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Sigbjørn Obstfelder and America
    by Sverre Arestad (Volume 29: Page 253)

THE LETTERS reproduced here were written by the late nineteenth-century Norwegian poet Sigbjørn Obstfelder (1866-1900) to his youngest brother Herman Fredrik (1871-1954). Herman had emigrated to America when he was only seventeen years old and had settled in Milwaukee. During this time Sigbjørn was studying, first at the University of Oslo and subsequently at a technical school in the Norwegian capital, where he was preparing to become a draftsman. The first letter included here was written in Stavanger in August, 1890, before Sigbjørn left for America to join his brother. The first time Sigbjørn ever wrote to his brother was from Kristiania in October, 1884, just after he arrived there. Herman, only fourteen years old, was still in Stavanger, where he would study and work until he sailed for America in the summer of 1888. The first letter in which Sigbjørn mentions to Herman that he also is coming to America is dated July 8, 1888, and the first letter he addressed to his brother in Milwaukee was in October, 1888. He wrote several more times, from either Stavanger or Kristiania, before he joined his brother in Milwaukee in the summer of 1890. After several months in [254] Milwaukee Sigbjørn quit his job there and moved to the Washington Heights section of Chicago. His "America letters," all of which are included here, were written from the Chicago area between February 19 and August 3, 1891. Also included here, because they throw a good deal of light upon Sigbjørn's reactions to America, are two letters written from Stavanger after he returned to Norway.

Other correspondence containing references to the United States, from both before and after his stay here, might well have been included in order to give a complete picture of Sigbjørn's impressions of America. There are also mentions of America in his subsequent literary works that could have been incorporated. But since a limit had to be set, it seemed best to comment on the specific references to America in these letters and other works in the introduction rather than to reprint a large body of material which contained only scattered comments on America.

In studies of individual Norwegians in America the success story has been predominant, particularly in the areas of material and professional achievement. Sigbjørn Obstfelder's encounter with America opens up a new dimension. One can refer to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's experiences in America, to Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen's, to Johan Bojer's and Sigrid Undset's and Herman Wildenvey's, and, not least, to Knut Hamsun's, but none of these are as poignant and, in a sense, as tragic as those of Sigbjørn Obstfelder. In his relationship to the American scene, Obstfelder presents a unique case.

Obstfelder interlarded his Norwegian-language letters to his brother with occasional English expressions, sometimes whole sentences, and in one instance a whole page. These have been retained as written, and all have been italicized. Even though on a few occasions [255] Obstfelder's English appears a bit shaky, his intent is clear and so no emendations or explanations have been made. In some cases Obstfelder italicized a Norwegian word, which has been indicated. Occasionally Obstfelder Norwegianized an American word, e.g., draftsmænd. These instances have been treated as follows: "There are fewer draftsmen (draftsmænd) than at Wise. B. & I. Co." Obstfelder's letters were never dated, so the date that appears above each letter is that of the postmark.

The flavor of Obstfelder's language has been faithfully retained, but his mechanics have been somewhat altered. This is especially true of his abundant use of the dash, some instances of which have been eliminated from this version. His ubiquitous use of the dash is certainly indicative of a teeming brain, with a staccato outpouring of ideas and notions. This use of the dash has been retained, but where the intent and the meaning are not obscured by omission of a dash, it has been left out. At his best, Obstfelder could be witty; he did not disdain slang or mild profanity or the earthy expression. Though at times the mood is depressed, the account remains for the most part lively.

There are two Norwegian editions of Obstfelder's letters to his brother. Both of them have extended notes, identifying persons and events in the letters, but not even the two editions together fully identify all the persons mentioned. It would be both difficult and relatively pointless, however, to search for further information; no new dimension would be added by identifying every last obscure person whom Obstfelder and his brother knew.

Sigbjørn Obstfelder was born in Stavanger on November 21, 1866, and died on July 29, 1900, in a Copenhagen hospital. His father, Herman Fredrik Obstfelder, a [256] baker, was the descendant of an originally German family - supposedly von - one branch of which had moved north to Denmark and finally to Norway; his mother, Serine Egelandsdal, the daughter of a gifted family from a community of the same name near Egersund, had sixteen children, of whom Sigbjørn was the seventh. Only seven of the sixteen attained maturity, four girls and three boys. Sigbjørn's mother died in 1880, shortly after giving birth to her last child.

Sigbjørn seldom mentioned his mother, and one can easily understand that since she had nine children after Sigbjørn she could scarcely have had much time to devote to him individually. The huge Obstfelder family lived in crowded poverty in a depressingly pietistic home atmosphere. The mother and several of the children had a tendency toward extreme nervousness and the mother has also been described as somewhat stubborn. It is not surprising, therefore, that so sensitive a person as Sigbjørn, who, moreover, did not wear his heart on his sleeve, should have recorded few fond memories of his early home life.

Two years after his mother's death, however, Sigbjørn wrote a short poem to her memory. This poem, by a sixteen-year-old youth, has a profound sadness and a deep poignancy in it, for it describes a home that was not Obstfelder's and a mother whom he had not known except in his imagination. Through this remarkable short poem Obstfelder compensates for a terrible loss, because he had observed in his mother glimpses of a sunny disposition which circumstances had all but obliterated. The poem, like most of Obstfelder's, can be fully understood only in terms of the events of his life. This is equally true of another short poem he wrote in memory of his mother almost a decade later, while he was in America.

This poem, "Julaften," is included here in the original with a literal translation. [257]

Julaften med julelys i vinduerne,
bugnende juletrær i storstuerne,
julesang ud gjennem dørsprækkerne!

"Jeg vanked alene i gaderne
og lytted til barnesangene.
Jeg satte mig ned pa trapperne
og tænkte pa min døde mor."

Christmas Eve!
Christmas Eve with Christmas candles in the windows
Loaded Christmas trees in the living rooms,
Christmas songs heard through the cracks in the doors.

I wandered alone in the streets
And listened to the children's songs.
I sat down on the steps
And thought of my dead mother.

When one reads this short poem, one is compelled to look at its implicit rather than at its explicit meaning. Certainly the poem depicts the emptiness Obstfelder felt in America, his terrible loneliness, and his inability to attain peace and happiness. There is more than frustration here, there is despair and hopelessness. The latter is contained in the implied, if not hidden, meaning in the reference to his mother. For what is expressed here is a further and a clearer development of the image of his mother revealed in the earlier poem. Here Obstfelder puts himself in the same situation his real mother was placed in, where the realization of potential was precluded, where goals and aims would go unaccomplished. "My dead mother" is therefore to be understood as referring to an individual whose life really was forfeited, as he feels his own life is being thwarted, [258] under the most forbidding circumstances of poverty, loneliness, and despair.

Sigbjørn's father in a way set the tone in the home by his uncompromising fundamentalist view of religion, which also had disastrous economic consequences for the family. In spite of his fundamentalism, however, he was remembered by his fellow townsmen as a pleasant, accommodating man, in no sense slow-witted, a man of integrity and complete honesty. These personal qualities did not prevent him from being roundly cheated in a real-estate deal. While he did well enough to acquire a boat for traffic in the Baltic, his faith in God was so all-encompassing that he would not consider marine insurance; his boat was lost, leaving him with a huge personal debt, in addition to that incurred in the real-estate deal. It was characteristic of him that instead of using the modest sums of money sent from America by his two sons to alleviate conditions at home, he applied them to his debt. It must be said in the father's everlasting favor, however, that he encouraged his talented children in music, reading, and other educational pursuits.

