This is a copy of an article that appeared in:
Unitarian Historical Society
As Man, Poet, and Religious Reformer
Amandus Norman, D. D.
This paper was read on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Nora Free Christian Church, of Hanska, Minnesota, a church founded by Kristofer Janson in 1881, and served by Amandus Norman as minister from 1893 until his death in November, 1931. It is a tribute by one of the most courageous and statesmanlike of Unitarian ministers to his predecessor, teacher, and master. It is really the portrait of two men—of the one who wrote it almost as truly as of the one of whom it is written.
Unitarians of Anglo-Saxon descent may learn from these two Unitarians of Norse ancestry to appreciate with fresh and deeper understanding the "ripest fruitage of civilized Christian nurture ever produced in any considerable quantity in this or any land." And that heritage has been permanently enriched by the infusion of Viking blood which the Nora Free Christian Church, on its lovely Minnesota hilltop, represent.
—Frederick M. Eliot.
I regard the Unitarian movement as one of the most significant efforts to liberate the human mind and thus to prepare our people for the New Freedom which is slowly emerging in the world.
We are a group of rustic Unitarians. We derive our living from the soil, and, naturally, being rational men and women, we are as progressive as the conditions under which we live and the sifted results of responsible thinking will allow us to be.
We claim kinship, mental as well as physical, with those unafraid mariners of the North, who, in the early middle ages ceased to hug the shallow shoreline, launched out upon the main, sailed the uncharted sea by the sun, and when that failed them by the never-setting stars, and found "Vinland the Good." We are deep-sea Unitarians. As such, we are not overly concerned about the eddies and cross-currents to the right or to the left of us on the surface of the mighty stream of liberal thought. But let there be no misapprehension as to our essential position. We cherish no undue reverence for the mythologies of old, whether Norse, Greek, Hebrew or Christian. We accept them, not as special revelations of ultimate truth, but rather as the disclosures of the best that the men of old could embody in words after pondering the problem of existence. And if their findings no longer serve to feed our souls, let us not give way to whining about the meagerness of our heritage, let us like resolute and resourceful men and women dive deeper, soar higher, and formulate the findings of our explorations in the world of space, time, and mind into nobler and more soul-satisfying concepts to sustain the loftier race that is to be.
But my aim today is a much more modest one. I am not here to plead for a man, a sect or any eddy of liberal thought in particular. No! I shall simply endeavor to portray a remarkable man, gifted poet, a brilliant orator, a persuasive religious reformer, to point out the paths in his life and try to show the coherency in his development. Of course you may expect me to accompany the portrayal of my predecessor and my beloved teacher with all the sympathy I posses.
Kristofer Janson's appearance in Norwegian literature in the early seventies marks a new support for the peasant language as well as for the whole new national movement in Norway. The highly gifted peasant poet Vinje, one of Mr. Janson's contemporaries, called him "a priest in the church militant of Norway." A few years after Mr. Janson had begun his ministry in Minneapolis, he declined the poet pension which had been voted him by the Norwegian Storthing. It is significant that he did not leave the literature of his native land in the same condition that he had found it when he began his career; this man was one of the greatest accusations of the peasant language movement and he struck out a definite new path in the literature of his native land.
Kristofer Janson was a child from a fashionable home, a descendant of an aristocratic family. At his home the poet laureate of Norway, the mighty Bishop Johan Nordahl Bruun, used to roam, and the tribe of the Brahmins of Bergen used to gather. Kristofer Janson, who, by birth and antecedents was plainly destined to become the standard bearer of the aristocratic idea in Norway, this highly gifted young gentleman, who was a Master of Arts, and a student of theology at the University of Oslo where he received the highest honors, this man is suddenly seized by idealism and democracy, and, without any consultation with his family and its traditions, becomes a champion of the new peasant language movement.
Kristofer Janson, whose beautiful poems had been a favorite topic in select family gatherings and whose lampoon in verse ridiculing the peasant movement had raised him in the eyes of the ruling class as their coming standard-bearer, is suddenly, as by a clap of thunder from above, changed from the peasant party's Saul to its Paul.
As already stated, his family was one of the oldest as well as one of the most influential in Bergen and Bergen had for generations been considered the most cosmopolitan burgh in all the North. This then was a breach with all the proprieties, a breach with all the ties of kinship—to be a Janson, a friend of the peasantry and a reformer of the peasant language! But the young idealist's innermost genius was gripped by the cause, and already in the students' union at Oslo he gave his famous "freshman oration" in the peasant language.
