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La Terre, says Fontenelle, est une vieille coquette. While in so many branches of authorship the interest of books is superseded by new discoveries in science and superior art and knowledge, honest and intelligent books of travel preserve their use and charm, because they describe places and people as they were at distinct epochs, and confirm or dissipate subsequent theories. The point of view adopted, the kind of sympathy awakened, the time and the character of the writer -each or all give individuality to such works, when inspired by genuine observation, which renders them attractive as a reference and a memorial, and for purposes of comparison if not of absolute interest. Moreover the early travellers, or rather those who first record their personal experience of a country, naturally describe it in detail, and put on record their impressions with a candor rarely afterward imitated, because of that desire to avoid a beaten path which later writers feel. Hence, the most familiar traits and scenes are apt to be less dwelt upon, the oftener they are described ; and, for a complete and naïve account, we must revert to primitive travels, whose quaintness and candor often atone for any incongruities of style or old-fashioned prolixity.
A country that is at all suggestive, either through association or intrinsic resources, makes a constant appeal to genius, to science, and to sympathy; and offers, under each of these aspects, an infinite variety. Arthur Young's account of France, just before the Revolution, cannot be superseded; Lady Montagu's account of Turkey is still one of the most complete; and Dr. Moore's Italy is a picture of manners and morals of permanent interest, because of its contrast with the existent state of things. Indeed, that beautiful and unfortunate but regenerated land has long been so congenial a theme for scholars, and so attractive a nucleus for sentiment, that around its monuments and life the gifted and eager souls of all nations, have delighted to throw the expression of their conscious personality, from morbid and melancholy Byron to intellectual and impassioned De Staël, from Hans Andersen, the humane and fanciful Dane, to Hawthorne, the introspective New Englander. What Italy has been and is to the unappropriated sentiment of authors, America has been and is to unorganized political aspirations : if the one country has given birth to unlimited poetical, the other has suggested a vast amount of philosophical speculation. Brissot, Cobbett, and De Tocqueville found in the one country as genial a subject as Goethe, Rogers, and Lady Morgan in the other; and while the latter offers a permanent background of art and antiquity, which forever identifies the scene, however the light and shade of the writer's experience may differ, so Nature, in her wild, vast, and beautiful phases, offers in the former an inspiring and inexhaustible charm, and free institutions an eversuggestive theme, however variously considered.
The increase of books of this kind can, perhaps, be realized in no more striking way than by comparing the long catalogue of the present day with the materials available to the inquirer half a century ago. When Winterbotham, in 1795, undertook to prepare an “Historical, Geographical, Commercial, and Philosophical View of the United States "*_-to meet an acknowledged want in Europe, where so many, contemplating emigration to America, anxiously sought for accurate knowledge, and often for local and political details, and where there existed so much misconception and such visionary ideas in regard to this country—he cited the following writers as his chief resource for facts and principles of history, government, social conditions, and statistics : the Abbé Raynal, Dr. Franklin, Robertson, Clavigero, Jefferson, Belknap, Adams, Catesby, Morse, Buffon, Gordon, Ramsay, Bartram, Cox, Rush, Mitchill, Cutler, Imlay, Filson, Barlow, Brissot, and Edwards. The authenticity of most of these writers made them, indeed, most desirable authorities; but the reader who recalls their respective works will readily perceive how limited was the scope of such, considered as illustrating the entire country. Dr. Belknap wrote of New Hampshire, Jefferson of Virginia, Bartram of Florida and a few other States ; Ramsay, Gordon, Adams, and Franklin furnished excellent political information; but Morse's Geography was quite crude and limited, and Brissot’s account of America was tinctured with his party views. We need not lose sight of the benefits which our early historical authors and naturalists conferred, while we fully recognize the superior completeness and scientific insight of later and better-equipped authors. Dr. Belknap, it will ever be conceded, stands foremost as a primitive local historian, and benign is his memory as the indefatigable student of venerable records when the steeple of the Old South Church, in Boston, was his study; while, as the founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, every explorer of New England annals owes him a debt of gratitude : yet his description of the White Mountains is more valuable for its early date than for those scientific and picturesque details which give such interest to the botanical researches of contemporary authors. The data furnished by Catesby and Bartram have still a charm and use for the savant who examines the flora and ichthyology of Florida and the Carolinas--notwithstanding the splendid work of Agassiz; and there are temporary aspects of life at the South noted by Paulding, which give emphasis to the more thorough statistics of Olmsted.
* Four vols. 8vo., with a series of maps, plates, portraits, &c., London, 1795. “A.valuable record of the state of this continent at the end of the last century, selected from all accessible sources."
To a philosophical reader, indeed, there are few more striking illustrations of character than the diverse trains of thought, sources of interest, and modes of viewing the same subject, which books of travel incidentally reveal: from Herodotus to Humboldt, the disposition and idiosyncrasies of the writers are as apparent as their comparative ability. There is, undoubtedly, great sameness in the numerous journals, letters, and treatises of travellers on America; only a few of them have any claim to originality, or seem animated by vital relations to the subject; a specimen here and there represents an entire class; and to analyze the whole would be wearisome; yet, in all that bear the impress of discrimination and moral sensibility, there is evident the individuality of taste and purpose that belongs to all genuine human work; and in this point of view these writings boast no common variety : each author looks at his theme through the lens to which his vision is habituated; and hence we have results as diverse as the medium and the motive of the respective writers. It accords with Talleyrand's political tastes that the sight of Alexander Hamilton-one of the wisest of the republican legislators should have been the most memorable incident of his exile in America: equally accordant with Ampère's literary sentiment was it that he should find a Dutch gable as attractive as Broadway, because it revived the genial humor of Irving's facetious History: Wilson and Charles Bonaparte found the birds, French officers the fair Quakers, English commercial travellers the manufactures and tariffs, English farmers the agriculture, Continental economists the prison and educational systems, Lyell the rocks and mines, Michaux the trees, sportsmen the Western plains, and clerical visitors the sects and missions-the chief attraction; and while one pilgrim bestows his most heartfelt reflections upon the associations of Mount Vernon, another has no sympathy for any scene or subject but those connected with slavery: this one is amusing in humorous exaggeration of the Connecticut Blue Laws, and that one extravagant in his republican zeal; tobacco and maple sugar, intemperance and prairie hunting, reptiles and