My dear Professor Worthy,
Your animadversions upon America or, as you prefer to say, your idea of America, were of tolerable interest at first. They were perhaps even useful to my own deliberations on cultural history, which is the central task of my life, not unrelated to my official duties to His Grace the Grand Duke, and to my pastoral responsibility for each soul in the congregation at his Stadtkirche. All my theological and philosophical efforts, my extensive reading, my research and my writings require universally inclusive circumspection. Therefore I seized gratefully upon your description of life and culture in the New World.
Precisely my commitment to comparative cultural and religious studies causes me to question your parochial conception of America. You do not find its aborigenes, the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Sioux, and all the other nations--the Comanche right there at your own Sipe Springs--even worthy of mention. Do not the harsh Romans honor all the gods worshipped by the nations they conquer? You seem to know only the one deity preached by those few Protestant settlers who arrived upon your shores two centuries after their discovery--by Catholic navigators. One seeks in vain for any inclusion whatsoever of the millions brought to labor in your fields. Immigrants who came before or after your Virginia planters take no part in your narrow "idea."
I wonder just when you may have lived. Your letters suggest my own nineteenth century, but perhaps you survived over into the twentieth. I should be much surprised if your idea of America was shared by any subsequent century. A generous interpretation of your effort might be that you are attempting to characterize the thinly populated savannas between the Mississipi Valley and the Rocky Mountains, along with those ethnic and religious strains from northern Europe who "purchased" and settled that territory. I gather you wish to show how these people, despite their neglect of culture and learning while making their way across the continent, nevertheless hark back to their European heritage, as you do.
We Germans have a somewhat crude, but in its own way helpful saying, Eigenlob stinkt, "boastfulness is odious." I do hope, my dear Professor, that you find me not too harsh. But surely America is a historical entity, with ethnic, cultural, religious and temporal dimensionality.
In all good will, and nichts für ungut!
J. G. Herder, Pastor
Please return to Professor Worthy's Page, Home
or see the correspondence with Herder.