Another aspect of Sigbjørn's home life is essential to an understanding of the man and his reaction to America. After his return from America, Sigbjørn spent some time in a mental institution, for his disposition toward extreme nervousness and melancholia had brought on a breakdown. At one time or another several of the children in the Obstfelder family - some of them repeatedly - were confined in mental institutions. Of special import is the fact that his brother, Johan Gotfred, eight years older, became mentally ill at twenty-one and was after a time sent home from an institution as incurable. An introverted young man, deeply afflicted with melancholia, he became Sigbjørn's constant companion. This daily intercourse must certainly have aggravated Sigbjørn' s own disposition toward introversion and depression. [259]

Life was surely harder for Sigbjørn than for most boys. It is not usual, after all, for a gifted, extremely sensitive, nervous boy to experience what transpired in his family: poverty, virtual bankruptcy, deaths of many siblings, mental afflictions, and rigid dependence upon a God who never really came through. What a tortured climate to grow up in! How could a young man subjected to so many adversities have even survived, let alone contributed so much to his country's cultural life. There is quality in this man, and that quality accounts in large part for the diatribes against a materialistic America in his letters to his brother. But this is not all one needs to know about Sigbjørn Obstfelder in order to evaluate his comments on America.

Although Sigbjørn was shy and not at all aggressive, he nevertheless succeeded in making his presence felt among his comrades at the preparatory school and the university, and, later, among his fellow writers and intellectuals. This was due to his manifest abilities in several areas as well as his clear, incisive reasoning, seasoned with wit and a bit of sarcasm. Had Sigbjørn not been cursed with a debilitating nervousness and a gnawing introspection bordering on melancholia, which led to procrastination and indecisiveness, he might well have made a brilliant career in mathematics or music. He was gifted, but he was pulled in several directions, as his letters to his brother show: languages, mathematics, music, literature. When Obstfelder comments on his stay in America, it is well to keep this fact in mind. Literature finally won out. In his literary pursuits over a decade his production was slight, mainly, one suspects, because of the inordinate demands he made on himself as an artist. He was a perfectionist, and during his lifetime he paid for this by a lack of popularity; on occasion he was even parodied. As a kind of compensation for this, however, he was appreciated by his fellow writers. During the decade of the 1890s, when Obstfelder produced all his [260] scanty but concentrated and rich work, he was the object of much attention from literary men throughout Scandinavia. Although he never achieved popularity in his lifetime, there is ample testimony that his ideas made a considerable impact on his peers. He was a controversial literary figure - at times he was parodied, but more often he was consulted and quoted and praised.

There is no doubt that Obstfelder had a strong sense of his potential as a writer while he was in America, and that this awareness contributed to his sharp criticism of the materialistic milieu in which he found himself.

Obstfelder's personality often made him an exceedingly difficult person to get along with, but there were times when he was outgoing, when he contributed greatly to a gathering with his knowledge, wit, and humor. He shared with Ibsen a moody disposition, but Ibsen was amiable and sunny in comparison, except when the infrequent, fortunate combination of mood and circumstance contrived to put Obstfelder at his best. Obstfelder went beyond Ibsen to share with Strindberg and Kierkegaard the terrible burden of melancholia. Strangely enough, though, he possessed a sound sense of humor, but it was of a type not appreciated by the average man. He shared with Ibsen and Kierkegaard the ability to force an adversary out on a limb, much to the amusement of discerning observers.

Frequently when Obstfelder was a guest at a party, sometimes the honored guest, things went badly indeed. On one occasion, Alexander Kielland, Obstfelder's townsman, invited Sigbjørn to a dinner. It was catastrophic in that Obstfelder did not say a word during the meal. Then he left the party and from an adjoining room played magnificently on the violin, following which Kielland went out and talked to him for an hour and a half, returned to the guests, put his face in his hands and wept, saying that Obstfelder was a remarkable man.

Difficult as Obstfelder was, he nevertheless was able [261] to attract the attention of the opposite sex. Some women found him rather helpless, and consequently doted on him. Others were attracted to him because he was a poet.

It is necessary to know these things about Obstfelder in order to properly evaluate his reactions to America. From what has been said, it follows that Obstfelder's encounter with America would not have been the same as that of Hamsun or Bjørnson. These men did not have the emotional problems that Obstfelder had, and, consequently, their reactions were different. It should be noted here, however, that when one digs deeply enough there emerge a number of Norwegian immigrants to America who were cursed with the same sort of personality as Obstfelder. He therefore presents a special case among Norwegian immigrants, and at the same time typifies a small minority of less gifted but sensitive souls who have been lost to history.

Obstfelder's writings, three modest volumes in all, consist of poetry, most often written in unorthodox form, making of him an innovator in Norwegian lyric poetry, short stories, several closet dramas, and an intellectual autobiography, En præsts dagbok (A Minister's Diary), published posthumously. They contain occasional references to America, but they do not reflect the American spirit, as Obstfelder came to understand it, nor is there any evidence that the American scene contributed the background for any work except an occasional short poem. In this regard he differs from Bojer, Bjørnson, and Hamsun, all of whom used the American scene in more or less extensive works. Obstfelder's stay in America did, however, contribute to his breakdown, although the evidence suggests that his mental state was growing worse before he left Norway, and that his anticipation of improved conditions - mainly economic, it seems - in America may well have delayed the inevitable collapse.

The American letters to his brother speak eloquently [262] of great disappointment on Obstfelder's part. His economic circumstances actually worsened and the job of grubbing out a miserable existence so taxed his energies that no time was left him for cultural pursuits, which he craved with his whole being. Many of Obstfelder's cutting comments to his brother, concerning both his mostly dull routine and the complete indifference to cultural and intellectual matters among the people he met, are the observations not of an arrogant snob but of a man who felt deprived in his new milieu of the very experiences that had stimulated him and given him pleasure, especially among the university students in Norway. It does not follow from this that Obstfelder was a misanthrope, but it does follow that he was ever consistent, however unrealistic, in his choice of companionship. He was a perfectionist here as in every other area of his life.

A situation follows from this which is crucial to an understanding of the American letters, that is, Obstfelder's dependence on people and his simultaneous rejection of those who did not measure up to his expectations. There are certain passages in the letters where Sigbjørn is querulous with his brother Herman, where he shows excessive irritation, and if these are taken at face value they reveal that on occasion he could be nasty even to the member of his family who meant the most to him. The occasional brutal tone to Herman may be attributed in part, perhaps, to his financial as well as emotional dependence on his brother, but more to his despondent mood.

A comparison with Hamsun conveys a great deal about Obstfelder as revealed in the letters. Hamsun's stay in America was no more pleasant than Obstfelder's in many respects, but Hamsun rose above his circumstances to capitalize on them. This can be seen in his treatment - humorous, ironic, yet sympathetic for the most part - of the collection of misfits, "derailed existences," that he [263] wrote about in his America stories. There is no such relief in Obstfelder's observations of the people he encountered; his disparaging comments are all black. Unlike Hamsun, Obstfelder could not use his experiences in America creatively because those experiences had no bearing on his artistic interests. Hamsun, after all, had as his subject matter people, while Obstfelder was concerned with art and ideas, the latter finally leading him toward mysticism. Small room there for the many "ordinary" people Obstfelder encountered in America.

