« НазадПродовжити »
tion of rare qualities, which Mr Dickens's previous works show that he possesses, would seem to qualify him, in some respects, heyond any English traveller that has yet written about the United States,-if not to discuss the political prospects of that country, or to draw comparisons between monarchical and republican institutions, yet to receive and reproduce, for the information of the British public, a just image of its existing social condition. To balance these, however, it must be confessed that he labours under some considerable disadvantages. His education must have been desultory, and not of a kind likely to train him to habits of grave and solid speculation. A young man, a satirist both by profession and by humour, whose studies have lain almost exclusively among the odd characters in the odd corners of London, who does not appear to have attempted the systematic cultivation of his powers, or indeed to have been aware of them, until they were revealed to him by a sudden blaze of popularity which would have turned a weaker head, who has since been constantly occupied in his own peculiar field of fiction and humour-how can he have acquired the knowledge and the speculative powers necessary for estimating the character of a great people, placed in circumstances not only strange to him, but new in the history of mankind; or the working of institutions which are yet in their infancy, their hour of trial not yet come in their present state resembling nothing by the analogy of which their tendency and final scope may be guessed at ? Should he wander into prophecies or philosophic speculations, it is clear that such a guide must be followed with considerable distrust. Flow, indeed, can his opinions be taken without abatement and allowance, even in that which belongs more especially to his own province—the aspect and character of society as it exists? As a comic satirist, with a strong tendency to caricature, it has been his business to observe society in its irregularities and incongruities, not in the sum and total result of its operation; a habit which, even in scenes with which we are most familiar, can hardly be indulged without disturbing the judgment; and which, among strange men and manners, may easily mislead the fancy beyond the power of the most vigilant understanding to set it right. It is the nature of an Englishman to think every thing ridiculous which contrasts wiih what he has been used to; and it costs some effort of his reflective and imaginative powers to make him feel that the absurdity is in himself, and not in the thing he sees. strange country, where the conventional manners and regulations of society are not the same as in England, every room and every street must teem with provocations to this kind of amusement, which will keep a good-humoured English tra
veller, of average reflective powers, in continual laughter. And though Mr Dickens knows better, it is too much to expect of him that he should have always acted upon his better knowledge; especially when we consider that he had his character as an amusing writer to keep up. The obligation which he undoubtedly lies under to keep his readers well entertained, (failing which, any book by “Boz' would be universally denounced as a catchpenny,) must have involved him in many temptations quite foreign to his business as an impartial observer; for any man who would resolutely abstain from seeing things in false lights, must make up his mind to forego half his triumphs as a wit, and vice versa. Even his habits as a writer of fiction must have been against him; for such a man will always be tempted to study society, with a view to gather suggestions and materials for his creative faculty to work upon, rather than simply to consider and understand it. The author of Pickwick ’ will study the present as our historical novelists study the past—to find not what it is, but what he can make of it.
It is further to be borne in mind, in estimating Mr Dickens's claims to attention, that the study of America does not appear to have been his primary object in going, nor his main business while there. He went out, if we are rightly informed, as a kind of missionary in the cause of International Copyright; with the design of persuading the American public (for it was the public to which he seems to have addressed himself) to abandon their present privilege, of enjoying the produce of all the literary industry of Great Britain without paying for it;-an excellent recommendation, the adoption of which would, no doubt, in the end prove a vast national benefit. In the mean time, however, as it cannot be carried into effect, except by taxing the very many who read for the benefit of the very few who write, and the present for the benefit of the future—to attempt to get it adopted by a legislature over which the will of the many has any paramount influence, would seem to be a very arduous, if not an altogether hopeless enterprize, In this arduous, if not hopeless enterprize, Mr Dickens, having once engaged himself, must be presumed, during the short period of his visit, to have chiefly occupied his thoughts; therefore the gathering of materials for a book about America must be regarded as a subordinate and incidental task—the produce of such hours as he could spare from his main employment. Nor must it be forgotten that in this, the primary object of his visit, he decidedly failed; a circumstance (not unimportant when we are considering his position and opportunities as an observer of manners in a strange country) to which we draw attention, the rather because Mr Dickens makes no allusion'to it himself.
A man may read the volumes through without knowing that the question of International Copyright has ever been raised on either side of the Atlantic.