Thus the first step was taken and the second soon followed; it was his first published work, "Fraa Bygdom"—"From the Country"—which appeared in 1866.
On reading this book now, it becomes plain that it has more than the form and the style in common with his latest work of fiction, "The Solitary"; it shares the errors of the latter as well as its excellences—tender and sympathetic, devotional as a prayer, though it is less real. I have specially in mind "Liv," one of the stories in "From the Country." When "Liv" appeared, the romantic tendency in literature reigned supreme in the North. No one was impudent enough to ask for realities in fiction. No! People of those days read "Liv" and fell in love with the story and they forgot, just as we so readily forget years later in "The Solitary," that the author was more of a ministerial propagandist who is out on a missionary journey, the minister who wants all men to repent and become good, than the psychologist and the truthful portrayer of the race he set out to portray. Thus Janson's first work determined almost at once his strength as well as his limitations as an author, determined once for all the character of his poetic gift. And, if after these many years, one re-examines his literary productions as I have done during the past year, one is compelled to confess that even his latest books changed but very little his position in the literary history of his native land.
Naturally, however, such a man as Mr. Janson could not remain stationary for nearly half a century, and it is obvious that his first work is not his best. It only exhibits clearly the nature of his talent as an author, not its matured strength. And this in my opinion reveals a peculiar trait in Mr. Janson's character. He passed through a long and intensive period of development, and yet he remained essentially the same. This, to my mind, reveals a firmness of character, one might almost say a stubbornness, which is not usual, because it presupposes a nature that may undergo development but which does not really change, an individuality that may be enormously enriched but is never uprooted from its native soil.
Mr. Janson's development was continuous—one long persistent effort. Wherever he stood in life, in literature, in religion, there he ever stood with his whole soul. There was no real conflict between his conduct and his teaching. Whether we consider him as a poet, or teacher in the peasant high-shcool, or as a religious propagandist, this man moved forward in unassailable idealism, willing to be inspired and willing to live a simple, free life in harmony with his own teachings.
It was to be expected, therefore, that such a talented man, gripped by the ideal of his age; by the legend of the great awakening that passed through the north of Europe during the sixties; the awakening of the peasantry; Scandinavianism, which aimed at a strong federated Union of all the northern countries; "grundtvigianism," a wide-spread romantic reform movement in the church; it was to be expected that the gifted poet-preacher could not remain a mere spectator of this new movement, could not pause at the mere reform of the language, writing entertaining books and delivering brilliant orations in the peasant language. He wished to come out and live it. And so we find Janson leaving his beloved native Bergen and its happy and colorful life to become the founder of a peasant high-school in one of the most picturesque mountain valleys of central Norway.
At one time a group of remarkable men assembled at "Vanheim" peasant high-school, a trio of men, whose fame reverberated throughout all the North land—and even further. If one had been fortunate enough to be present there while the school was at its best, one would never forget that experience, never; it was a spell that gripped one for life. (As a boy I once sat there on one of the benches in the rear and wept.)
Let us take a look in, while the school is in session. The hall is filled with people, pupils, young men and women, farmers from the valley below, and strangers who paused for a day or two in order that they might hear and see what was going on at this wonder-school among the mountains. The door opens quietly, and Kristofer Bruun enters — a strange, slender, outlandish-looking figure of small stature, a great man, a dreamer of apocalyptic dreams, an Elijah among the mountains. With the prophet's dark hair falling in heavy curly waves down over his shoulders, this man who would tell the truth as he saw it, with utter impartiality, to pope, emperor, king, or street gamin, was the prototype of the hero in Ibsen's great drama "Brand." He walks in quietly and sits down on a bench in a corner of the hall. Then Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson enters, a man of gigantic frame, deep penetrating eyes, heavy eye-brows, finely-chiselled nose, massive head crowned with a forest of course hair brushed back. He tears off his eye-glasses, wipes them in order that he may find his way among all these chairs and benches, and strides majestically through the hall, giving his right and to one friend and the left to another until he comes to his chair in front. Again the door opens and Kristofer Janson rushes in,—tall, rather slender, erect, athletic, large head covered with a mass of chestnut hair combed back, noble radiant face, smiling, confident as a happy boy, saluting right and left; and I even thought he nodded approvingly to the observant little country urchin sitting with glistening eyes beside an elder brother, on one of the benches in a rear corner of the hall. When after more than half a century I try to visualize that assembly of mighty farmers—many of whom were able to trace their lineage to worthy and valiant forebears of five hundred or even a thousand years ago, those noble, intelligent, shining faces, those steady, attentive eyes—then I feel like emphasizing that vague impression that I found myself in the presence of something potentially great and mighty—men and women whose mental bells had been set a-swinging, teachable pupils of their great masters; a group destined to lead on in a great national awakening, to become one of the most consistently persistent advance guards of the New Freedom; one of the most vital and fruitful factors working for the advancement of orderly democracy, purposeful education, and social justice in the Europe of the Nineteenth Century.
