taught the history, literature, folklore, and music of their native land. Instruction was given primarily by means of the spoken word rather than through books. For a comment, see Janson, Head jeg har oplevet, 177 (Christiania, 1913).

<4> Norden (Chicago), October 29, 1879; Fædrelandet og Emigrant en (La Crosse, Wisconsin), November 18, 1879; Budstikken, January 13, 20, 1879, February 3, 10, 17, 1880. See also Erik L. Petersen to Rasmus B. Anderson, February 19, March 17, 1880; Anderson Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.

<5> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 2 (Copenhagen, 1881).

<6> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 76.

<7> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 2.

<8> Janson, Hvad jeg har oplevet, 176.

<9> To this may be added the judgment of his children, the late Dr. Eilev Janson and Fru Signe Forchhammer, and of Drude Janson’s niece, Mrs. Dina Behr Kolderup. Comments about Janson have been drawn from interviews with the late Emil Hage of New Ulm, Minnesota, and Mrs. Marie Stoep of Minneapolis, and with Halvor Moen of Underwood, Minnesota, during 1960—82. Anderson’s remark is found in Life Story of Rasmus B. Anderson, 300 (Madison, 1913). Portraits of Janson are in the possession of the author.

<10> For a general account of the synodical strife, see E. Clifford Nelson and Eugene L. Fevold, The Lutheran Church among Norwegian-Americans, 1:245—253 (Minneapolis, 1960).

<11> Janson, Hvad jeg har oplevet, 178.

<12> Janson to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, September 5, 1879; Bjørnson Papers, University Library, Oslo. (The letter is dated simply "Friday the fifth"; in 1879, September 5 fell on a Friday.)

<13> Budstikken, October 1, 1879.

<14> Janson to Bjørnson, September 5, 1879; Bjørnson Papers. The words, "Humbug lives!" were appended to the note in pencil. Janson, in thanking Bjørnson for this advance publicity, was acknowledging a favor which he was not to need on his next two departures from Norway for America, 1881 and 1882. Thus it is likely that Janson’s note was written in reference to the newspaper article quoted above.

<15> Boyesen’s letters to Anderson are in the Anderson Papers. Sigmund Bresteson was published in Bergen in 1872. For Boyesen’s article and review, see North American Review, 115:378—401; Atlantic Monthly, 30:497—499.

<16> Miss Woodward’s letter is in the Anderson Papers.

<17> Clarence A. Glasrud, "Boyesen and the Norwegian Immigration," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 19:24 (1958); see also Glasrud, Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, 72—76 (Northfield, 1963). Even the Reverend Erik L. Petersen, book reviewer of Budstikken, who apparently had his own reasons for disliking the Norwegian Synod, felt Boyesen’s portrait to be grossly exaggerated.

<18> For Janson’s comments about his tour, see Amerikanske forholde, 15, 47, 55, 57; and Hvad jeg har oplevet, 182.

<19> Norden, October 15, 1879.

<20> Johs. B. Wist, "Pressen efter borgerkrigen," in Norsk-amerikanernes festskrift 1914, 88 (Decorah, 1914). In Amerikanske forholde, 94, 122, 149, Janson mentions situations that he later used for three stories: "En buggy-prest" (A Buggy Minister), "En bygdekonge" (A Village King), and "Kvinden skal være manden underdanig" (Wives, Submit Yourselves unto Your Husbands). The last title is the one Janson gave the story when he translated it. In all of these stories clergymen figure prominently; Præriens sa ga: Fortællinger fra Amerika af Kristofer Janson (Chicago, 1885).

<21> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 140.

<22> Norden (Chicago), October 22, 1879. Certain liberties have been taken in the translating. The original reads:

Velkommen vær du norske Bror
Til yore nye Hjem.
Du kommer jo ifra vor Mor
Med hilsen fra den gamle Nord
Med minde fra vor Vuggesang
Vor Vans, vor Drøm, vor Sang.

