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Bishop Jacob Neumann's Word of Admonition to the Peasants
Translated and edited by Gunnar J. Malmin (Volume I: Page 95)


Bishop Jacob Neumann's pastoral letter to prospective Norwegian emigrants, a pamphlet which was published at Bergen in 1837, is of interest not only as a clever piece of argumentation but also as a fair sample of an attitude of mind very common among the clergymen in Norway, and, no doubt, in other European countries, on the subject of emigration in the first half of the nineteenth century. The prevailing opinion seems to have been that the whole movement of emigration was equally harmful to the individual emigrant and to the home country. A determined effort was, therefore, made to stem the current, from the pulpit and through newspapers and pamphlets, by picturing the hardships of the voyage and the vicissitudes of life on the American frontier in as dark colors as possible.

An interesting thing about the pamphlet here under consideration is the fact that it was written by one of the outstanding figures in Norwegian religious and cultural life at the time. Jacob Neumann was born at Drammen in 1772. He completed his theological course in 1796, and took the degree of doctor of philosophy in 1799. His promotion was rapid, and in 1822 he was appointed to the important position of bishop of the Diocese of Bergen. As a bishop he was particularly interested in the work of education throughout the diocese. He was himself a decided rationalist. He made frequent contributions to newspapers and magazines, writing on such subjects as education, economics, and historical antiquities. As further evidence of his general cultural interests may be mentioned the facts that he was among the first to support the great Norwegian poet and language-reformer, Ivar Aasen, and that he was one of the founders of the splendid museum at Bergen. He died in 1848.

Of great interest and significance also is the fact that the Neumann pamphlet appeared as early as 1837, only a year after Norwegian emigration had begun to assume dimensions of any consequence. It will be remembered that a party of fifty-two emigrated from Stavanger in 1825, but it was not until 1836 that the next group emigration took place, when about a hundred and sixty emigrants departed from Stavanger on "Norden" and "Den Norske Klippe." The Neumann pamphlet was published a year before Ole Rynning's famous True Account of America.

In Drammen's Tiden for June 15, 1837, is a brief mention of the Neumann pamphlet giving the significant information that Bishop Neumann had distributed five hundred and fifty free copies of the pamphlet among the congregations in the diocese, and had sent fifty copies to. Stavanger County for free distribution there. In addition, the pamphlet was for sale at four skillings a copy. It is therefore evident that it was quite well distributed among the people, especially in those districts where the so-called "America fever" was the strongest. The Neumann pamphlet undoubtedly served a very useful and, historically speaking, significant part, in counteracting the altogether too optimistic accounts found in the "America letters." The very fact that it was probably the first book published in a Scandinavian language on the subject of emigration to America should recommend it to our attention as an historical document of primary importance.


A Word of Admonition to the Peasants in the Diocese of Bergen Who Desire to Emigrate. A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of the Diocese. Sells at 4 skillings a copy. Bergen, 1837. Published by Chr. Dahl, R. S.


"So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." (Psalms, 37, 3.) {1}


I have now sojourned among you for about fifteen years, and I have learned to love you dearly. In you I have found not only the true Norwegian spirit, --devotion to king and country, --but also the true peasant spirit -- frugality, simplicity, and industry. But that which crowns all is that I have also found among you a Godly spirit and a desire to serve God in Christian simplicity, to praise Him, and to do His will. Of course, not all of you are alike, for

Broken vessels in every land;
Among the roses are mingled thorns,
Here as well as elsewhere. {2}

Of all these thorns surely the sharpest and foulest are those which have grown up around the liquor stills, where I have often seen the people dance -- just as the people of Israel danced around the golden calf in the wilderness -- and offer sacrifice to the most hideous of all idols, drunk with the hellish fume of the sacrifice, and spurred on by the selfish high priests of the saloons. I shall not speak of these idolaters, "whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame," {3} but I shall rather pray that the mercy of Heaven may bestow His grace upon them, that the corrupter may depart from their souls, lest they perish in their impenitence.