It seems evident that a number of Obstfelder's impressions of America must have been greatly affected by his disturbed state of mind, but in spite of these strictures, his letters are well worth reading. Other immigrants would surely have expressed themselves in the same manner as Obstfelder had they been sufficiently motivated and sufficiently articulate. His letters, therefore, can be said to open up a new dimension, pointing to a hidden minority among Norway's immigrants to America.



Stavanger, 8/23/1890

Received your letter today - Saturday the 23rd of August - the day on which we leave for Bergen, tonight at 8 o'clock, Gina and I. Many thanks for your letter. I am eager to get under way now - I am tired of "the rest." The fact is that things are dreary for me here in Stavanger. I have grown away from the acquaintances I once had here, and then, too, some of them have left - I don't know a real skirt here, so I usually go about alone and make myself interesting with my dreaming and pensive expression. Etcetera, etcetera. But I am tired of being alone. Saturday, 4 weeks ago, Rasmus Nygård left for [264] Chicago and Theodor Vetteland for Portland - the latter has been at Bernhard Sanstøl's the past months. Then he got the following telegram from a fellow who is married to his sister or something like that: Come instantly salary sixty, and so he departed about a week later.

Cand. theol. Sigw. Sondresen is leaving, my friend cand. theol. Svenø left, we had really agreed to go together. One Gramstad, cand. theol., is also thinking of going, I gather. Dr. Martin Sandved, at whose request I sent that postcard, is talking of accompanying me. Kyvik has returned from Australia; he and Lie (your friend, I think) are going in the spring, they say. Jon Koster is going (now a technician). All of them to America. All!

Dismal summer; I've been terribly depressed - nothing suitable to read either. No friends at home, etc.

By the way, I have a couple of drawings to show you - Gustav Berentsen got a job right off the bat on the strength of them, they say.

The following technicians from Stavanger in America: Hærem, Simmer, Finne, Sivertsen (surveyor in the far west), Berentsen - and possibly others. It is too bad that YOU have to be squeezed on account of my trip, but since you have offered to do it - I really don't feel much like running around to my half-willing well-wishers in Stavanger, and I therefore accept with gratitude your generous offer. I take it you didn't notice my saying that I had about 80 kroner. - I have those put away .

Courage! I don't lack courage; when I see the steamers lying out there at the docks on Saturdays, eager and ready to sail, my only desire is to run aboard. No one has to ask me for courage to leave; but rather for courage to remain where I am - for I am restless.

Well, now I'm making preparations, am set to sail - eager to travel - packing, so I'll be ready when your money comes. So if you can send it right away, on the day and the hour you get this, it would be fine. For I [265] almost have a bad conscience for every hour that passes now - and it isn't easy to employ one's time either, when one stands, as it were, between two existences.

Your photograph was most excellent; our sisters simply fell in love with it.

I saw the emperor and the pomp for him; I earned 7.50 on him by translating one of the songs that were sold in the streets - one of those, you know.

Really, I don't think I have anything to tell, have never in my life experienced so little in a month, I do believe. Practice violin and voice during the day. I am bringing Norwegian music along to America. Your Sigbjørn


Two postcards

Washington Heights, Ill., 2/19/1891

As soon as I had left you and Milwaukee, I regretted that I had done it. I'm already longing to return. Now my adversities are beginning. I came to Chicago at one o'clock. Washington Heights is situated in another part of the city, quite a distance from the city center (twice as far as from Wauwatosa to Milwaukee), though inside the city limits. I set out from St. Paul's Depot, hurried, rushed about, got nervous, thought I'd come to some Norwegians - Chicago is big - finally asked a policeman about St. Paul's Depot, got back there ¼ past 3, no train to Was. H. before 5 ¼, took that train, the office of course closed then - spent the night in an ice-cold room in a saloon - had given up all hope of getting a job there - went up, met a character, an eccentric chief engineer - an old bear in a huge travelling coat - told me right off that he himself was a mighty lazy fellow, said that what THEY wanted to do was to give me a job, a steady job - they had to find out what I was good for - began immediately, on the dot, to work - my first impression [266] everything: discomfort and lack of refinement - all the draftsmen uncultivated people - when I told him that I had gone to technical school, etc., he said that all he could say was 50 dollars to start with.

They work 10 hours, 7-12, 1-6.

There are fewer draftsmen [draftsmænd] than at Wise. B. & I. Co.

NB Lexicon.

[2nd postcard] May just as well continue on this. As I've said, looks dreary. The people around here are Germans. There are woods round about. I have already got a room, 1½ dollars a week. Board elsewhere; probably the only place around here where one can get decent food, since everyone goes there - 4 dollars a week.

That's right, I forgot to tell you that that character said they would try me for a week since they, as he had written, wished to give me a job.

It was too bad that I forgot or did not want to say goodby to the Murphys. You must greet everyone, Miss Dempsey and Mrs. Dopke, our aunts and the Normans, Guillemin. Ask him to draw out those 9 dollars, which will be enough to pay the Murphys - and NB ask him to take my "instruments" and send them to me as soon as possible - furthermore, let me know and ask him to let me know if anything comes from Pittsburgh - since it isn't definitely decided that I'll be permanent here, so just send the bag and the violin, if you send anything.

So long now. I hope you'll soon get to Alabama and I after you. It seems awfully boring here. The violin would be welcome.



Washington Heights, Ill., 2/24/1891

Thanks for your postcards and your letter. I inquired in Milw. about a ticket to Washington Heights. They told [267] me they didn't sell them. I'll of course have to make other arrangements for board and room, if I remain here. - When I came here there were only two draftsmen in the big drafting room - they were, as I've said, on strike because they didn't want to work 10 hours a day. - The chief engineer is Horton himself, the president. Some say that he is so tyrannical, gets after the draftsmen, etc. - Until now at any rate I've liked working here much more - I stand by myself, no one minds me, I no one, and I am getting to do work that I am learning from; I said to Horton that I was very "anxious about learning something." A man started Saturday, a big fellow who whistled "Kieruif" and "Astri mi Astri" - was from Tromsø, had been with Shiffler (Pittsburgh) 8 years, he said; he brags a lot, argues for all he's worth with the Americans, says he doesn't want to work more than eight hours.

I must have clean clothes in my bag - here, just like a skinflint, I'm using a shirt that I've worn 3 weeks, a collar that I've been wearing 2 weeks, etc. - my manuscripts, those that are lying in the drawer - the music, which is lying on the floor - my slippers - NB my manuscripts, the letter that I've started to Thus - in short, what was there last, if you remember it, and which I didn't put into the trunk. - Was in Chicago yesterday, walked 3-4 hours before I found anything Saturday - Asland had moved from Skandinaven (to Jevne), Nilsen is there instead (8 dollars a week), had thought of visiting us at Christmas, but the factory where he worked went bankrupt, and he couldn't afford it. I was at A's - which was very unpleasant, as his wife is having an affair.

