[Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 199, August 20, 1841]
I went on board a big frigate the deck of which was full of emigrants who stood watching the “yawl” being hauled up. A yawl here is any boat which has a keel and is therefore suitable for service at sea. The people were still cheerful; they had not yet trodden the last clod of their native soil. But I have seen how deeply it affects them when they really leave German soil forever, when the ship, with all its passengers on board, slowly moves from the quay into the roadstead and thence sails into the open sea. They are almost all true German faces, without falseness, with strong arms, and you need only be among them for a moment and see the cordiality with which they greet each other to realise that it is certainly not the worst elements who leave their Fatherland to settle in the land of dollars and virgin forests. The saying: stay at home and feed yourself honestly†a seems to be made for the Germans, but this is not so; people who want to feed themselves honestly go, very often at least, to America. And it is by no means always lack of food, much less greed, which drives these people into distant lands; it is the German peasant's uncertain position between serfdom and independence, it is the inherited bondage and the rules and regulations of the patrimonial courts†91 which make his food taste sour and disturb his sleep until he decides to leave his Fatherland.
The people going over on this ship were Saxons. We went below to take a look at the inside of the ship. The saloon was most elegantly and comfortably appointed; a little square room, everything elegant, mahogany inlaid with gold, as in an aristocratic drawing-room. In front of the saloon were the berths for the passengers in small, nice little cabins; from an open door by the side we got a whiff of ham from the larder. We had to go on deck again to reach the steerage by another companion-way: “But it's terrible down there,”†b all my companions quoted when we got back. Down there lay the dregs who had not enough money to spend ninety talers on the cabin class fare, the people to whom nobody raises a hat, whose manners some here call common, others uneducated, a plebs which owns nothing, but which is the best any king can have in his realm and which alone upholds the German principle, particularly in America. It is the Germans in the cities who have taught the Americans their deplorable contempt for our nation. The German merchant makes it a point of honour to discard his Germanness and become a complete Yankee ape. This hybrid creature is happy if the German in him is no longer noticed, he speaks English even to his compatriots, and when he returns to Germany he acts the Yankee more than ever. English is often heard in the streets of Bremen, but it would be a great mistake to take every English speaker for a Britisher or a Yankee. The latter always speak German when they come to Germany in order to learn our difficult language; but these English speakers are invariably Germans who have been to America. It is the German peasant alone, perhaps also the craftsman in the coastal towns, who adheres with iron firmness to his national customs and language, who, separated from the Yankees by the virgin forests, the Allegheny mountains and the great rivers, is building a new, free Germany in the middle of the United States; in Kentucky, Ohio and in Western Pennsylvania only the towns are English, while everybody in the countryside speaks German. And in his new Fatherland the German has learnt new virtues without losing the old ones. The German corporative spirit has developed into one of political, free association; it presses the government daily to introduce German as the language of the courts in the German counties,†a it creates German newspapers one after another, which are all devoted to the calm, level-headed endeavour to develop existing elements of freedom, and, as the best proof of its strength, it has caused the “Native Americans”†b party to be founded which has spread through all the states and aims to hinder immigration and to make it difficult for the immigrant to acquire citizenship.†92
“But it's terrible down there.” All round the steerage runs a row of berths, several close together and even one above the other. An oppressive air reigns here, where men, women and children are packed next to one another like paving stones in the street, the sick next to the healthy, all together. Every moment one stumbles over a heap of clothes, household goods, etc; here little children are crying, there a head is raised from a berth. It is a sad sight; and what must it be like when a prolonged storm throws everything into confusion and drives the waves across the deck, so that the hatch, which alone admits fresh air, cannot be opened! And yet, the arrangements on the Bremen ships are the most humane. Everybody knows what it is like for the majority who travel via Le Havre. Afterwards we visited another, an American, ship; they were cooking, and when a German woman standing nearby saw the bad food and even worse preparation she said weeping bitterly that if she had known this before she would rather have stayed at home.
[Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 200, August 21, 1841]
We went back to the inn. The prima donna of our theatre sat there in a corner with her husband, its ultimo uomo, and with several other actors; the rest of the company was very dull, and so I reached for some printed matter that lay on the table, of which an annual report on Bremen trade was the most interesting. I took it and read the following passages:
“Coffee in demand in summer and autumn, until slacker conditions set in towards winter. Sugar enjoyed a steady sale, but the actual idea for this only came with rising supplies.”
What is a poor man of letters to say when he sees how the manner of expression not only of modern belles-lettres but of philosophy is infecting the style of the broker! Conditions and ideas in a trade report — who would have expected that! I turned the page and found the description:
“Superfine medium good ordinary real Domingo coffee.”
I asked the agent of one of the leading Bremen merchant shippers who happened to be present what this superfine designation might mean. He replied: “Look at this sample I have just taken from a consignment delivered to us; that description will fit it roughly.” Thus I learned that superfine medium good ordinary real Domingo coffee is a pale grey-green coffee from the island of Haiti, each pound of which has fifteen half-ounces of good beans, ten half-ounces of black beans and seven half-ounces of dust, small stones and other rubbish. I then let myself be initiated into several other mysteries of Hermes and in this way passed the time until midday, when we partook of a very indifferent meal and were called back to the steamer by the bell. The rain abated at last, and no sooner had the steamer “laid” the Geest than the clouds broke and the rays of the sun fell bright and warming on our still wet clothes. To everybody's astonishment, however, the steamer did not go upstream, but down the roadstead where a proud three-master had just anchored. We had barely reached the middle of the current when the waves grew bigger and the steamer began to pitch noticeably. Who, if he has ever been to sea, does not feel his pulse quicken when he senses this sign of the proximity of the sea! For a moment he believes he is again going out into the free, roaring sea, into the deep, clear green of the waves, right into the middle of that marvellous light which is created by the sun, azure and sea together; he involuntarily begins to find his sea-legs again. The ladies, however, were of a different opinion, looked at each other in fright and grew pale, while the steamer, “in a gallant style”,†a as the English say, described a semicircle around the newly arrived ship and picked up its captain. The assistant insurance broker was just explaining to some gentlemen, who had vainly endeavoured to find the ship's name on the bow, that according to the number on its flag it was the Maria, Captain Ruyter, and that according to Lloyd's list it had sailed from Trinidad de Cuba between such-and-such a date, when the captain came up the steamer's companion-way. Our assistant insurance broker met him, shook his hand with the expression of a protector, asked how the voyage had been, what cargo he was carrying, and in general conducted a long discourse with him in Low German, while I listened to the flatteries which the bookdealer was lavishing on the half-naive, half-flirtatious tailor's daughters.
The sun went down in full glory. A glowing ball, it hung in a net of clouds, the strands of which seemed already to have caught fire, so that one expected it to burn through the net at any moment and drop hissing into the river! But it sank calmly behind a group of trees which looked like Moses' burning bush. Truly, both here and there God speaks with a loud voice! But the hoarse croaking of a member of the Bremen opposition tried to shout Him down; this clever man was straining hard to prove to his neighbour that it would have been much wiser to deepen the fairway of the Weser for larger ships instead of building Bremerhaven. Unfortunately, the opposition here is too often motivated by envy of the power of the patricians than by the consciousness that the aristocracy resists the rational state, and in this matter its representatives are so narrow-minded that talking to them about the affairs of Bremen is as difficult as to firm supporters of the Senate.†93 — Both parties convince one more and more that such small states as Bremen have outlived themselves and even in a mighty union of states would lead a life under pressure from without and phlegmatically senile within. — Now we were close to Bremen. The high spire of the Church of Ansgarius, with which our “church troubles” were connected, rose from moor and heath, and soon we reached the tall warehouses framing the right bank of the Weser.
Written in July 1840
First published in the Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser Nos. 196, 197, 198, 199 and 200, August 17-21, 1841
Printed according to the newspaper