The school was really a mission station of that same purposeful education in the central part of rural Norway, and there was present among these people a love of vital knowledge that perhaps made it unique in its time. There Kristofer Bruun lectured on_perhaps it was "Abraham's departure from his Sumerian home" or "The Wise Men from the East" or "Barkakha the Son of the Sun"—while Janson relieved the effect of his ponderous Spartan eloquence with a couple of bright chapters from the book he was then writing. Then Bjørnson arose and began, "Mr. Bruun, I cannot agree with you in what you said about those Eastern stories ..." Discussion followed, not only between these giants, but one after another the farmers arose in the hall and asked leave to speak. I repeat it: If one had been fortunate enough to be present at such a meeting at Vanheim or at its sister school Sagatun—a short distance from my old home—it was an experience never to be forgotten.
In a short time the great trio parted. One achieved world-fame as a poet, dynamic author and profound propagandist of the democratic idea, a challenging spokesman for suppressed minorities a generation before Woodrow Wilson; another opened a Unitarian mission in America; while the third remained to carry on the great work among the farmers for many more years. Their genius led them into different fields; their religious faith came in time to separate them; but they remained among the foremost educators of their people—each in his own way.
While at his school Janson wrote some of his best books. His activity as an educator of his people proceeded side by side with his literary production, and this two-fold activity may be traced everywhere in his books. In the selection of his themes as well as in the treatment of them the peasant instructor is very much in evidence, the minister who is eager to make good people of his readers. Thus pure literature may have lost, but the cultural education of the people gained. For this reason Janson's books were often severely handled by the literary critics, for they were deemed to do violence to the whole decalogue of esthetics. This he was aware of, and he continued deliberately to violate these rules. His people were in the main a dull, slow-moving, stiff-necked race. But Janson loved them, and, as a wise educator, he set to work with all his persuasive power to arouse them. For this reason we find that the poet nearly everywhere had to carry wood and water for the preacher and the sermoniser. By so doing, according to the literary wiseacres, he sinned grievously against his own God-given creative gift.
When in "From the Country" he converts the worthless young gypsy Aslak, the reader is left with the feeling that an improbability if not an impossibility has been accomplished, but he is carried along by the tender lyrical flow of the narrative. We are almost about to fold our hands in thanksgiving when the next moment's reflection convinces the common-sense reader that it is not the poet and the serious humanist he is dealing with, but the preacher and the philanthropist. In the preface to one of his books Mr. Janson said that he would rather be of some positive benefit to his countrymen than regale the tastes of a few refined readers. To do so must have involved a considerable sacrifice on his part. As the highly gifted and intelligent man Mr. Janson knew well the laws of esthetics, and the critics were at times almost merciless in calling his attention to the fact that these laws cannot be disregarded with impunity. For half a century he received their berating, but it proved of no avail. One at last realizes that this tireless perseverance had a stronger hold on Janson than the poet: It was his dream of childhood, his love as a man—this lover of souls, the minister. Above all else he must attend to his special mission as the people's teacher, to be of positive benefit to his countrymen.
The poets of the olden time, in the dreamy romantic period, were a species of men a little superior to all other people. They wore Spanish cloaks, broad-brimmed hats, ornaments in their button-holes, big wigs, and usually neglected to pay their board-bills. The poet of our time has come down to the earth where he takes part in the throbbing life of the present, and where he not infrequently carried aloft the banner of the future. Kristofer Janson was no exception. It was just his ambition to reach out a helping hand wherever needed and so to do all the good he could on earth. He had no wish to be a mere decoration in life, he wanted to donate something. He would not be merely a man who sat and wrote faultless books, he wanted chiefly to be the people's inspiring teacher.
