Reprinted by permission from the author.


From that point on, Anderson refused to reconcile with Oftedal.

And Oftedal, no shrinking violet, did not wither under the attacks.

Oftedal was a fearless point man and spoke and wrote without second-guessing.

Words came freely for the leader, professor, and editor of the Folkebladet, which Oftedal founded in 1877 to raise support for Augsburg’s ministry.

In those weekly columns, Oftedal knew what he wanted to say and typically said it—in print.

Among Folkebladet’s readers (the subscription list grew to 4,244 in 1896), Oftedal quickly struck a cord—or lightning. (49)

In the folksy and bold “People’s Paper,” Oftedal’s articles could be humorous, spiritually uplifting, and acute.

A case in point is Oftedal’s newspaper statements about Bjørnson during the Norwegian celebrity’s American tour of 1880-1881, engendered mocking criticism.

“At the circus one looks for the clown,” Oftedal wrote: “Is it not the same with Bjørnson?” (50)

Opponents decried the comment: it was out of character for a professor of his standing to publish such an insult.

When Oftedal refused to apologize, the editor of Budstikken, a Norwegian language newspaper that supported Bjørnson, said Oftedal

“. . . could never open his mouth without having a toad jump out.” (51)

Comments historian Nina Draxten, a long-time English professor at the University of Minnesota:

“Sven Oftedal was highly gifted—a scholar, an eloquent speaker, and a beautiful singer. He was, however, not one to shrink from controversy and, once involved, he used little restraint in verbally pummeling an opponent.” (52)

Draxten further states that

Oftedal had become well known for his broadsides.

In 1874—shortly after he arrived in American—had published a scathing attack on the Norwegian Synod that, even in those days of bitter exchanges, made something of a high-water mark. Later, angered by the prospect of Bjornson’s lecture tour, he belittled the poet as a “clown,” an epithet critics then and later found singularly inept. (53)

Whether or not historians concur with Draxten’s assessment of the Augsburg professor’s adroitness, few doubted his cool under criticism.

His willingness to stand pat in the face of ridicule was a personal trademark for the Augsburg leader.

Anderson chafed when Oftedal wrote to him,

“From the first moment that I met you I have known you, I repeat that I have known you. . . . Oh that you would abandon your mania for popularity… and devote yourself to an idea.”

Anderson asked him to take it back, saying he must have written it in haste.

Oftedal replied, “I am not someone who says something one day and another the next.” (54)

That was it for Anderson.

The “bonds of friendship” were forever severed, the professor said.

He was not willing to speak to Oftedal as a friend again.

Lloyd Hustvedt’s analysis of the correspondence between the two helps clarify the breakdown of the relationship.

The historian found the correspondence among Anderson’s papers and offers a summary of his translations in the piece.

Hustvedt portrays Oftedal as the calm, steady hand in the correspondence, still optimistic about repairing the friendship.

Anderson, on the other hand, comes off cold and distant.

One letter, dated July 31, 1873, reveals a potential cause for Anderson’s agenda at the start.

Hustvedt said Anderson’s letters show a man who hoped to recruit Oftedal as a writer for John A. Johnson’s newspaper, Amerika.

In the correspondence, Anderson instructed wife Karina to tell Johnson the good news. Oftedal was coming to America to “work on his paper.” (55)

Anderson wrote Karina again on August 23, 1873: “Last night I called on Oftedal, who probably will come to America.” (56)

Though Anderson did not know it, the Augsburg faculty position was a done-deal for Oftedal.

The seminary’s first candidate, Pastor J. Storjohan, had declined an offer from Weenaas and Gjertson, who traveled to Norway to make the offer.

If Storjohan declined, the Augsburg representatives were instructed to offer the position to Oftedal.

The promising theologian accepted. “Anderson may have become disappointed,” concludes Hustvedt.

His prospective journalist was now a new professor.

“He wrote his friend, shortly after the latter’s arrival in America, to the effect that their theological differences made it quite impossible for them to work together for the enlightenment of the Norwegian Americans.” (57)

Hustvedt describes Oftedal’s letter of 8 April 1874 as a “quiet appeal that they should continue as friends on a frank and open basis, for mutual benefit.”