When, on the other hand, I have found the peasants throughout the whole diocese, from S²ndm²r to B²rraneln and from the Jotun Mountains to Sulen, to be honest and god-fearing, going about their work with calm and sober minds, then I have esteemed them highly. Then I have prayed that God might bless their diligence and their pious conduct, and protect them and their race from delusions which might disturb their peace of mind, and drive the Angel of Peace from their dwellings.

With these fatherly interests in your welfare, dear Christian friends, it has not been without concern that during the last two years I have noticed a strange desire that has appeared among you and has disturbed the minds of many, namely, the desire to migrate from the country in order to -- ah, what am I to suppose is the real motive? He who has chosen education and the sciences as his occupation in life, either in order merely to broaden his own field of knowledge or to equip himself better for the service of his fatherland, generally desires an opportunity to go abroad to seek nourishment for his mind through intercourse with other scholars and scientists. The merchant travels abroad in order to become familiar with the places where he can sell his goods at the greatest profit or purchase merchandise -- where, in general, he can make advantageous business connections. The mechanic travels in foreign lands partly because of convention, partly in order to become more skilled in his profession. The rich travel about the world just to amuse themselves. With none of these motives can we suppose that a farmer leaves his native land; surely he can learn everything of importance to the pursuit of agriculture, if not always in his home community, at least in his fatherland. And the classes of travelers we have mentioned, even though they leave home, as a rule return, longing to get back to

That spot on earth where the voice of life
First rose from infant breast.

In the bosom of the home environment, embraced by pleasant memories of the past, surrounded by family and friends, the departed but now returned son of the fatherland feels himself happier than at any other place on earth.

Every hill, every vale, which gave him joy,
Becomes dear to his memory;
Enraptured the man beholds the scenes
Where he was happy as a child. {4}

But is this the case with one who bids his fatherland farewell forever? Or is it poverty and need which compel the emigrating Norwegian peasant -- for it is of him I speak -- to take such a desperate step? Is he poor and deserted, and cannot a single spot be found for him in his native land where he can support life by tilling the soil with his spade, or a strand where in his light, little boat, he can find nourishment from the sea with his hook or his net? Is there no means by which he can make a living in his native land --- and has he a well-founded hope of making a living outside the boundaries of his own country? If that be the case, then may God strengthen his hope and his courage and lead him safely to the land where he expects to find greater happiness in life! Perhaps he will find it, perhaps not. A grave he will find wherever he may go.

But is it only the poor who have been seized with the desire to emigrate? No, it is also the man with farm and property, Norway's free, happy, independent udalman. {5} He sells farm and goods, he tears himself away from every bond which holds him to his native land, he bids his family and friends farewell forever, he turns his back on the fruitful mountain pasture whence his cows fetched an abundance of milk in the udder, he turns his back on the valley where his forefathers with a strong arm turned his furrows for the seed to which the Lord gave growth, he turns his back on the house where his mother suckled him and where his father took him on his knee with prayer to God, he turns his back on the tent of his liberty, on the mighty fortress of his independence, on the never-failing source of his happiness. And why? In order to become even more free, more independent, more happy. And where? In a distant land in the western hemisphere, at about the same distance from the North Pole as the land which he is leaving -- in North America ! Thither has chance led some of his countrymen. They settled in the country; they bought a piece of land, which is available at a very low price; through great self-denial and great exertions they tilled the soil; it rewarded their diligence with its fruitfulness; their courage increased; they bought even more land; their diligence enabled them to cultivate this with the same success as before; they became thrifty and happy; they reported this to their home community in Norway -- and behold! A spirit of restlessness took possession of all. All wanted to enjoy a similar fortune. All wanted to go to America. And so great numbers left the coast of Norway -- just as they left Germany, Prussia, and Ireland -- and steered over the ocean to the distant Land of Happiness, where they hoped to harvest almost without sowing, or, in other words, where they hoped that a luckier star would arise over their families and over their futures. They left without stopping to consider how many fogs would have to be penetrated before that star could arise, how many privations would have to be endured, how great the exertions that would have to be expended before they could begin little by little to acquire the good things they desired, and without carefully pondering whether their enterprises could and would succeed, and what a sad misfortune would befall them if they failed.