His old friends understand this now, though we are not entirely reconciled as to the wisdom of it. I admired profoundly and I do still admire his willingness to give himself to the utmost for the good of the people; still I cannot help but deplore the fact that his voice as a poet and as an author is so comparatively weak, especially among the literary coterie in the old homeland. Highly gifted and creative minds are rare. In time he threw in his lot with us. He moved among us a common man among us common folk who had found a new home here in the West, willing to admire the great literary lights of his homeland, so willing to step aside and out of their way, though he himself often proved that as a story teller and as a lyric poet he could maintain his place beside the greatest. Bjørnson himself declared that there was not one among the highly gifted poets of the golden age of Norse literary production who could write such verse as Kristofer Janson. And so I repeat what we, the scattered liberals of Norse antecedents in America, gained, was forever lost to the literature of Norway.
While at the high-school he wrote "Sigmund Bresteson," a drama, "The Spellbound Fiddler," "Pictures from Iceland and Italy," "From Danish Times," "Our Grandparents," etc., and all of these were written in the peasant language. Where the poet was given free rein in these books, we received some of the finest things from Janson's pen; there are passages in "From Danish Times" and "Our Grandparents" that are among the finest things in the Norwegian language. But of course when Janson was to write a book about "The Danish Times," the most humiliating period in Norwegian History, it could not be merely a work of fiction, it had also to be historical to arouse in his beloved countrymen patriotic fervor.
But Janson was not a historical romancer, at least not in the generally accepted sense in which we use that term. There is something which the painter calls "atmosphere" in a painted picture. I have to say about Janson's "From Danish Times" that while it contained marvelously brilliant descriptions and while it still seems to retain much of its former popularity, it lacks historical climate. And Janson proved both in "From Danish Times" as well as in his greater work "Our Grandparents" that he was unable to infuse a sense of historical reality into his narrative.
Janson was a poet, not a historian or even a historical romancer; nevertheless he packed an enormous mass of historical material into these works. Why did he do it? Because it was not so important for him to provide a work of art as a work of history. He wanted to produce a popular historical narrative, brimful of patriotic Norse fervor, but also with dates and real personalities, descriptions that would have dynamic educational influence on his beloved slow-moving Norwegian farmers—a sort of historical A B C with illustrations—to supplement his lectures at the peasant's high-school. Thus the instructor again over-ruled the poet.
The conditions which in our time are imposed on the historical romancer are almost staggering. The author must possess both the gift of the historian to see into the period he intends to portray, and of course he ought also to be gifted with creative imagination. He must carry us backward hundreds of years in time, provide the historical atmosphere in every sentence and so produce an illusion that never deceives us. The noted French author, Gustave Flaubert, ushered in a new method in historical romance that made him master in this species of composition. He spend months in the libraries merely in order to obtain information about a single point in his historical romance; he searched through files of old copper prints merely to come to a clear understanding as to the bearing and the manner of dress of a past age. He dug through ninety-eight volumes as a preliminary study for his "Salambo"— a work in which he wrote about Carthage as it was twenty-two centuries ago— besides all the numerous journeys he undertook in all directions in southern Europe, Asia, and Africa. And all this accumulation of learning is adjusted to the esthetic enjoyment, with the most palpable probability. There is a perfect stench of twenty-two hundred year old atmosphere in "Salambo" and the manners and customs from the time of Hamlicar.
Now there are very few who are thus both poet and patiently persevering historian in one person, and our friend Janson was not one of them. Therefore "From Danish Times" and "Our Grandparents" cannot strictly be judged as historical works; as poetical compositions, they are simply failures; and Janson, the critics declare, did it on purpose.
I have spent so much time on this, because I wish it to help demonstrate something, a peculiarity in this man's make-up, and I beg you to be patient. I wish to try to explain the coherences in his development, and to examine a little that which was the determining motive in this strange and much misunderstood human being.
Kristofer Janson became a reformer of the Norse language; it cost him one of the wealthiest parishes, possibly the primacy in the church of Norway. He became a teacher in a peasant high-school; it cost him the larger share of his inherited fortune. During his whole life-time he was a religious propagandist; it almost cost him the poet's immortality. But if pure literature lost much, the Scandinavian people on both sides of the Atlantic gained much. As a personality he was one of Nature's few chosen noblemen.
