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New York, January 3, 1921.
Catiline: Preface
The drama Catiline, with which I entered upon my literary career, was written
during the winter of 1848-49, that is in my twenty-first year.
I was at the time in Grimstad, under the necessity of earning with my hands the
wherewithal of life and the means for instruction preparatory to my taking the
entrance examinations to the university. The age was one of great stress. The
February revolution, the uprisings in Hungary and elsewhere, the Slesvig war,--
all this had a great effect upon and hastened my development, however
immature it may have remained for some time after. I wrote ringing poems of
encouragement to the Magyars, urging them for the sake of liberty and humanity
to hold out in the righteous struggle against the "tyrants"; I wrote a long series of
sonnets to King Oscar, containing particularly, as far as I can remember, an
appeal to set aside all petty considerations and to march forthwith at the head of
his army to the aid of our brothers on the outermost borders of Slesvig. Inasmuch
as I now, in contrast to those times, doubt that my winged appeals would in any
material degree have helped the cause of the Magyars or the Scandinavians, I
consider it fortunate that they remained within the more private sphere of the
manuscript. I could not, however, on more formal occasions keep from
expressing myself in the impassioned spirit of my poetic effusions, which
meanwhile brought me nothing--from friends or non-friends--but a questionable
reward; the former greeted me as peculiarly fitted for the unintentionally droll, and
the latter thought it in the highest degree strange that a young person in my
subordinate position could undertake to inquire into affairs concerning which not
even they themselves dared to entertain an opinion. I owe it to truth to add that
my conduct at various times did not justify any great hope that society might
count on an increase in me of civic virtue, inasmuch as I also, with epigrams and
caricatures, fell out with many who had deserved better of me and whose
friendship I in reality prized. Altogether,--while a great struggle raged on the
outside, I found myself on a war-footing with the little society where I lived
cramped by conditions and circumstances of life.
Such was the situation when amid the preparations for my examinations I read
through Sallust's Catiline together with Cicero's Catilinarian orations. I swallowed
these documents, and a few months later my drama was complete. As will be
seen from my book, I did not share at that time the conception of the two ancient
Roman writers respecting the character and conduct of Catiline, and I am even
now prone to believe that there must after all have been something great and
consequential in a man whom Cicero, the assiduous counsel of the majority, did