I should like to mention, my dear Bergen peasant, a few things that, to the best of my knowledge, one must carefully consider if one wishes to take the doubtful step of settling as a pioneer in America. The emigrant must be strong and healthy, for the interior of America, where with his money he can expect to purchase land for cultivation, is a land of hard work and strenuous effort, consisting of enormous forests which must be cleared with the axe in order to bring the land under the plow, and of huge marshes, which must be drained with ditches. He must be in his prime -- between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, or, at most, forty -- in order at once to make use of his strength in such a way that he can expect to see the first difficulties and troubles overcome and the property brought into such a condition that it can assure him, as an old man, and his children after him, the happy existence which he longs to obtain. Not only must he have enough money to pay for the often prolonged voyage of many hundred miles to a place where financial conditions are so different from those here at home that he will soon find to his great surprise how expensive even the barest necessities of life will be during his stay there and during his further journey inland to the districts where he intends to settle. He must also -- and here comes a hard knot to undo -- he must have enough money to buy land; to build a hut; to provide himself with implements needed for clearing and cultivating the ground; to acquire domestic animals which he will need for his housekeeping, for his farm work, and for breaking new land in the wilderness; and, finally, to support himself and his dependents until a cultivated strip of his land can yield its first fruits. How much time and money, how much strenuous labor, how great a self-denial, yes, how many tears, how many sighs of regret and longing, do you not suppose, my honest Norwegian peasant, all this will cost you!

And, if you cannot make a success of your enterprise, if your strength or your means fail, you must abandon the settlement which you have started and return to Norway, having used up the money you obtained through the sale of your inherited property and farm in Norway; or, if you have risked going to the foreign country empty-handed, you are lost. Do not imagine that bread falls in showers from heaven or that quails fly forth to meet you, as was the case with the Israelites in the desert of Sinai; or, still less, that the flesh-pots of Egypt welcome you with their pleasing odor? No, the old law "In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread" will, in the first few years of your exile at least, loom up ominously before you each day. And if your courage sinks, if your strength fails, if sickness and trouble overtake you, then woe unto you! Perhaps you have no wife to nurse you, no loving son or daughter to assist you, no friend in whom you can confide your troubles and who can comfort you and renew your courage. It may be that you will have your share of such good things if only you secure some of your countrymen as neighbors where you buy your land; then you will, I hope, have friends and helpers in your trouble. But, if you come among absolute strangers, among Europeans of every race and language, whose hearts are not opened to you, whose arm will not support you, and whose language you do not understand, are you then so sure of your fate?

I shall even suppose that, after having defied every danger and overcome every difficulty, with the aid of your endurance, your strength, and your courage, you finally come into possession of a farm which can support you and your family, as, indeed, several of your countrymen are said to have done. Do you not suppose, just the same, that you will feel a longing within you which you must endure from the very moment you take the final step which severs you from the fatherland -- a longing which you will feel painfully for a long time, to say the least. I understand you, my good Bergen peasant. You do not live for this earth alone, you live also for Heaven. You have a devout spirit, which I have so often observed, when you have caught some idea which is higher than earthly things, when, in the holy place, you hear of the grace of God and His loving purposes with men, of Christ's redemption, of the communion of the Holy Ghost, of the life everlasting.

This devout spirit will follow you across the waters of the Atlantic and you will nourish it faithfully, with the help of your Bible, in the American forests. But where will you in the forest find your minister and your church? Six days of the week, according to the Law of God, shall you tend to your work -- but there is a seventh day on which you shall rest from all labor and refresh your soul and, first and foremost, lift your spirit to God, praying to Him for strength for, and blessing upon, the six days of work. This Sabbath Day, according to Christian ordinance, has become the Sunday, because you can associate with that day the thought of your arisen and glorified Savior, in whom all your faith abides. And now Sunday comes. Do you hear the church bells from far or near calling you to holy fellowship with your brethern in the Lord? Where can you find the way to this church? Perhaps no altar has been raised in the wilderness to that God whom Christians worship? And where is your pastor -- the man who has expounded for you the Law of God, and admonished you in faith, hope, and charity? Can you now find places like those where, once upon a time, you were received as a member of the Christian congregation, where you renewed your covenant with God, where you knelt in remembrance of Jesus, where, perhaps, you offered your hand to your wife, who now, because of her faith in you, has defied the dangers of the sea and sacrificed the dearest ties and memories in order to follow you in your exile? If similar places are not to be found where you now live, if you miss all these blessings which have so strengthened and refreshed your soul, if you no longer hear the living Word of God in His sanctuary, then I am sure your loss will be great, perhaps irreparable. That you should forget God; that you no longer should feel any longing for the Gospel, for the Table of Grace, and for that man who from your youth has distributed these gifts to you; that it should be a matter of no consequence to you if your children, through the lack of well-ordered schools, grow up in ignorance, and lose the faith of the fathers -- all this is utterly inconceivable, unless you yourself depart from the faith, and God forbid!