If we gather all that Mr. Janson produced during his intensely varied and strangely colorful career, it makes a respectable pile of books, some forty volumes all told. And his production covers nearly the whole range of poetical composition. There are historical narratives, biographies, poems, dramas, fairy tales, hymns, and novels. The verdict of the critics is fairy unanimous as to Mr. Janson's special gifts. He was a lyric poet and story-teller of rare charm. In the other species of poetic production one is left with the uneasy feeling of dealing with one who had strayed into an alien field. He seems to have been perfectly at home in the novel. There is wonderful movement in those stories of his, a warm breeze of intriguing sentiment sweeps through them, and his rich lyrical feeling pulsates through the whole from the first page to the last.
There is a clearly marked line in Mr. Janson's development, from the delivery of the freshman oration at the University to the later years spent in giving a series of wonderful lectures before tens of thousands of skilled laborers and farmers from North Cape to the southernmost extremity of Norway. And we are now able to trace every step in this development. There is no deviation to this side or that, no nervous haste; quietly this man advances in his persevering, uninterrupted aggressiveness. But he kept step with the times; he was ever to be found under one or another of the most exposed banners of progress.
Mr. Janson soon came to feel that the "ore-bed" out of which the peasant novel had come was just about exhausted in the homeland; and that to continue would simply be to repeat himself; and more especially his all-over-towering contemporary, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Were there no openings in other directions? How did people actually live? What did they live for, what did they do? Surely this generally speaking dull, slow moving and rather penurious Norwegian peasantry was not the whole world!
And Mr. Janson discovered slowly and by degrees that out in Europe they had already set a whole world a-swinging; new intellects, large and capacious had come forward, great thinkers had appeared, men with new thoughts and ideas that no longer could be resisted. The Eighteenth Century was dead or dying. The spirit of the Nineteenth Century had burst out in waving flames in Art, in Religion, in Science, in Literature; a whole world's sympathy with hungering, moribund, enslaved humanity had broken loose. They made republics, they blew up empires with bombs and discharged the Devil with his horns, claws and curly tails. There were uprisings along the whole front out in the great world; they ransacked the ship's hold for dead corpses; and this movement went forward not plaintively or apologetically, but defiantly as with martial music; the beating of drums and reverberating shouts of victory were heard in the distance. The old world was cracking in its joints, the revolutionary waves rose to mountain heights and the frothing foam reached even up to the self-conceited, well-organized bureaucratic coterie ensconced behind the rockbound coast of the Northland. Yea! the people had awakened!
Our poor peasant-tutor and poet-preacher suddenly saw new worlds revolving before his eyes. He had no choice. His place was not in the junk-heap of departed greatness. He would stand as a man in the life of his time. He would assist in life-saving, assist in quenching, assist in clearing the ship's hold of dead corpses... It is at this time that Janson began to doubt the Lutheran creed. And it was a very dangerous thing to doubt the Lutheran creed, the verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, in Norway. The church was a close corporation, part of the state government. Of course the Lutheran hierarchy could not cause you to be crucified or hanged, or send you to Siberia or to some Devil's Island in the sea, for doubting its creed; but it could very effectively prevent you from earning a living.
To my mind, the churchmen looked merely at the surface of the matter when they called doubt sinful. Perhaps only the sordid side of the matter influenced their attitude and judgment. Sound doubt is an essential element in all intellectual activity. Sound doubt is not sinful but rather an indication of potential power. It is honest doubt of the old that has been the chief incentive in leading our race forward from the earliest dawn of history to where we now are. But it was a very risky matter to change one's attitude toward religious and social truths in that old priest-ridden and kirk-ridden homeland. It cost Mr. Janson his position as a teacher, and thereby the prospect of being able to live in his native land.
At this time, or about 1880, there appeared a strange rainbow of hope and great promise, far in the west.
The chair of things Scandinavian at Madison, Wisconsin, was about to be vacant, and the authorities were looking round for a suitable man for the place. I understand that a tentative offer was made to Mr. Janson and that he asked for time in which to consider the matter and thus to prepare himself for the task.