<23> The account of Janson’s first lecture was taken from Norden, October 22, 1879.

<24> All of these newspaper accounts were reported in Budstikken, October 28, 1879.

<25> See pages 42—46, 81—83, 92, 95—99.

<26> Norden, October 29, 1879; Fædrelandet og Emigranten, November 18, 1879. For the description of Janson’s style of lecturing, I am indebted to Pastor Carl W. Schevenius, who got it from a member of the audience.

<27> Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago, 3:429—435 (New York, 1957). Janson’s judgment about the working people seems to have been a sound one. Social historians have since emphasized American Protestantism’s neglect of the laboring classes in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

<28> Norden, October 29, November 5, 1879.

<29> Budstikken, January 30, 1880.

<30> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 89.

<31> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 81—83.

<32> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 83.

<33> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 134; A. Weenaas, Wisconsinismen belyst ved historiske kjendsferninger, 93 (Chicago, 1875).

<34> Janson’s poem, "Din mor er død," written on the occasion of his mother’s death, appeared in Budstikken, March 30, 1880. His letter to Bjørnson is in the Bjørnson Papers. By his home he meant Solbakken, the house he had built close to Aulestad during his days at Vonheim. Having severed his relations with the school, he expected to move when he found other employment

<35> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 87.

<36> Fædrelandet og Emigranten, November 18, 1879. The full stanza reads:

Fram til Fridom, til alt som er godt
ned med sit sleipt og laakt og raatt
torka bort Taaror, elska bort Traas
fram til den Gud som elsker oss.

<37> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 106.

<38> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 106.

<39> Budstikken, November 5, 11, 1879.

<40> Budstikken, January 20, 1880.

<41> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 46, 112—114.

<42> Budstikken, February 3, 1880. The students’ delight in Janson was recalled many years later by Hallvard Askeland, who had been at Augsburg in 1880, at memorial services held for Janson by Oslo Lodge Number 2, Sons of Norway, in the winter of 1918. The latter event was reported in Minneapolis Tidende, March 7, 1918.

<43> Budstikken, February 10, 1880.

<44> Budstikken, February 3, 1880.

<45> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 18, 48. For a review of Mrs. Livermore’s lecture, see Minneapolis Journal, February 4, 1880.

<46> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 50.

<47> Janson’s itinerary was not published, however, in Budstikken on February 17. The previous week’s issue had indicated that he would be in Alexandria on February 16 and in Fergus Falls February 18. The record of his movements has been compiled from his printed schedule as it appeared in the Norwegian-language weeklies. As he moved westward, occasional discrepancies in lecture dates occurred between announcements in the Chicago papers and those in Fædrelandet og Emigranten and Budstikken. In such cases, dates from the latter, which were closer to where he was at the moment. have been used. Janson’s note to Anderson is in the Anderson Papers.

<48> Budstikken, February 17, 1880.

<49> Anderson Papers.

<50> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 85, 90—93.

<51> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 122; Hvad jeg har oplevet, 180.

<52> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 111.

<53> For Janson’s discussion of these phases of American life, see Amerikanske forholde, 17, 103, 104. He gave many illustrations of the fine character of Americans. An immigrant boy, hired to saw wood, had propped a primer against his sawbuck. Admiring this, some Americans promptly arranged for the boy to attend school. At times Americans attended Janson’s lectures, even though they could not understand a word. When questioned, one would say, "Can’t I be allowed to contribute 25 cents to a good cause?" Even when they were drunk, Americans behaved better than Norwegians in a similar state.

<54> Anderson Papers.

<55> Decorah-Posten, March 10, 1880.

<56> Decorah-Posten, March 10, 1880.

<57> Budstikken, March 23, 1880. The article in Norden was quoted in Budstikken, April 27, 1880.

<58> See Janson, Hvad jeg har oplevet, 181, 182. For an account of the Channing memorial service, see Unity (Chicago), April 16, 1880.