I know, dear Christian friends, what it is that has enticed so many of your brethern to leave the fatherland in order to pursue a phantom of happiness in the American forests. I have looked up the traces of the first emigrants from Norway. I have followed these traces. I have read the reports from those who emigrated last year -- reports which as yet are less than a year old, which were written a few weeks after the arrival of the emigrants in their adopted country at a time when the newness, the change, and the apparent advantage gained set their blood in lively motion and stunned their calm reflection. They have at once pictured everything which they saw and found in the states with fresh and living colors. They have praised the unlimited freedom, where no authority stands in the way of their free will, where no salary is asked for ministers and teachers, where no taxes or duties encumber their earnings, where no one suffers poverty and all are richly provided for, where abundance pours in from every direction without special effort, where extensive land is bought for an insignificant price, where the soil yields a rich crop without fertilization, where provisions cost no more than here among us, where a day laborer can earn a dollar a day, where a hired maid can earn from forty to fifty dollars and a hired man up to a hundred dollars a year, and so on.

Could not such accounts easily fool you? But let us now with cool reflection present a few considerations on the subject:

(1) Should a citizen of Norway, a free udalman or his son, who, according to the Constitution, has the right to sit in the national Parliament and there vote and present motions for the welfare and advancement of his country, has he any good reason for longing for greater civil liberty than that which already is his, according to the Constitution? Should a Norwegian citizen, who can take pride in having one of the wisest and most upright men on earth as his king and ruler, desire to trade his happy, law-directed existence for an unbounded freedom which simply cannot exist in a moral, Christian country, and which does not, indeed, exist in the North American states, where authority must be established, as in every moral and Christian state, for the protection of its citizens and for the enforcement of its laws? Should a peasant in this free and favored Norway, which is rapidly rising to the same prosperity which the North American states now, after many years, are beginning to enjoy -- should a peasant in this land, where at our last national assembly we were able to exempt the peasant from all direct taxes to the treasury, find it necessary to leave his paternal home for the sake of taxation? Taxes he must pay wherever he is a member of a social group or organization of any kind, if he expects to receive protection, if the poor in this group are to receive support, or if he wishes to have ministers and teachers; surely the hospitality of the Americans is not so generous that they will pay for the immigrants as their guests?

(2) The reports of abundance without effort, of the easy purchase of land, of the rich produce of the soil, of the low cost of provisions, of the high day's wages and pay for servants also deserve to be cooly considered before one is enticed into emigrating from Norway. We must, in my opinion, distinguish between two classes of emigrants: first, those who emigrate in order to make greater earnings in America than in their native land as mechanics or as day laborers and servants; and second, those who emigrate in order to buy land and become farmers.

A capable mechanic in America can, it is true, especially in the cities, get better pay for his work than is common in Europe, and can presumably, if his health and strength do not fail him, save up something for the future. But if it is in the cities he is to make a living, we must call attention to the fact that provisions and sustenance here is more expensive than in the country or in the settlements. As far as the day laborer is concerned, if he is strong and diligent he can earn much more than among us. The work, however, is very strenuous according to the reports, which mention especially canal-digging and road-building in the country; and one often gets into company with the scum of every nationality, so that an honest man from Hardanger found it necessary to leave his coworkers in order not to hear their profane language, and for fear of being abused or even killed by them. Finally, as regards wages for servants, they are surely tempting enough to induce many a peasant boy or girl, who here at home has no prospects of obtaining a farm or a holding, to seek a living as a servant over there and thus, perhaps, with prudence, save enough to get a home of his own; but it is hard to believe that such wages are commonly paid, when we take into account by whom they must be paid.