Even if our “theological views differed,” wrote Oftedal, there “certainly was no reason for a cancellation of friendship. . . .friends should tell the truth to one another.”

Oftedal also listed for Anderson what he considered his personal qualities.

He credited him for his remarkable life, “a story of courage” and energy.

But he

“felt that Anderson had moved too fast and placed more stress on becoming someone rather than being someone.” (58)

These last words stung Anderson, and he interpreted them as a rebuke by Oftedal (59)

But what Oftedal had said, according to Hustvedt’s translation of the letter, was a softer version of Anderson’s translation of the letter in his Life Story.

The tone of the statement was more of an appeal from a friend than a cold insult from a rival.

In the paragraph, Oftedal appealed to Anderson that he sometimes

“moved too fast and placed more stress on becoming someone than on being someone.”

Oftedal wrote to Anderson that he “obscured his proclaimed objectives by entering into ridiculous newspaper disputes and he added that his relationship with Ole Bull and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson had tended to “decrease” his standing in Norway.” (60)

Anderson eventually made Oftedal’s letter public.

“In doing so,” Hustvedt writes, “he cleverly pieced together the latter’s most abusive statements, giving the letter a more vituperative quality than it originally had.” (61)

Hustvedt notes that Oftedal actually “dared to assure Anderson of continued friendship.”

Anderson’s published interpretation of the correspondence minimized Oftedal’s conciliatory attitude and printed only the most volatile sentences, eliminating Oftedal’s attempts at affirmation.

Anderson wanted “a complete retraction” or else he would make Oftedal’s letter “public.”

Even with a retraction, Hustvedt added, Anderson confirmed that forgiveness “would be difficult” because an “element of character judgment” was involved.

The ensuing mistrust in Anderson’s mind was “a situation that could not be changed” because Oftedal, in his opinion, was not trustworthy. (62)

Hustvedt points out that Sven Ruud Gunnersen tried to intervene on Oftedal’s behalf.

Writing Anderson the same year, Gunnersen insisted the former friends really disagreed on only one point: Anderson tended to rank Christianity lower than he did the arts while Oftedal ranked Christianity higher.

There was no reason why the two men could not work together, according to Gunnerson, “so long as this difference was understood.” (63)

John A. Johnson, the newspaper editor who would later become a Wisconsin state senator, also sent a letter to Anderson about the conflict between the two men, stating his amazement over the quarrel.

He told Anderson that he could not believe that he would cut connections with a powerful friend such as Oftedal.

He closed the note with these words:

“It has been my hope that you were getting and would very soon get above all these personal controversies . . . they do not become a professor at a university. . . . If you and Oftedal wish to devour one another, I cannot help it. ‘You caused me to form a very high opinion of Oftedal…. I may be wrong now. You were certainly wrong then or now. We shall see.’” (64)

Oftedal did what he could.

In two later letters written the next year, dated April 8, 1874, and January 22, 1875, Oftedal suggested the two former friends could still patch the friendship.

Their interests “should promote, rather than prevent, unified action,” (65) Oftedal wrote.

Anderson did not buy in to that line of reasoning. He kept his personal and professional distance and refused to talk to Oftedal for nine years.


  1. American Newspaper Directory (New York: Geo. P. Rowell & Co. Publishers, 1900), 508. (accessed May 5, 2014).
  2. Arthur C. Paulson, Bjornson and the Norwegian-Americans, 1880-1881, n.p. (accessed February 25, 2014).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Draxten, 151.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Anderson, 169.
  7. Lloyd Hustvedt, “Rasmus Bjorn Anderson—Pioneer Scholar, n.p. (accessed May 3, 2014).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Anderson, 169.
  12. Hustvedt, “Rasmus Bjorn Anderson—Pioneer Scholar,” n.p. (accessed May 3, 2014).
  13. Ibid.
  14. Lloyd Hustvedt, “Rasmus Bjorn Anderson, Pioneer Scholar, Authors Series, Volume 2,” n.p. [cited 5 May 2014]. Online:
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Lloyd Hustvedt, “Rasmus Bjorn Anderson, Pioneer Scholar, Authors Series, Volume ” n.p. [cited 5 May 2014]. Online: