A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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We have to study much more now than at first, but as I am less behind the others than I was, it is not so hard. I shall change many things in father's place when I come home; for there is much that is wrong there, and it is wonderful that it has prospered as well as it has. But I shall make everything right, for I have learned a great deal. I want to go to some place where I can put into practice all I now know, and so I must look for a high position when I get through here.

No one here considers Jon Hatlen as clever as he is thought to be at home with us; but as he has a gard of his own, this does not concern any one but himself.

Many who go from here get very high salaries, but they are paid so well because ours is the best agricultural school in the country. Some say the one in the next district is better, but this is by no means true. There are two words here: one is called Theory, the other Practice. It is well to have them both, for one is nothing without the other; but still the latter is the better. Now the former means, to understand the cause and principle of a work; the latter, to be able to perform it: as, for instance, in regard to a quagmire; for there are many who know what should be done with a quagmire and yet do it wrong, because they are not able to put their knowledge into practice. Many, on the other hand, are skillful in doing, but do not know what ought to be done; and thus they too may make bad work of it, for there are many kinds of quagmires. But we at the agricultural school learn both words. The superintendent is so skillful that he has no equal. At the last agricultural meeting for the whole country, he led in two discussions, and the other superintendents had only one each, and upon careful consideration his statements were always sustained. At the meeting before the last, where he was not present, there was nothing but idle talk. The lieutenant who teaches surveying was chosen by the superintendent only on account of his ability, for the other schools have no lieutenant. He is so clever that he was the best scholar at the military academy.

The school-master asks if I go to church. Yes, of course I go to church, for now the priest has an assistant, and his sermons fill all the congregation with terror, and it is a pleasure to listen to him. He belongs to the new religion they have in Christiania, and people think him too strict, but it is good for them that he is so.

Just now we are studying much history, which we have not done before, and it is curious to observe all that has happened in the world, but especially in our country, for we have always won, except when we have lost, and then we always had the smaller number. We now have liberty; and no other nation has so much of it as we, except America; but there they are not happy. Our freedom should be loved by us above everything.

Now I will close for this time, for I have written a very long letter. The school-master will read it, I suppose, and when he answers for you, get him to tell me some news about one thing or another, for he never does so of himself. But now accept hearty greetings from your affectionate son,



Now I must tell you that we have had examinations, and that I stood 'excellent' in many things, and 'very good' in writing and surveying, but 'good' in Norwegian composition. This comes, the superintendent says, from my not having read enough, and he has made me a present of some of Ole Vig's books, which are matchless, for I understand everything in them. The superintendent is very kind to me, and he tells us many things. Everything here is very inferior compared with what they have abroad; we understand almost nothing, but learn everything from the Scotch and Swiss, although horticulture we learn from the Dutch. Many visit these countries. In Sweden, too, they are much more clever than we, and there the superintendent himself has been. I have been here now nearly a year, and I thought that I had learned a great deal; but when I heard what those who passed the examination knew, and considered that they would not amount to anything either when they came into contact with foreigners, I became very despondent. And then the soil here in Norway is so poor compared with what it is abroad; it does not at all repay us for what we do with it. Moreover, people will not learn from the experience of others; and even if they would, and if the soil was much better, they really have not the money to cultivate it. It is remarkable that things have prospered as well as they have.

I am now in the highest class, and am to remain there a year before I get through. But most of my companions have left and I long for home. I feel alone, although I am not so by any means, but one has such a strange feeling when one has been long absent. I once thought I should become so much of a scholar here; but I am not making the progress I anticipated.

What shall I do with myself when I leave here? First, of course, I will come home; afterwards, I suppose, I will have to seek something to do, but it must not be far away.

Farewell, now, dear parents! Give greetings to all who inquire for me, and tell them that I have everything pleasant here but that now I long to be at home again.

Your affectionate son,



With this I ask if you will deliver the inclosed
letter and not speak of it to any one. And if you will not, then you
must burn it.