The wages are paid by the colonist, that is, by the head of a family which has bought land for cultivation. When we consider that the colonist must have money enough to support himself and family for two or three years until the land which he has bought, at a reasonable price, to be sure, becomes cultivable; that, during this time, by dint of strenuous effort, he must clear the woods allotted to him, drain the marshes, and provide himself with expensive agricultural implements and cattle; that he must build a home for himself and family, a barn for his cattle, a granary for his crops, a storehouse for his implements; when we furthermore consider that, after having invested all this money and labor, he must be satisfied to receive a very low price for his farm products -- then we must ask, how is he able to pay his hired man and his hired girl such high wages? We are led to doubt the truth of the report, and may well add that the fate of the colonist must often be far from enviable; perhaps he would have been better off in his native land if he had there invested the same money and labor which it cost him to settle in a strange land.

If the emigrant really has sufficient reason for leaving the home and the community where he is born in order to settle elsewhere and make greater profit, why does he not first ask: is there land for cultivation at a reasonable price in my own country? He would then receive an answer in the affirmative. He would learn that on the northwestern coast of Norway -- in Finmarken, where the climate is not by far as bad as we imagine; in Alten-Talvig, where the scenery is most beautiful, in the vicinity of a prosperous and well-managed copper mine which offers the colonist a market for his products -- are large stretches of land which he can buy and cultivate at a small price and where already a number of colonists have settled. There we have the Cross River Valley (Tverelvsdalen), two miles in length, and there is the Eiby River Valley, a mile in length. {6} Cattle raising is the chief occupation, but agriculture can be pursued as a side occupation, and the fishing industry is quite dependable and profitable in March and April. And what a market can not the colonists find at the Alten Copper Works, at Hammerfest, and throughout the whole province, which now buys butter and meat from Sweden and Russia!

Thus we have recently been informed by the Reverend Fleischer of Alten-Talvig; and it deserves to be noted by every farmer who desires to emigrate that he might better try his luck in the land where he was born. Here he is familiar with the language, traditions, and customs, and he has access to devotional exercises and schools where his children may be instructed in the faith of their fathers. It is better that he seek his fortune here than in a land distant from his original home, where the languages are as numerous as in the confusion of tongues at Babel, where the living conditions, traditions, and customs are strange to him, and where he is not sure of finding either pastor or school, though he will feel the need of both sooner or later.

Consider also the following reports from the newspapers:

(a) Still another ship has sunk. It left Liverpool on February 4 of this year bound for New York with 200 emigrants. (Dagen, 1837, no. 57.)

(b) The ship Diamond has arrived at New York after a voyage of 100 days with 180 emigrants, of which 30 starved to death on the voyage because provisions had become so scarce that one in vain offered five dollars for a potato, a glass of water, or a handful of flour, yes, that one of the passengers offered all he had for a few drops of water. The passengers who still were alive when the ship arrived were in a most wretched plight. (B²rsenhalle, March, 1837.)

(c) Several of the families which emigrated to America from Prussia a few years ago have returned. The many privations and the changed mode of living can only be endured by people in the full vigor of youth, or by the poor, who are accustomed to submitting to necessity. (Den Constitutionelle, 1837, no. 71.)

(d) It is reported that a private letter from those parts of America where most of the emigrants have settled contains the most lamentable news regarding the condition of our countrymen; only the rich have succeeded in any measure; the poor have nothing to live on, and many already go from house to house with the beggar's pouch in order to scrape together money enough to return to Norway. (Bergen's Merkur, 1837, no. 40.)

(e) A hill near Troy, New York, sank into marshy ground on January 2 of this year and the lower part of the city, with houses, barns, and people, was buried in the ground. (Morgenbladet [Christiania], 1837, no. 64.)