He must be an especially fine man, that Mr. Conger. You must by no means keep the room on my account. I can't of course come back now. I would have to see about getting a jot) 111 Chicago, if it should turn out that they would fire me here. [268]

Greet everybody, Your Sigbjørn

Kiss the marble queen fur me, if you dare - She is . . . .



Washington Heights, Ill., 2/26/1891

It was annoying that I should have asked you to send the violin - I thought it was unnecessary to request the clothes first. I didn't get to change before I left because we had not picked up our laundry at auntie's. I've worn my shirt 2 ½ weeks, my woolen undershirt 5 weeks, there's not much left of my stockings, my collar 1 week at my toil. I've not been able to do anything all week. I share a bed with a fellow; he took me aside today and told me that he didn't want to share with me if I didn't go out and buy underwear. However, I have no money. Send the slippers and stationery in my bag.


Washington Heights, Ill., 3/2/1891

Finally heard from you today, Saturday. You should have written before, as I wanted to ask you about something. I don't exactly understand how it is with that Guillemin money. If it is my wages from the company, then of course I'll have to return it to the Murphys - if it is a loan from him then I can send 10 dollars home. Answer the instant you get this.

You don't write anything. How are the Normans? I called on those musicians - I feel lonesome again here - miss family life, think I'll try to find that Harald Hansen's. It is Saturday, but I don't feel like going in to town. I don't care about the Stavanger people, they are poor and gloomy. A. never opens his mouth. Greet Dodi.

I'm standing right behind the stove [stoven] drawing, and I won't be able to endure that very long. Sigbjørn [269]



Washington. Heights, Ill.


Finally squeezed a couple of words out to you, however, without getting a definite answer: IS MY BOARD PAID? That's a question that I'm not just mildly interested in having answered. I'm taking the afternoon off today and am going to town, invited for tomorrow by the gentlemen Grube, the musicians. - That Norwegian who was in the office has left and gone to town. Otterstedde (!) in his place. I have had a card saying the Goodbye which I didn't say to the Murphys lying here 14 days, since I can't send it as long as I don't know, etc. Sending the 10 borrowed dollars home today; they won't arrive in time for the confirmation. Will try, as soon as spring comes, to get a job as a surveyor, this work is slowly killing me.

When you send the trunk, which I'm dying to get, will you loan me Grieg's songs to sing for the Grubes.

This evening (Monday) moved over to the boarding house [boardinghuset]. Nice room. 20 dollars a month.



Washington Heights, Ill., 3/22/1891

Don't send the trunk yet before I'm certain where I'm going to live. Horton has given us two half-holidays a week, free the whole afternoon. There's a fellow, Cooper, with whom we have most to do, he superintends both the office and the shop, dresses awfully and rushes about like a hurricane, talks loud - the day before yesterday I was over in the boarding house and played for a large audience, mostly people who work at the factory. I won Cooper's heart by playing "The Troubadour," the next [270] day everyone greeted me very familiarly and politely - the waitress asked if I wanted my egg boiled or fried and Cooper did not give his instructions in a half-satirical American tone. I'm certain that he will recommend me to Horton. That is the power of music. Finally one of the audience, who was sitting on the floor, said: Give us sweet home, because all of us here are away from home. - One of the other draftsmen lives here: Baldwin, graduate of Boston College, who knows a great deal about Norwegian matters, and is very "particular." He is of the opinion that all Norwegians are engineers.

I like it infinitely better in this office - I no longer lapse into melancholy musings. The drafting room is large and roomy, and each one is busy with his own work. Each person traces [tracer] his own work. Education is on a terribly high level out here.

I was too late in asking for money here - they send a messenger to town for money. - If you want to send 10 dollars home, then I'll send 5 on Saturday if you don't think we can wait till then.

Thought you had asked Guillemin to give notice for me up there in Wis. B. & I. Co.

4 dollars is cheap for the excellent board we get -You didn't send the handkerchiefs in the bag. Sunday today - not in town. Send the trunk anyway.


Washington Heights, Ill., 3/25/1891

Last night they asked me to play whist; finally someone came who could play and took my place; I then went right to bed, for I didn't feel well - day before yesterday they asked me to come down and play, and kept me until late in the evening. There is an exceptionally fine daughter, who really loves music - I got a carnation as a reward - then all fagged out and had a headache, tried to write but couldn't - Sunday forenoon I was at the office, they were so busy with a bid - Sunday afternoon [271] I went to town, to the Grubes; it was the mother's birthday and they had a kind of family party, honest, worthy Germans - Saturday, the trunk, etc. - that's why I don't write so often.

Well, what shall I write about. My mind is enveloped in an impenetrable veil of sadness. This place seems unbearable to me. I can't talk to any of the people - I can't go home. My debt has to be paid. And my work. As I've said before, it stifles me. For it gives me time to think and ponder and yearn for all that I want. The only thing that keeps me going, and which pursues me when I go to bed and when I get up, and when I have a respite, is my determination to leave here and get some kind of surveying job as soon as possible.

If I had some Norwegian family to visit! To visit those Stavanger people is, as I have said, just depressing. They are dreary and poor and have no home.

If I could get some kind of introduction to that Hansen the Normans know, then I'd like to go there. Will you speak about it? We still have our half-holidays, but I don't use my free time on account of the melancholy I spoke of.

- I suppose you know that Hagen won easily from McCormick?

You must greet the Normans - Mrs. Murphy, Dopke, and Dody. - As far as Wis. B. & I. Co. is concerned, I hope that I am out under God's open sky when Milwaukee's death gives Wisconsin bread - and under no circumstances would I go back there to become a TRACER again.

O, how dejected I feel! They can do with me what they wish, boot, kick, ridicule.

Have I told you that I now live for 20 dollars a month, excellent food and a pleasant room.

So disorganized, defeated, afflicted, exhausted, incoherent.

Well - are you interested in knowing these things? [272] Might I not just as well refrain from writing until I perhaps become less moody.

Thank you for all the trouble you have had with the trunk and everything. I hauled the trunk home myself on a wheelbarrow.

That letter where you wrote that the board [boarden] was paid must have been lost; I haven't received it. I've read through all the letters I have got since I came here to make sure. IS IT PAID WITH MY MONEY FROM THE COMPANY?

It was unfortunate that I should have written that I was anxious to get the trunk; it was especially my clothes, the music and a few other items. Those things would have served a better purpose in YOUR room. Here they'll be lost. You tell me in an offhand manner that I should ask for a raise soon. When did YOU ask for a raise?

Don't you have a Norwegian postcard - the one on which I asked about the doctors in Milwaukee. These Grubes are crazy about worthless postcards from everywhere in the world, stamps and such junk that other people throw away. Will you send it, if you aren't afflicted with the same postcard mania yourself.

How about your room now? How much do you have to pay? - That calling card is just for fun, you can deliver it or not, as you yourself wish.

I repeat; a more desolate place I've never been in, hardly think it exists.

  Your Sigbjørn

3/26. If only I knew a way of getting out of this place. Was the violin part to "Anitra's Dance" left up there?