Our catalogue of cautions and drawbacks grows long ; but there is yet another point to which, as it does not appear on the face of the book itself, we must advert. Though Mr Dickens does not tell us of it, it is a notorious fact, that throughout his stay in the United States he was besieged by the whole host of lion-hunters, whose name in that land of liberty and equality is legion. In England, we preserve our lions : to be admitted to the sight of one, except on public occasions, is a privilege granted only to the select. Persons of a certain distinction in the fashionable world are alone licensed to exhibit him; and the exhibition is open to those only whom such distinguished persons may choose to honour by admission. In America, (always excepting a skin of the right colour,) the pursuit of this kind of game requires no qualification whatever; for though society seems to form itself there, just as it does with us, into a series of circles, self-distinguished and excluded one from the other, yet there does not appear to be any generally acknowledged scale of social dignity. Each circle may assert its own pretensions, and act upon them; but they are not binding upon the rest. One citizen may not choose to dine with another, just as one party may refuse to act with another in politics; but they are not the less equal in the eye of the law. In the eye of the law. and of the universe, a citizen is a citizen, and, as such, has a right to do the honours of his country to a stranger; and though there are, doubtless, many circles in which the stranger is pitied for having to receive such promiscuous attentions, there is none which seems to consider itself excluded from the privilege of offering them. Of the evils which necessarily beset a man whom every body is eager to see, this is a very serious aggravation. In London, his condition is bad enough; for the attentions which are prompted, not by respect, but by this prurient curiosity, must always be troublesome and thankless. But, in America, the whole population turns out, and the hunted animal has no escape. The popularity of Mr Dickens's works is said to be even greater there than it is at home. Copies are circulated through all corners of the land at a tenth of the native cost; readers, therefore, are ten times as numerous. The curiosity to see him, hear him, and touch him, was accordingly universal; and (if we may trust current report) his time must have been passed in one continual levee. It was not merely the profusion of hospitable offers—the crowd of callers that besieged his lodgings—the criticisms upon his person—and the regular announce
VOL. LXXVI. NO, CLIV.
ment of his movements in the newspapers, that indicated this in-
Such being our opinion of Mr Dickens's faculties and opportunities for observation, we expected from him a book, not without large defects both positive and negative, but containing some substantial and valuable addition to our stock of information with regard to this most interesting country-interesting not only for the indissoluble connexion of its interests with our own, but likewise as the quarter from which we must look for light on the great question of these times. – What is to become of Democracy, and how is it to be dealt with ?
We cannot say that our expectations are justified by the result. But though
the book is said to have given great offence on the other side of the Atlantic, we cannot see any sufficient reason for it.
To us it appears that Mr Dickens deserves great praise for the care with which he has avoided all offensive topics, and abstained from amusing his readers at the expense of his entertainers; and if we had an account of the temptations in this kind which he has resisted, we do not doubt that the reserve and selfcontrol which he has exercised, would appear scarcely less than heroical. But, on the other hand, we cannot say that his book throws any new light on his subject. He has done little more than confide to the public, what should have been a series of Letters for the entertainment of his private friends. Very agreeable and amusing Letters they would have been; and as such, had they been posthumously published, would have been read with interest and pleasure. As it is, in the middle of our amusement at the graphic sketches of life and manners, the ludicrous incidents, the wayside conversations about nothing, so happily told, and the lively remarks with which these. Notes' abound-in the middle of our respect for the tone of good sense and good humour which runs through them-and in spite of a high appreciation of the gentlemanly feeling which has induced him to refrain from all personal allusions and criticisms; and for the modesty which has kept him silent on so many subjects, concerning which most persons in the same situation (not being reminded of the worthlessness of their opinions by the general inattention of mankind to what they say) are betrayed into the delivery of oracles, -in the middle of all this, we cannot help feeling that we should have respected Mr Dickens more if he had kept his book to himself; if he had been so far dissatisfied with these • American Notes' as to shrink from the 'general circulation' of them; if he had felt unwilling to stand by and see them trumpeted to all corners of the earth --quoted and criticized in every newspaper — passing through edition after edition in England -and settling in clouds of sixpenny copies all over the United States. That he had nothing better to say is no reproach to him. He had much to say about International Copyright, and that, we doubt not, was well worth having; we only wish it had been heard with more favour. But, having nothing better to say, why say any thing? To us it seems to imply a want of respect either for himself or for his subject, that he should be thus prompt to gratify the prominent public appetite for novelty, by bringing the fruits of his mind into the market unripe. This, however, is a matter of taste. In reputation, so easy and abundant a writer will suffer little from an occasional mistake. Though this book should only live till New-Year’s day, it will