<59> Accounts of the lecture are in Norden, April 14, 1880, and Budstikken, April 20, 1880.

<60> Verdens Gang and Den Nye Tid were published in Chicago. The Verdens Gang article was reprinted in Budstikken, April 27, 1880.

<61> Budstikken, April 20, 1880.

<62> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 117. Janson calls the medium Mrs. Cora Ringwood. Chicago papers of the time give her name as Richmond.

<63> Janson to Anderson, April 20, 1880; Anderson Papers. Janson learned that many Americans objected to Whitman’s frank sexuality. "I talked to a fine aristocratic American woman about Walt Whitman and showed her one of his boldest poems. She threw down the book, exclaiming, ‘I find him disgusting!’" Amerikanske forholde, 68.

<64> Anderson Papers.

<65> This was an allusion to Janson’s report of the Winchester incident, in which a coffin was said to have been removed from a Norwegian Synod churchyard and placed in a Conference cemetery.

<66> "En tale om den rene lære" originally appeared in Evangelisk Luthersk Kirketidende, April 30, 1880. It was reprinted in Fædrelandet og Emigranten, May 4, 1880; in Budstikken, May 11, 1880.

<67> Budstikken, May 11, 1880.

<68> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 11, 32, 88. Blanche K. Bruce served as United States Senator from Mississippi, 1875—81, while that state was still under Reconstruction government. During his term of office he entered debates on election frauds, Southern unrest, and civil rights. He fought for better treatment of the Indian, and advocated improvement of navigation on the Mississippi.

<69> Janson, Hvad jeg har oplevet, 188; the card is in the Anderson Papers.

<70> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 68. The parenthetical comment is Janson’s. The date of his visit has been established from a notation in Longfellow’s diary for May 20: "Kristofer Janson, a novelist from Gausdal, called and stayed to lunch." Longfellow Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

<71> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 58.

<72> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 62.

<73> Budstikken, May 4, 1880. Whether or not Janson had delivered the address before giving it in Chicago, it seems that his ideas on the "pure teachings" had already crystallized when he came to America. In the list of lecture titles published by Professor Anderson in Skandinaven on July 5, 1879, number twenty was "Om ‘den rene lære’" (Concerning the "Pure Teachings").

<74> Budstikken, June 15, 1880. The article was reprinted from Evangelisk Luthersk Kirketidende of June 4, 1880. The fact that Janson denied the divinity of Christ, yet accepted him as the saviour, was to confuse Conference Lutherans as well as those of the Norwegian Synod. The same question was asked in the Conference’s Folkebladet, December 22, 1881, after Janson returned to the United States. According to Janson, Jesus was a perfect human being who, by the example of his life and death, furnished a model for humanity to follow. Janson held the crucifixion of Cod to be an absurdity.

<75> Anderson, Life Story, 299.

<76> Janson, Amerikanske forholde, 121—157.

<77> Janson may have been concerned with finances, but such fears proved groundless. Anderson reports that Janson’s net proceeds amounted to $3,000; Life Story, 299. Janson did say that the tour was profitable, but gave no details; Hvad jeg har oplevet, 190.

<78> For some reason Petersen did not meet Janson during the lecture tour. On March 11, 1880, he wrote Anderson: "Give the enclosed photograph to Kristofer Janson from me. I never got a chance to meet him. When he was here, that was prevented by an unworthy trick of Synod big-wigs." On March 17 he again wrote: "Pastor Muus’s yeomen go around everywhere telling people Janson did not want to meet me, that he did not consider me worthy, etc. The truth is that time after time I worked for him as much as my weak powers permit. . . . The way things are, it would relieve me to get Janson’s own word that he wanted to meet me." Anderson Papers.

<79> May 5, 1881.

<80> Life Story, 301.

<81> Christian Register (Boston), November 24, 1881.

<82> The announcement in Skandinaven was reprinted in Folkebladet (Minneapolis), September 22, 1881.

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