Washington Heights, Ill., 4/6/1891

Received your letter - nonsense and twaddle. Got it a week after it was written, in all probability. For, according to what you said, you were going to write the same [273] evening that you sent the letter from father. The result was that I waited in unpleasant suspense. - The first of the riddles which your letter so generously offers is: What do you play? Violin? I am, for the life of me, so tired of your moral sermons or commonplaces that I generally skip them; you don't have to put them in next time. I know that I must be patient in my position, that I have prospects of earning money, etc., etc. - but when my head aches, when it swims - when thousands of questions torture my nervous brain - when I, in other words, which you ought to know by now - am sick, suffering from nervous exhaustion - what good does it do to torment a man with such rot.

You are in the same fix! Continually this enigmatic, profound language. Are you in a little dump, where there isn't a person to talk to, where there isn't a trace of either nature or culture? In one year I can count on 75-80 dollars - follows a page of the most frightful nonsense that a sleepwalker can produce - in one year, if I am on the same job - below you ask if I don't WANT to go to Alabama - another place you say that you would like to see me before I go home - a third place, that as soon as I could learn to use the transit I would get 125 dollars and my board! I'm getting dizzy. Such powers of contradiction, such lunacy is, to put it mildly, incomprehensible. Within one year my debt will be paid too! What a marvelous prospect! In one year - just 12 months - my debt paid! Lots of friends? Where? In Norway? I know that the first years in America are difficult! How do I know? What baloney you - a man, as you say - can fill several pages with. I will do the same as you - I'll not ask for a raise as long as they raise my pay without requesting it (!!) Good Lord - now THAT too comes hotfooting it - suddenly awakened from a little nap above the stationery, I imagine - I am to go in to Chicago on one of my half-holidays and see, etc. - 1) I am to wait and be patient, then in one year I'll have 80 [274] dollars, and then I can get married. 2) I am to become a surveyor, for then I'll get 125 and my board as soon as I've learned to use the transit [transiten]. 3) I must come up and see you before I go home. 4) I am to go into one or another - - -. For possibly, perhaps - yes, there might by chance be a slight possibility THAT IT WOULD BE LIVELIER IN CHICAGO THAN IN WASHINGTON HEIGHTS (!!!).

Alas, the world is indeed full of possibilities up in Cream City!

I don't suppose I dare ask you to go down to Guillemin some evening and tell him that he is a pig. For a human being, who to that extent lapses into animal laziness that he doesn't take the trouble to answer two long letters, scintillating, sparkling with wit, must and should be characterized as a hog.

Say all this in English - if he doesn't understand it in THAT damned gibberish - then say it in German - hut don't leave him before you are certain that he has understood it. Will you?

The Normans must be cracked. Why, she sat preaching a long sermon for me - in which she went into detail to the extent that she depicted an eventual infatuation between me and Hansen's female kid. If Mr. Norman wants my address I can give him 2, both my office and home address.

If you or some one else will pay for my trip, then I'll come posthaste to Milwaukee some Saturday evening - otherwise I can't go before I have paid my debt.

+ is the same as ## + before f = fisis = g, - smorzando=moriendo=dying down in tonal strength and in tempo. - Scene? I don't understand what you have written, there's nothing that's called scene in Italian musical terminology.

I don't find any of the words I look for in that Rosing lexicon. [275]

Is batter found in Brynh., in technics it means helde, dosere, batter ¼" to the foot. How is tickle translated beside pirre, or perhaps pirre, pikere is just the might word. Is there something that's called taffy? What's the best translation for dummy and dummy train, and chips - boom? or boomy he is a boom, boom fellow or something like that - how would you translate the well-known expression he is in it, he is not in it, (han er i det? opi det?).

Norman doesn't owe me a letter. My letter didn't require an answer.

Damn it! I don't learn any English out here either -for there's no one here to talk to.

If you come by here soon on the way to Alabama and I'm still living in this hell or, more correctly, on this ice floe, then don't buy a ticket for 36 cents, but buy a 10-ride-ticket for 1.46, which can be used by any one at all here - then I'll use the rest of it. In my pocket I have a 38-ride-ticket Milw. - Wauwatosa. That's the only thing that could drive me back to THAT damned office.

We have been very busy this week with a bid [et bid] for Arkansas river Little rock. I've had to bear the brunt of it, since I do the nicest tracing. - Cooper has stood over me, dictating worse than a slave driver - I asked him one day if there many Norwegians in the shop [sjoppen] - 15 he said, and damned good men there also. - Don't you forget it! - If I am to have such tedious moralizing next time, then don't write to me at all.

I will write whether I am in good or bad humor. I can exhibit three postcards in my bureau drawer, comprising a period of 6 weeks - of this content: "Don't feel like writing. More next time. Your Herman"

Ottemstedde has moved out here now. His daughter is married to B. Norwegian engineer.

T. A. got a girl. She is up now. [276]

Before I end this letter, which is far more interesting and full of import than that trashy letter of yours, and which isn't written on one side of the paper (damned refined!), I permit myself the liberty to add a few short remarks.

I have written 2 long letters and sent money home besides, while you haven't written anything. That letter from father was sent to me, because they thought you already were in Alabama! .

As far as I am concerned - everything is in God's hands!

Hold on! Hold on! Keep the wire a minute please! Wait a moment!

The word hustle, hustler I hear every day but don't find a good translation for it, have been translating it with "skufle ivei."


Chicago, 4/13/1891

Things are getting worse and worse with me. If it had not been for that debt of mine at home, I would have been gone from here long ago. I am unable to describe how dreary, deadly it is here, and how mortally tedious the people are that I of necessity must look at every day. No one to talk to, no one I care to talk to. And then the worst of all: since I came to Was. Heights I have become certain in my seclusion what I ought to do. The first or the second night here at W. H. I lay awake the whole night and in the morning I was sure that I wanted to stake everything on becoming a musician, a composer. Since then that determination has only become stronger and stronger. And it is a torture for me to stand and trace - scores, crescendoes, notes run through my head, and it is as if I were robbing myself of my own precious time.

Besides, I have no desire for anything else. I know that if I were free I would stand with my violin on my [277] arm from morning to night. And you can be certain that I would make something of it.

Thousands of plans torture my poor agonized head: for example, to advertise for a place with a family in exchange for instruction in the violin and in French - in order to be able to devote myself to music. To try to start a studio for violin and guitar here, in Milwaukee - etc., etc.

I know now that I would gladly live in poverty, if I could devote myself to this, which is my calling.

Therefore I wrote: My fate is in God's hands.

Here on Wednesday evening I threw myself on my bed and lay pondering far into the night. It seemed to me as though I couldn't endure it any longer. Tomorrow I'll have to quit. I thought, for example, of writing a letter to Kr. Janson.

And the next morning the foreman [superintendenten] came over to me and said that they didn't need me any longer; for there was nothing to do. And I was overjoyed. I thought: now I'll have to get out of this. But at noon he came and requested me not to seek another job since Otterstedde wanted to leave.

And on account of my despair over music I couldn't bring myself to go anywhere, either, although I made use of my opportunity and took both Friday and Saturday off.

- - There will soon have to be an end to this. If it hadn't been for that devilish debt!

If only I could freely say: I'm through with the whole mess - then I'd gladly eat crumbs and live in the darkest attic room - if I were permitted to be complete master over what I halfway have attained - etc., etc., in that manner.

Why don't you see about getting down to Alabama soon. I'm tired of waiting now. Your Sigbjørn

Address Rygh, Skandinaven. [278]



Chicago, Ill., 4/13/1891

It looks like I'm going to leave this place anyway.