Some sort of church conference was going on at Madison at about this time. A few of the leaders—the stately, grand-duke-like Joseph Henry Crooker, the unassuming scholarly J. T. Sunderland, and the hairy, much-bearded and colorful Jenkin Lloyd Jones—were invited to lunch at Asgaard, the home of Professor B. B. Anderson, who was at that time professor of things Scandinavian at the University. The conversation drifted to a consideration of the Scandinavians who were then pouring into the country at the rate of fifty thousand or so a year. There were, even at that early age, thousands of prosperous Norwegian farmers in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Dakota. They had made a fair record for themselves during the Civil War. To be sure, their chief priests were strong pro-slavery men and against practically everything that may be called Americanism. They were here primarily to form a Norse Colony if possible even more high-church-like than the most reactionary state church group in the homeland. Inferentially they made it plain that while Hebrew was Jehovah's favorite language, he might be disposed to listen to petitions and prayers made to him in the sacred Norwegian and of course also in Dr. Martin Luther's native language, as it was spoken at the Concordia Seminary at St. Louis. The rest remained very doubtful. But the great mass of the settlers, while very submissive to the dictates of the priesthood, were not entirely destitute of common sense. There were even some among them who had a little sense of humor. They were humble folk, most of them, farmer-tenants, farm-laborers, or small farmers from the old homeland. But they had come here to stay, and to take their share in the up-building of the country as well as to improve their own conditions. Wisconsin sent three regiments largely made up of Norse settlers, and one of them almost entirely so, into the service for the preservation of the Union. One of these regiments, the 17th, became the "Pride of Wisconsin." It served under General Thomas at Chickamauga where, during the most critical moment of that desperate battle, it appears to have misunderstood the signal to fall back at discretion and, instead, advanced to what its brave Colonel Hans Hegg deemed an even more endangered position. The brave Colonel fell, nearly all his staff fell, and more than half of the men fell; but the rest held on doggedly until relief arrived. This, and a few other things that they were reputed to have done, created a rather favorable impression about these people among the natives. And so we learn that this little group of liberal minds, while eating their lunch at Professor Anderson's home, were pondering the advisability of opening some sort of a liberal mission among the farmer-folk from the old Northland.
Suddenly Professor Anderson rose, rapped on the table and said that if they were really in earnest about doing this thing, now was the time and he thought he could point out to them the right man for the task. Some correspondence ensued. The soul of Beacon Hill became much troubled, and justly so. It was a loosely organized little corporation, this Beacon Hill of fifty years ago. It was the custodian of the most precious spiritual treasure in the world. It was the responsible representative of the ripest fruitage of civilized Christian nurture ever produced in any considerable quantity in this or any land. But was not this treasure intended primarily, if not exclusively, for the children of the House of Israel, at home or in dispersion? And was it meet to take the children's bread and cast it before these intruding non-Hebrew speaking proselytes of the Gate? Serious questions these. For the field to be covered was very great, and the resources with which to provide seed and sowers were very modest.
But some of these custodians at Beacon Hill were descendants of men who had dared to take great risks in new ventures on the seven seas, and these men decided to take great risks and to make a venture of a new kind. And in view of these things they made generous provision for the new venture.
Next we find our poet-preacher crossing the Atlantic on a tour of inspection. A three months lecture trip from coast to coast followed. Lectures on literary topics, fairy tales, sagas, closing with the formation of a group of free religionist at Minneapolis. Here too an obliging friend, a member of the real estate tribe, sold him a roomy corner lot way out on Nicollet Avenue at not to exceed twice its actual value. A contract was entered into for the erection of a substantial dwelling for the family. Thus went the last eight or ten thousand of the patrimony from the Janson estate at Bergen. A return to Norway to wind up his affairs was followed by the migration and launching of the new venture in the new world.
Soon we find Kristofer Janson established in Minneapolis, swinging his whip of cords lustily over the heads of the chief-priests, pharisees and sadducees of the rapidly forming Norse hierarchy in America. But here it was a case of Greek meeting Greek in deadly combat. A perfect barrage was levelled at this dangerous intruder. Solemn S. O. S. warnings were sent out from the pulpits of the more than two thousand Norwegian Lutheran churches throughout the Middle West. Practically all the Norwegian papers were closed to him. All the scribes in the religious reserve among his countrymen organized a merciless campaign of misrepresentation and vituperation against him. He and his Unitarianism were denounced as worse than heathenism.
This man who was surrounded by bigots on every hand, and bitterly hated not only by the few earnest believers but also by the concentrated conventional hypocricy among his countrymen, wrote these line in my album during the bitterest period of the raging conflict:
Fram til fridom til alt som er godt;
Kjempa mod alt som er stygt og raadt,
Turba burt taarar elska burt trods;
Fram til dem Gud som elskar os.
