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Letters from an
American Farmer

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There are at least two good reasons why I should have the honor and pleasure of writing a short preface to this new edition of Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, which makes a tardy appearance one hundred and eleven years after Matthew Carey's homely reprint of the first London edition. It was partly in consequence of some praise of mine that the present publishers made an examination of the book and determined to try to give it a new lease of life; it was also in consequence of my interest in the matter that Mr. Lewisohn undertook the task of editing the volume.

That such a task should be undertaken has been very clear to me since I read an article by Professor Selden L. Whitcomb on 'Nature in Early American Literature,' which was published in The Sewanee Review for February, 1894. Professor Whitcomb paid such a tribute to Crèvecoeur's merits as a poet-naturalist that I could not rest satisfied until I had


a copy

a copy of the Letters and read them for myself. Since then, although I have been permitted to add my mite to the slowly accumulating critical testimony with regard to the enduring charm of one of the few early American books that fairly deserves to be ranked as a minor classic, I have not been able to rest satisfied because, owing to the rarity of Crèvecoeur's volume, the pleasure I had received could not be shared with many others. There is no reason now, however, why the sane, sympathetic, open-eyed Norman-American of a century and a quarter ago should not make as fast, if not almost as many friends among modern readers as he won for himself during his lifetime by his genial Letters and, we cannot doubt, by his genial manners. Surely the latter-day public ought to be willing to welcome an author who can no longer lure them to take up their abodes in the wilderness, but may lure them to forget in the ideal past the cares of the real present.

But even should his Letters in this new form be most kindly received, one regret must still remain to all admirers of Crèvecoeur, a regret connected with the man himself. Despite his efforts, Mr. Lewisohn has been able to add but little to our knowledge of Crèvecoeur's life and character. French antiquaries have been consulted, the records of the French


Consulate in New York have been searched, and various masses of correspondence have been examined; but nothing of special biographical value has been found save the letters from Mme. d' Houdetot and Crèvecoeur printed at the end of the volume. For knowledge of these, permission to use them, and other help, our hearty thanks are due to Professor Albert H. Smyth of Philadelphia.

To enter here upon any discussion of Crèvecoeur's merits as a writer would be not only to intrude upon Mr. Lewisohn's province, but to repeat myself. I cannot forbear, however, calling attention to the probability that Crèvecoeur's ideal American of 1780, although nowhere to be seen in the provincial republic of those days, was an actual presence through the formative influence he exerted. Crèvecoeur's imagination bodied forth such an ideal citizen of an ideal land as some old-time Americans fancied themselves to be and as most of them wished to be. In other words, the literary farmer gave early expression to an ideal which

has been held up to us in one way or another for more than a century—an ideal which is still effective save upon sophisticated communities and individuals. Such a service is easily misunderstood and underestimated, but Crèvecoeur's services as a lover and interpreter


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