What shall I do?

Address Rygh, Skandinaven.


Three postcards

Chicago, 4/18/1891

Beautiful weather Wash. Heights Sunday. Sunday afternoon went in to town. Quite a fire on Madison street. Came out again. Went to town Monday noon when I heard that there was still so little doing. Monday afternoon I heard that there was still so little doing. Monday afternoon I sent the previous postcard to you and an application to Gottlieb, one has to send a written application. Moreover, was down in the Rookery building and drew the rest of my money at 50 dollars per mo. - Have lived the life of a gypsy since, sometimes eaten, sometimes starved. Up early Tuesday morning and looked through Cgo. Herald, archit. drawer wanted, went in, they had already hired one. - Lived that day on port wine and free Lunch. - Put an ad in Cgo. Herald. Draftsm., graduated wants pos. w. arch. or cons. eng. and an ad like the one I told you about, about trading instruction in violin and French. When I came out of the office I saw a man whom I thought I must know, yes, quite right, it was Dr. Sandved - had been over here - in Minneapolis - 2 months - and was so disgusted with the Norwegians here and was so homesick that he wanted to go home again posthaste. - 7 days in Chicago, - 7 days in New York via London and Paris. Rambled [279] into a wine tavern, drank red wine - went into a house on State St., where, according to the poster, naked women were exhibited - humbug - dressed whores sitting on boxes. - In the evening up at A's begging food. - Read a novel by Zola next morning. Met Tausan in the afternoon and since both of us were idle, we drank a lot of port wine together, - took oranges along to the A's in the evening - next day lived on bakery lunch, milk and pastry, was out at Was. H., paid my bill and sent the think, said Good bye to Horton. Both Giæver, Baldwin, and I have left, thus all those who came at that time - and the foreman [superintendenten] wants to leave too, so you can imagine how enjoyable it must be there. I am not so absolutely devoid of a good business head as you think. It is easier for me to make Mends with influential people than directly to strike for job.

[Marginal remarks on card 1]

It is quite possible that I could have got something to do at the world's fair, even had a reference one afternoon when they especially needed a couple of men. Bergendal, Otterstedde's son-in-law, is there, and Giæver has been made foreman of something. But am more disposed toward surveying, and they're said to pay miserable wages at the fair, so I guess I would not have realized anything by it. The worst of it is that now I expect I'll have to put my violin aside altogether.

Guess I'll have to use a 3rd.

Was down, on an empty stomach as usual, at the Rookery and asked Giæver, who referred me to his friend Klausen, whom I've had in view all along. I went to see Klausen, who gave me a long lecture on the hardships of surveying. I took him up on it, although the wages to begin with are not so fabulous and promising as in that letter of yours - they are more like Norman's personal experiences than Guillemin's romantic inventions -1½ dollars a day. But I hope that I'll be able to learn a lot. [280]

Monday evening I rented a bedroom here, where Nygard and Rygh live, and for the time being am thinking of settling down here, eat breakfast here and pack my lunch, and eat supper wherever I happen to be. We are going out tomorrow (Saturday already), hell-and-gone down in Illinois. As always, just when I was going to leave, I heard that there was a pleasant family from Stavanger near Was. Heights, shipbuilder Knudsen from Stavanger, very musical, flute and piano, son of the old man, foreman of the woodcarvers with Pullman.

Bring Guillemin these tidings, and greet him and who the devil else you wish.


Chicago, 4/29/189 1

I didn't want to write before I had been to the Hansen's. I would have been there Sunday, but wandered about on W. Park Av., instead it was on N. Park Av.

- You are a sanguine young man. You imagine me already on trips with 1½ dollars a day and board. - No, it was 1½ dollars a day without board, I told you, you know, and not steady work.

The first day I carried Klausen's coat at Orland, 25 miles south of Wabash depot.

The second day I sat 1½ hours behind a stake, 2½ hours I took care of the instrument - out around 55th street.

The third day I was sent home again.

The fourth day I checked some multiplications at the office, took a letter up to the Rookery building, transported 1000 surveyor's stakes from the alley [alleyen] up to the office on the 4th story by taking them on wheelbarrow loads up in the elevator. In the afternoon we were in Hammond.

The fifth day, in the afternoon, we were on 10th street and I handed another chap nails. [281]

The 6th day we were on 70th street.

The 7th day I didn't show up.

- I had to get there at 8 o'clock in the morning and then sit and wait until Klausen could go out, or expect to be sent home and get home at 9 o'clock in the evening. I had to put my violin aside. But I couldn't do that.

I quit on Saturday, and here it is Wednesday already.

- - Yes, you are sanguine. You couched it so nicely, that I was already sort of an old acquaintance up at the Hansens'. That seemed a bit previous to me.

I was up there last evening, dressed in my best clothes and cleanest collar, found the house and stood outside in a state of uncertainty, speculating on whether I should return home. Finally a little girl came, who must have been the daughter, and I asked if this was the place. A lady was playing the piano. Both of them disappeared upstairs when I came in, and the father came down.

"Nystrøm" - "Bernhart," - oh "Bernhoft" - well. Yes, that was right, now he remembered that the Nor-mans had spoken of a young Norwegian who was here.

And he started right off offering to give a recommendation to this fellow and that. And I said that I had not come to strike him and he said: That's all right! - I wished I were 1000 miles away. He gave me his business card and said that I could come and get a recommendation. I stayed an hour, until I thought that I could leave with propriety, he followed me to the door and said that I must send his greetings to Milwaukee when I wrote.

That was all.

I was wise enough not to take the violin along, which you spoke of.

- - And now I am washed up. I am not as melancholy and sick as I was when I worked in the office, but I am so terribly weary of it all, so terribly weary, I can't bring myself to do anything. I've folded my hands in my [282] lap and am sitting waiting for death. I have a boundless urge to dedicate myself to music, but what shall I do?

I curse the day which brought me here, or I don't curse it. I am at an impasse.

Shall I try again to get a job in an office? Or what shall I do? What can I do?

If someone comes and offers me a job, then I'll take it, but try to get one myself, no! - I will wait till I have eaten up those 7 dollars - and after that I don't know.

I long to return to Milwaukee; it was quiet, beautiful, simple there. Here it is so misty, and so big and strange, such noise, that it is impossible for a poor silly farmer to adjust himself. I also curse the day that I left Milwaukee, just as I was beginning to feel at home theme. To return to that office up there, if one could, is of course impossible.

Hell, how shiftless I am! And you are disappointed too. I mean with that Alabama affair. Infernal damnation, how oppressive the world is for the cultured poor. Why do they give a poor man refinement, taste, polish? It is just to torture him.

Enclosed is one of my thousand and one plans. What do you think of it? The idea is that you are to look over the English in the letter, in case of minor errors: otherwise I think the text is so good that you ought not alter it, its genuine English surprised even me greatly, and it came flowing out too. Look over the English, copy it and send it to the big publishers you know about in Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, preferably those that market literature in translation - that's the idea. And it ought to be done right away.

Andreas Nilsen also thinks that I should see about getting out of technical work and switch to writing, and Asland too, the latter urges me to attend all the theaters - it's a devil of a lot of fun.