You will no doubt be much surprised at receiving a letter from me;
but you need not be for I only wish to ask how you are. You must send
me a few words as soon as possible, giving me all particulars.
Regarding myself, I have to say that I shall be through here in a year.
Most respectfully,


Your letter was duly received by me from the school-master, and I will answer since you request it. But I am afraid to do so, now that you are so learned; and I have a letter-writer, but it does not help me. So I will have to try what I can do, and you must take the will for the deed; but do not show this, for if you do you are not the one I think you are. Nor must you keep it, for then some one might see it, but you must burn it, and this you will have to promise me to do. There were so many things I wanted to write about, but I do not quite dare. We have had a good harvest; potatoes bring a high price, and here at the Heidegards we have plenty of them. But the bear has done much mischief among the cattle this summer: he killed two of Ole Nedregard's cattle and injured one belonging to our houseman so badly that it had to be killed for beef. I am weaving a large piece of cloth, something like a Scotch plaid, and it is difficult. And now I will tell you that I am still at home, and that there are those who would like to have it otherwise. Now I have no more to write about for this time, and so I must bid you farewell.


P.S.—Be sure and burn this letter.


As I have told you before, Oyvind, he who walks with God has come into the good inheritance. But now you must listen to my advice, and that is not to take the world with yearning and tribulation, but to trust in God and not allow your heart to consume you, for if you do you will have another god besides Him. Next I must inform you that your father and your mother are well, but I am troubled with one of my hips; for now the war breaks out afresh with all that was suffered in it. What youth sows age must reap; and this is true both in regard to the mind and the body, which now throbs and pains, and tempts one to make any number of lamentations. But old age should not complain; for wisdom flows from wounds, and pain preaches patience, that man may grow strong enough for the last journey. To-day I have taken up my pen for many reasons, and first and above all for the sake of Marit, who has become a God-fearing maiden, but who is as light of foot as a reindeer, and of rather a fickle disposition. She would be glad to abide by one thing, but is prevented from so doing by her nature; but I have often before seen that with hearts of such weak stuff the Lord is indulgent and long-suffering, and does not allow them to be tempted beyond their strength, lest they break to pieces, for she is very fragile. I duly gave her your letter, and she hid it from all save her own heart. If God will lend His aid in this matter, I have nothing against it, for Marit is most charming to young men, as plainly can be seen, and she has abundance of earthly goods, and the heavenly ones she has too, with all her fickleness. For the fear of God in her mind is like water in a shallow pond: it is there when it rains, but it is gone when the sun shines.

My eyes can endure no more at present, for they see well at a distance, but pain me and fill with tears when I look at small objects. In conclusion, I will advise you, Oyvind, to have your God with you in all your desires and undertakings, for it is written: "Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit." Ecclesiastes, iv. 6. Your old school-master,



You have my thanks for your letter, which I have read and burned, as you requested. You write of many things, but not at all concerning that of which I wanted you to write. Nor do I dare write anything definite before I know how you are in every respect. The school-master's letter says nothing that one can depend on, but he praises you and he says you are fickle. That, indeed, you were before. Now I do not know what to think, and so you must write, for it will not be well with me until you do. Just now I remember best about your coming to the cliff that last evening and what you said then. I will say no more this time, and so farewell.

Most respectfully,



The school-master has given me another letter from you, and I have just read it, but I do not understand it in the least, and that, I dare say, is because I am not learned. You want to know how it is with me in every respect; and I am healthy and well, and there is nothing at all the matter with me. I eat heartily, especially when I get milk porridge. I sleep at night, and occasionally in the day-time too. I have danced a great deal this winter, for there have been many parties here, and that has been very pleasant. I go to church when the snow is not too deep; but we have had a great deal of snow this winter. Now, I presume, you know everything, and if you do not, I can think of nothing better than for you to write to me once more.



I have received your letter, but you seem inclined to leave me no wiser than I was before. Perhaps this may be meant for an answer. I do not know. I dare not write anything that I wish to write, for I do not know you. But possibly you do not know me either.

You must not think that I am any longer the soft cheese you squeezed the water away from when I sat watching you dance. I have laid on many shelves to dry since that time. Neither am I like those long-haired dogs who drop their ears at the least provocation and take flight from people, as in former days. I can stand fire now.

Your letter was very playful, but it jested where it should not have jested at all, for you understood me very well, and you could see that I did not ask in sport, but because of late I can think of nothing else than the subject I questioned you about. I was waiting in deep anxiety, and there came to me only foolery and laughter.

Farewell, Marit Heidegards, I shall not look at you too much, as I did at that dance. May you both eat well, and sleep well, and get your new web finished, and above all, may you be able to shovel away the snow which lies in front of the church-door.

Most respectfully,



Notwithstanding my advanced years, and the weakness of my eyes, and the pain in my right hip, I must yield to the importunity of the young, for we old people are needed by them when they have caught themselves in some snare. They entice us and weep until they are set free, but then at once run away from us again, and will take no further advice.