(f) The department of finance has received the following information from the tinner, Torgersen, a man of Norwegian birth who lives in New York and is just now visiting in Christiania, but who intends soon to return to America. In his report the department has implicit faith.

Torgerson was living in New York last year, when the emigrants from Stavanger and vicinity arrived. It is his opinion that, without regard to position and class, it is just as hard to make a living in the North American states as here at home, but that the common man, who has not learned any trade and does not understand the English language, is exposed to great hardships when he arrives in North America; he cannot support himself except through day labor, which demands a much more strenuous exertion than we are used to here and does not pay more than enough for the support of life. Furthermore, the climate, which is different from what we are used to here, lays many an emigrant in the grave. It is true that the food used in a southern climate is finer than what we use here in the North, so that, for example, wheat bread takes the place of oaten bread. But in order to enjoy this, one must earn enough money to buy it. This is attended by many difficulties for the Norwegian emigrants in a strange land; it means that they must work unceasingly, with the greatest exertion, and with almost no prospects of getting homes of their own {7} or of acquiring fixed property.

The emigrants who came to New York last year were without money and in a pitiful plight; in part, they had to be supported by charity. Many of them went to Rochester, where they were employed building roads, but they returned to New York alarmed at the toil and drudgery without which they could not earn their daily bread. Most of them are said to have gone to Illinois, but we have not heard as yet how they are getting along. It is true that far in the interior of America land may be obtained for cultivation, but so much money is needed that it is utterly impossible for the emigrants from Stavanger and vicinity to go there. Land must be bought, cleared, and cultivated, and food must be bought elsewhere during the first three years, until the soil is ready to support its occupants. (Den Constitutionelle, 1837, no. 135.)

When we read these and similar reports and thus see how difficult and dangerous the voyage to America is; what privations and hardships the poor must endure there; into what misery a hasty decision can throw a whole family; that North America, even less than our own county, is free from violent natural disturbances and the resulting destruction, not to speak of the yellow fever; when we further notice that even last year's emigrants, who generally are reported to feel satisfied with their position, honestly and expressly warn people not to come to America with families and empty hands -- ought not all this make our men and women think twice before making such a serious decision as to bid the fatherland farewell forever?

It has been my purpose, dear Christian friends, to cause you to think these things over carefully, and now I feel that I have done my duty; I must leave it to you to act in accordance with your best judgment. I hope you understand, by virtue of my position among you, that I have your welfare at heart, of which fact, indeed, I have given many proofs. May you therefore confidently ponder my words of admonition, and with faith in God rather endure a few burdens than thoughtlessly risk everything for an imaginary good which you are not sure of attaining. Here in Norway rest the ashes of your fathers; here you first saw the light of day; here you enjoyed many childhood pleasures; here you received your first impressions of God and of His love; here you and your sorrow, while there, when you are far away from all that has been dear to you, who shall close your eyes in the last are still surrounded by relatives and friends who share your joy hour of life? A stranger's hand! And who shall weep at your grave? Perhaps -- no one!

Give heed, then, to the advice David gave to his people: "Stay in the land and support yourself honestly." Or if real need compels you, or if preponderating advantages call you away from the paternal hearth, then keep the faith in God in your hearts and pray to the Almighty for strength to endure the hardships which you may encounter and which you do not choose to avoid. May He be with you on all your ways. That is my prayer in Jesus' name.



<1> It is interesting to observe that the English translation incorrectly interprets this passage as a promise, whereas the Norwegian Bible adheres to the imperative of the original Hebrew ---" Stay in the land and support yourself honestly."

<2> From a poem by Johan Herman Wessel, "Brudne Kar i alle Lande." a Philippians 3, 19.

<3> Philippians 3, 19.

<4> The above quotations are from a poem entitled "F˜drelands-kj˜rlighed" (Patriotism) by the Danish poet, Thaarup.

<5> The Norwegian odelsbonde, holder of a fee simple, a farm inherited with full rights by the oldest son.

<6> In other words, fourteen and seven English miles, as a Norwegian mile is equal to seven English miles.

<7> The Norwegian idiom is: at kunne s˜tte Foden under eget Bord.

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