What does O.K. mean, which you used in your letter. Dummy train and line must he an accommodation line, a spur just for passenger traffic. [283]

We have a word for it in Norwegian too but I can't think of it. Strangely enough, it isn't in Brynhildsen.

Write right away. Your Sigbjørn




Chicago, 5 (?)/1/1891

Another idea! I want to become a professor. - You surely know the addresses of a lot of universities, don't you?

Isn't it true that one can go there almost on nothing when one works on the side; I could, for example, teach something at the university itself at the same time that I was enrolled. The fact is that I have become extremely anxious to learn English properly and get thoroughly acquainted with American conditions; I therefore want to become a student at a university and doctor of philosophy, master of arts [magister of arts] and all, whatever they're called. Give me addresses so that I can write to half a hundred universities. You know the address of Evanston's and Madison's and others too, certainly. Axel Olsen, master of arts, student of medicine, etc., etc., advises me most positively to become a professor.


Three postcards

Chicago, 5/4/1891

Have been waiting for your letter. I see that you have misunderstood me. You read my letters too hastily. They are always pointed. I am an impressionist to my fingertips and there is in my fingertips an electrical impulse to communicate my own impressions. What does cooperation mean? If I had wanted to send that letter as it was then I wouldn't have sent it to you; I could somehow [284] have got those singulars and plurals corrected. - But the whole thing was a proposal. A thing like that is sent to a collaborator to be looked over, underlined, additions made, corrections, etc., and then it is returned. Back and forth in that manner several times until the best form is attained. It is of little help to get a Brothers B. and a plural corrected here and there. It isn't that that one cares about. (It is Monday today, I just got your letter today.) So I hope that you haven't sent it to more than one place yet.

Now I am going to tell you MY honest opinion.

I don't like Chicago. It is altogether too ugly. There are people enough to become acquainted with, but they are uncultured and boring. I suppose Milwaukee is as good as Chicago, yes, 50 times better, if one has a little money - when one isn't acquainted yet. And one never gets acquainted. Even the American Norwegians here -they associate only with American Norwegians! Norwegian Norwegians in America are unpleasant because they are simple - but they are honest and straightforward - the American Norwegians are parasites, dress in fine clothes, speak terrible Norwegian with an accent, backbite the Norwegians in the West End and grovel before the English-speaking. I have been within Chicago's walls now for 3 weeks; it is a loathsome city! Those friends of ours: under a cloak of cheerfulness they wear homesickness and a loathing for Chicago! None of these young people here, not even A, is as appealing to me as Guillemin, for example - As for the Germans he made me acquainted with, it was no doubt a miscalculation, they appeal to me only as objects of study. They lack the faintest ability to understand a man like me.

And to continue:

Perhaps by an unconscious determination I haven't yet made a serious effort to get employment here. When I left Klausen he gave me the address of a man who [285] needed a draftsman, to be sure I went down and tried to find the man. But since I didn't actually find him, I was happy and did no more about it. I have been at a couple of architect firms that had advertised, but I haven't done any bridge building, and I have terminated all association with the Rookery.

From this it follows that it has been my determination to return, so to speak, and it was a disappointment when you charged me to remain in Chicago at the time that I quit at Was. Heights.

Damn it, there's someone sitting in here singing about the death of Jesus to the tune of a ballad!

Haven't those bastards given you a raise yet?

You have misunderstood my postcard too. I don't want to become a professor right off. I want to study for it, like other people do. Isn't that what I said? - But I thought that one might possibly earn his living at a university when one has such colossal knowledge as I have! For to save the money and then go I do not have the patience. I thought that one could earn something by teaching, tutoring, or whatever it was at the same time that one was a student. Now you understand it, don't you? But it is my definite plan to go to a university and study English. - But now they have summer vacation first, so nothing can be done. Isn't that so? - I have concluded that that is the only way to understand American life. Otherwise one remains shut out from it, and in such a case the devil himself should come over here to get wise. - Didn't I write to the Bernhoft Brothers. That's strange! - Now comes the raisin in the pudding, the yolk in the egg, the hops in the beer. - I am to tell you whether I want to return to Milwaukee, providing I get a job at Wise. That's the idea, isn't it? - My answer is that I prefer to come to Milw. and try to get a job somewhere else. How will Guillemin manage that trifle with Geist? Will he say that I am shipwrecked? Will he say that you [286] are longing sorely for me, or how the deuce will he do it? If I now were to go to Wis. for the first time I would have nothing against it. But for the 3rd time! - And then probably that everlasting tracing [tracingen]. Maybe I could endure to trace for a month or so. I'm washed up here. I have no money left.

Waiting impatiently for more discussion of the matter.

Your Sigbjørn


Chicago, 8/3/1891

Was fooled. No train before this evening (Thursday) at eight. I stayed at Andreas'. He has loaned me 5 dollars. I hope your humor will improve when you get rid of me. Of course you're not taking to heart those little squabbles we had clear until the last! Greet Guillemin. I'm terribly sleepy, didn't get to sleep last night either, tired and nervous and then I guess there were bedbugs. - I hear that Illinois Steel-Co. is the biggest of its kind, at any rate in the state; that is the company that has the large rolling mill in South Chicago. You could undoubtedly have got a job there a couple of weeks ago at about 15 dollars, if they had known that you wanted to get away. The fact is that that young Peder Figved went home - assistant bookkeeper.

As I said, my head is tired, can hardly think. Greet the Normans and see about getting a little more social life. Your Sigbjørn

If anything should come for me that's urgent, I suppose you could address it: Reading Room for Students, Kristian IV's gate 4 [Oslo].


Stavanger, 1/11/1892

I am home in Stavanger now; I arrived in time for Christmas; then I got a severe stomach ailment after Christmas, from which I now have recovered. [287] Consequently, I have nothing but boredom left me - nothing to do, no money, no separate room, no desire for remunerative work, dead hopes, etc. I am happy to learn that you have become such a player. I also hope that you have more social life now again, a little more fun, particularly more association with young people. You must learn to dance, boy! How is Dode and the other people? You did not touch them in a word, neither did you mention Normans. She stands before me as she was standing at the gate, weeping by the remembrance of Norway, and gave me a last look for departure.

I no sooner have recovered from asylums, hospitals, and such than I long to return; gladly long to be a simple "tracer" again. And you won't wonder at it. Come home like that, be met like that by friends, land in the arms of charity - and then stand there broken, fed up - and the enthusiasm one arrived with forced deep within one, I mean my enthusiasm for music.

I have simply thought of returning, to try it in Boston, write to Berentsen about conditions there - "be satisfied with one's lot," get married. This life is not long, and one's particular entity perhaps does not die; there may be new stages of development (purgatory).

Do you know that when I received that letter from Illinois Steel Co., I almost went; it was about noon, and I could have taken the noon train, I had enough money in my pocket; but I was so afraid what you would think when you came home at noon and found me gone, and then I was so vacillating and nervous.

My illness presumably had deep and long roots.

At the same time that all the depth and beauty I felt for music and my idea that nothing could be as worthwhile living for as that remains firm - my courage has disappeared on Norwegian soil. I am filled with doubt. It is as though it has become so distant again, even the desire to play is gone. [288]

No, America was no doubt just the country for bold plans. That was the country, robust and adventurous.

