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2 - “Germans Make Cows and Women Work”: American Perceptions of Germans as Reported in American Travel Books, 1800-1840

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

David E. Barclay
Affiliation:
Kalamazoo College, Michigan
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Summary

“In the manners and conversation of these persons, upon the whole, we found a frankness, a cordiality, and good nature truly republican, or which at least I love to consider as such,” wrote John Quincy Adams upon encountering the inhabitants of Saxony during a tour of Germany in 1800. Eighteen years later George Bancroft thought that the people and professors of Göttingen were friendly, too. The first professor he met, “Mr. Benecke,” struck him as “a friendly man,” and he also reported that “Professor Blumenbach and his family . . . are kind to me indeed.” Well over a decade later, the poet and frustrated Bowdoin College professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow confided to his diary that “Counsellor Bottiger,” the first person he visited upon the recommendation of his friend Washington Irving, had “received me very cordially.”

How does one interpret these three American reactions to Germans? Do they tell us that Germans in the early part of the nineteenth century were invariably friendly to American travelers, to Americans in general, or even to all foreigners? Longfellow's friend Washington Irving thought that such a conclusion would be rash. Upon arriving in Aachen, admittedly out of humor and feeling ill, he wrote to his sister, Sarah Van Wart: “The Germans are full of old customs and usages, which are obsolete in other parts of the world. . . . The people have an antiquated look, particularly the lower orders. The women dress in peculiar costumes.”

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Chapter
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Transatlantic Images and Perceptions
Germany and America since 1776
, pp. 41 - 64
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1997

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