Now it is Marit; she coaxes me with many sweet words to write at the same time she does, for she takes comfort in not writing alone. I have read your letter; she thought that she had Jon Hatlen or some other fool to deal with, and not one whom school-master Baard had trained; but now she is in a dilemma. However, you have been too severe, for there are certain women who take to jesting in order to avoid weeping, and who make no difference between the two. But it pleases me to have you take serious things seriously, for otherwise you could not laugh at nonsense.

Concerning the feelings of both, it is now apparent from many things that you are bent on having each other. About Marit I have often been in doubt, for she is like the wind's course; but I have now learned that notwithstanding this she has resisted Jon Hatlen's advances, at which her grandfather's wrath is sorely kindled. She was happy when your offer came, and if she jested it was from joy, not from any harm. She has endured much, and has done so in order to wait for him on whom her mind was fixed. And now you will not have her, but cast her away as you would a naughty child.

This was what I wanted to tell you. And this counsel I must add, that you should come to an understanding with her, for you can find enough else to be at variance with. I am like the old man who has lived through three generations; I have seen folly and its course.

Your mother and father send love by me. They are expecting you home; but I would not write of this before, lest you should become homesick. You do not know your father; he is like a tree which makes no moan until it is hewn down. But if ever any mischance should befall you, then you will learn to know him, and you will wonder at the richness of his nature. He has had heavy burdens to bear, and is silent in worldly matters; but your mother has relieved his mind from earthly anxiety, and now daylight is beginning to break through the gloom.

Now my eyes grow dim, my hand refuses to do more. Therefore I commend you to Him whose eye ever watches, and whose hand is never weary.



You seem to be displeased with me, and this greatly grieves me. For I did not mean to make you angry. I meant well. I know I have often failed to do rightly by you, and that is why I write to you now; but you must not show the letter to any one. Once I had everything just as I desired, and then I was not kind; but now there is no one who cares for me, and I am very wretched. Jon Hatlen has made a lampoon about me, and all the boys sing it, and I no longer dare go to the dances. Both the old people know about it, and I have to listen to many harsh words. Now I am sitting alone writing, and you must not show my letter.

You have learned much and are able to advise me, but you are now far away. I have often been down to see your parents, and have talked with your mother, and we have become good friends; but I did not like to say anything about it, for you wrote so strangely. The school-master only makes fun of me, and he knows nothing about the lampoon, for no one in the parish would presume to sing such a thing to him. I stand alone now, and have no one to speak with. I remember when we were children, and you were so kind to me; and I always sat on your sled, and I could wish that I were a child again.

I cannot ask you to answer me, for I dare not do so. But if you will answer just once more I will never forget it in you, Oyvind.


Please burn this letter; I scarcely know whether I dare send it.


Thank you for your letter; you wrote it in a lucky hour. I will tell you now, Marit, that I love you so much that I can scarcely wait here any longer; and if you love me as truly in return all the lampoons of Jon and harsh words of others shall be like leaves which grow too plentifully on the tree. Since I received your letter I feel like a new being, for double my former strength has come to me, and I fear no one in the whole world. After I had sent my last letter I regretted it so that I almost became ill. And now you shall hear what the result of this was. The superintendent took me aside and asked what was the matter with me; he fancied I was studying too hard. Then he told me that when my year was out I might remain here one more, without expense. I could help him with sundry things, and he would teach me more. Then I thought that work was the only thing I had to rely on, and I thanked him very much; and I do not yet repent it, although now I long for you, for the longer I stay here the better right I shall have to ask for you one day. How happy I am now! I work like three people, and never will I be behind-hand in any work! But you must have a book that I am reading, for there is much in it about love. I read in it in the evening when the others are sleeping, and then I read your letter over again. Have you thought about our meeting? I think of it so often, and you, too, must try and find out how delightful it will be. I am truly happy that I have toiled and studied so much, although it was hard before; for now I can say what I please to you, and smile over it in my heart.

I shall give you many books to read, that you may see how much tribulation they have borne who have truly loved each other, and that they would rather die of grief than forsake each other. And that is what we would do, and do it with the greatest joy. True, it will be nearly two years before we see each other, and still longer before we get each other; but with every day that passes there is one day less to wait; we must think of this while we are working.

My next letter shall be about many things; but this evening I have no more paper, and the others are asleep. Now I will go to bed and think of you, and I will do so until I fall asleep.

Your friend,


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