The violin is really pretty knotty. I would have to begin with the piano. No, I'm afraid I'll have to return this summer. My traveling spirit is not gone. I will gladly embark today, yes willingly, if need be on 3rd class. - For I believe I am less ill now than when I left America, and I think there is less sickness in my desire to go over now than there was then to leave.

- - People have talked about helping me to resume my studies. But am I not tired of studying? Haven't I studied enough?

I'll make "the turntable" my goal. I should LIKE to trace it now. Yes, indeed I must have been quite exhausted then. You see?

But I must one day find peace! It cries within me to attain a modicum of peace.

Here there is no peace - to be penniless, without work, without friends, or with friends who bore one - that is not peace.

Things are dull and dead in Stavanger - besides Sanstøl, Peder Jenssen and Adolf Berentsen and Korsvik have gone bankrupt. - It is terrible here. You can be happy that you are not at home.

I was with your enemy, Andreasen the teacher, yesterday, played whist, he asked about you; he was as boring as a stove.

N.N. has played in the theater here several times. He gads about with the girls a lot. I stumbled in on him yesterday, and he had ale and cognac on the table and the misses X. and Y. on the chairs.

Have met Hansen and Knudsen, the pharmacists, who send their greetings.

I was with Fuglestad one evening, and was dragged up to that horrible teetotal meeting where O. O. sat staring me out of countenance as in the old days - [289] thereupon he sat down beside me and tormented me with questions and chatter.

Father is in Bergen now.

Jens Thus has been in Rome since I came home and presumably is still there.

How pleasant that music business is you can understand from the fact that Anathon All, for example, who wrote that letter which induced me to return home, has sort of forgotten that he ever wrote it, has never mentioned music, on the contrary - and that not because of considerations of health.

If only I could return immediately, to New York or Boston, or any place at all. Get me a job and write for me! - I am here in Stavanger - not one acquaintance, no one to visit - and at home just one noisy room, where I can neither study nor play - and don't have money to leave, don't even have money for postage.

The sound of the English language, just the couple of songs I know - "Mamma the angels" for example - fills me with longing. Oh - we were so far from the stupid multitude there, from gossip and lunatic asylums.

I suppose you have seen that Garborg's "Trætte mænd" (Weary Men) was the biggest event of the Christmas season. - I received it as a gift from Bonnevie; I thought of sending it to you, but since it only produced boredom in me, I don't find it worth the effort. It is the conservative and religious newspapers that are so occupied with it, because there is a nervous man in it who finds pleasure in attending church, "especially the Catholic Church."

Since this letter in all probability will reach you about on your birthday, my best wishes. Unfortunately, have no money to buy anything.

You had in mind paying my hotel bill, Blix writes. But no, don't do it. I didn't request to be sent either to the asylum or to the country, and they can afford to wait. You [290] have paid out so much for me already that it pains me, and you may still contribute to a crossing, per dieu!

Don't mention so many interesting scores; my teeth chatter. I become sad just thinking of Gebauer's duets. No, there probably won't be much music for me in the immediate future.

Since November I have been in as depressed a mood as is well nigh possible. I don't know, well, I suppose it won't do any good to ask either - Such expressions as - "great field of activity" - - where the devil - in the outhouse? - That is my only field of activity for the time being at any rate.

If anything should turn up in the near future which might enhance my good fortune somewhat, then by the god Thor and Balder and all the good powers and spirits, I will inform you, you can depend on that.

We are all waiting excitedly for a letter. Write, that is my only comfort, and I suspect you are my only trustworthy friend now - and perhaps Victor too. Pay my loves to people. Your Sigbjørn


Stavanger 2/7/1892

You will have to correct me! Your letters rightly received and contents noticed! Did you talk anything to prof Olsen did he call at (?) Normans? It is to bad the way I behaved towards him after his kind letter; I ought to have given a notice about my departure at least.

Yours was the third, you say, but you will see, when you have got everything, first letter, cards, christmas numbers, second letter and now this, that I am prette near posted. But, I tell you, don't make to much of your longing home, it is not worth while. Stavanger is what it ever was and worse than that; it may be prette agreable to see the streets, the light, airy landscape once more, but the restaurants, the good music, the theatre, costunics, a.s.f where are all those. You would not have [291] been here one month, before you longed back to the great country, the changing surroundings, the stylish office life as. on. Don't come to Stavanger at least, before you can play a part. - You must f. i. learn dancing, boy, your skating legs will do excellently for dancing; and now you have got the time in your ears. Leave the music lessons for a time and get the dancing, that's my advice. And, then, it seems to me, that Milwaukee, this city, so comfortable and beautiful is pretty slow, or gives pretty slow advance. You had better try a little tramping. At home this mercantile branch is a rather hopeless one. Forty dollars is small salary for you, seventy, eighty you ought to be able to. Well, don't be mad or vexed. Perhaps you are justly in the right place where you are; you will understand it best, yourself Hausers "Ungarischer tanz" you can get by procuring Hausers "Lieder ohn Worte," second vol.

Do you remember our skating on the South side bay; I remember it very often and with "vemod" [sadness], wish I was there. I am longing back all the time. But if I am going over March or April, I suppose I have better stay in New York. I have thought of writing Astrup for money. But I must take second class this time.

I have not played the violin, so to speak, since I was in America. I have no opportunity either, as I have money enough for shaving and stamps and no more.

I have got a letter from Jens Thus now, formally, it is dated Neapel [Naples] and Sicilia. He is now in Firence [Florence], now in Rome, then in Venice and so on.

Nuts - tired of English. Do you see anything of Keates? I don't suppose there is any mail for me at "Milwaukee bro. co.," now? I thought perhaps that Dode might have written a few words just for the sake of the practice [practicens]. But that's nothing to beg for. Do you still like it where you are staying? Does that genial imbiber who never imbibed live there yet? Are you soon going to move? Hope you get good food where you move [292] to now. How is Louis Menter? How is mrs. Norman? How is the girl? How are your college Madison thoughts? See that Alexander Bull has begun to make appearances with the violin. How did you like the Ibsen card? You have certainly had a different kind of Christmas than I have. I am bored and depressed beyond belief. When I return to America I want to become a Catholic, there is nothing that clings in my memory like the pleasant, elegant, cozy, small American churches. I wish I sat there now. You too ought to join one or another congregation; it would be pleasurable and profitable.

How much music you have heard! How are you getting along with all those Germans; perhaps you have become a little wiser. I think it was terrible, and it seems to me you "had better" make some American friends, where you could assert yourself a little. Victor is of course unsurpassable, hut that did not prevent some of those evenings at Seeman's, for example, from being downright painful.

It is awful with me: 25-26 years old and without employment, without income, and without definite future plans - yes, without a definite goal in life. How about Conger now, are you all right with him? How about Hamilton, is he at home? As much fun as you tell about at Christmas you won't, by gum, get here. There are no occasions. You're constantly babbling about the so-called "novelette." Those are old, forgotten matters from the days of my madness.

Caspar Wignæs has written a 4-act play about his love affairs, "Hevn" [Revenge], got it produced and played the leading role at the Stavanger Theater.

Signe has become a quite unusually amiable and pleasant girl; she is goodness itself; all my thoughts are directed toward getting her over to America, she is so able, steady, patient, and has such a great knack of getting along, that. . . [Remainder lost.]


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