Battle for freedom to do what is good;
Fight against all that is brutal and rude;
Conquer your foe by the power of love;
God be your guide wherever you rove.
Yes, this man, who was known to almost every child in his native land, whose poetical compositions all people had read, came to America, where they scarcely knew his name, to break up new soil and prepare for a new kind of harvest among his countrymen on this side of the globe. He had been longing, as Bjørnson's "Arne," for "twenty years over the Lofty Mountains"; he had been waiting for twenty years to reach the goal, the dream of his childhood, his hope, his love: to become a minister. This was a fidelity to the ideals of youth almost unique.
His religious emancipation commenced at about the same time as Bjørnson's, his great contemporary, or a little later; but while Bjørnson the giant went the whole length of religious radicalism, so that he might properly be called a radical theistic humanist, Janson remained to the end almost an orthodox Unitarian. But that which held his piety in check was his intense need of progress, his wish to keep step with his time. At an age when most men cease to take chances and sink down to a safe level, Mr. Janson remained the same patient seeker. He was endowed with one of Mother Nature's most precious gifts, that of always keeping young. As a minister, he was an emancipated, modern man. He had little sympathy with the sort of sanctimoniousness so common among the Norse priesthood that even when they are to blow their noses must preface it by saying: "If God be willing."
While the minister in Janson for the most part harmed the poet, the minister was scarcely able to write a sermon without the aid of the poet. Once heard it instantly; while the minister brought out the text and the subject matter, the poet formed it into shape and infused irresistible life and light into the mass of the subject matter.
Few of those who did not have an opportunity to hear him can have any clear idea of what he gave us every Sunday morning at the Old Nazareth church in Minneapolis, or his never to be forgotten public reading of the new Norse classics at the same place Sunday evenings. Mr. Janson was no theorizer. He had a perfect horror of the futile dialectics of Hegelianism—the dominant school of philosophy in Central and Northern Europe during the larger part of the Nineteenth Century. He was no systematic theologian. His great strength lay in his wonderful ability to absorb, to understand, and to reproduce vital things. He was a bearer of light and a giver of life. Here the poet helped the minister to anticipate, to feel delicately what was right.
Yes, a strange new life radiated from that stone basement at Twelfth Avenue, South, and Ninth Street, Minneapolis, on Sunday mornings during the Nineties. Usually every seat was occupied. All sorts and conditions of men came to listen. The preacher was filled with his subject, glowing flames rose from every line in his carefully prepared sermon, and a fellow-feeling for the rights of the suffering and the submerged such as no other minister in these parts dared to express at that time. And we, who were young then, were entranced by all this goodness. We forgot all about the masterly eloquence, we forgot all about the egotism and selfishness out in the cold world, we were lifted as on invisible wings to behold vistas of moral grandeur, and we had an unaccountable urge to weep and to vow to consecrate ourselves to do things that count. For behind the inspired preacher emerged the image of that other Son of Man, who two thousand years ago, on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, implored his hearers to "love one another."
Mr. Janson's life had its full measure of storm and stress; the tragic was not absent. But he bore all serenely, and retained the spirit of youth to the end. He was a child of his generation, waging an uncompromising battle to retain his personal integrity and giving his life without stint for the service of his fellows.
What do I mean by that? He did not merely endeavor to infuse the spirit of the time into his people. With all his rare gifts, the touch of the born artist, the superiority of the man of genius, he advanced the thought which had gripped himself, the thought which in one form or another is manifestly destined to lead in the further unfoldment of man—Democracy—more of it and not less, not the show-democracy of the crafty, unscrupulous, irresponsible, flag-waving office-seeker, but enlightened democracy, fit to grip to itself the devotion of mature men and women, democracy in politics, democracy in religion, democracy in our social relations throughout the whole world, a deeper realization of the fundamental fact of life that you and I are not safe unless we give unreservedly all there is in us for the promotion of the welfare of all. So it should be, so it must be, if civilization is not to perish from the earth.
I loved Kristofer Janson for his great optimistic power and the heart cheerfulness that characterize all he said and all he did. As the questions of his time appeared, he wove them into his program; the labor question, the cause of temperance, the cause of peace, women's suffrage and, above all, the cause of civilized religion everywhere at all times. In contradistinction to the poet Vinje, who called him a priest in the church militant of Norway, I would term him a minister in the struggling church of the Twentieth Century, where it is less the true faith than the upright life which saves men.