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The object of this work is twofold-to present a general view of the traits and transitions of our country, as recorded at different periods and by writers of various nationalities; and to afford those desirous of authentic information in regard to the United States a guide to the sources thereof. Incidental to and naturally growing out of this purpose, is the discussion of the comparative value and interest of the principal critics of our civilization. The present seems a favorable time for such a retrospective review; and the need of popular enlightenment, both at home and abroad, as to the past development and present condition of this Republic, is universally acknowledged. There are special and obvious advantages in reverting to the past and examining the present, through the medium of the literature of American Travel. It affords striking contrasts, offers different points of view, and is the more suggestive because modified by national tastes. We can thus trace physical and social development, normal and casual traits, through personal impressions; and are unconsciously put on the track of honest investigation, made to realize familiar tendencies under new aspects, and, from the variety of evidence, infer true estimates. Moreover, some of these raconteurs are interesting characters either in an historical or literary point of view, and form an attractive biographical study. In a work intended to suggest rather than exhaust a subject so extensive, it has been requisite to dismiss briefly many books which, in themselves, deserve special consideration ; but whose scope is too identical with other and similar volumes described at length, to need the same full examination. It is not always the specific merits of an author, but the contrast he offers or the circumstances under which he writes, that have induced what might otherwise seem too elaborate a discussion of his claims. In a word, variety of subject and rarity of material have been kept in view, with reference both to the space awarded and the extracts given. The design of the work might, indeed, have been indefinitely extended; but economy and suggestiveness have been chiefly considered.
Many of the works discussed are inaccessible to the general reader; others are prolix, and would not reward a consecutive perusal, though worthy a brief analysis ; while not a few are too superficial, and yield amusement only when the grains of wit or wisdom are separated from the predominant chaff. It is for these reasons, and in the hope of vindicating as well as illustrating the claims and character of our outraged nationality, that I have prepared this inadequate, but, I trust, not wholly unsatisfactory critical sketch of Travel in the United States. Those who desire to examine minutely the historical aspects of the prolific theme, will find, in the “ Bibliotheca Americana” of Rich, a catalogue of ancient works full of interest to the philosophical student. Another valuable list is contained in “Historical Nuggets,” a descriptive account of rare books relating to America, by Henry Stevens (2 vols., London, 1853); and the proposed “ American Bibliographer's Manual,” a dictionary of all works relating to America, by Joseph Sabin, of Philadelphia, will, if executed with the care and completeness promised, supersede all other manuals, and prove of great utility. No fact is more indicative of the increased interest in all that relates to our country, than the demand for the earlier records of its life, products, and history;* while the foreign bibliography of the war for the Union, and the American record and discussions thereof, have been already collected or are in process of collection under Government auspices.t
“ If the price of old books anent America, whether native or foreign, should continue to augment in value in the same ratio as they have done for the last thirty years, their prices must become fabulous, or, rather, like the books of the Sibyls, rise above all valuation. In the early part of the present century, the “ Bay Hymn Book” (the first book printed in North Amer. ica), then an exceedingly rare book, no one would have supposed would bring $100; now, a copy was lately sold for nearly $600, and a perfect copy, at this time, would bring $1,000. Eliot's “Grammar of the Indian Tongues” was lately sold for $160-a small tract. The same author's version of the Scriptures into the Indian language could be purchased, fifty years ago, for $50 ; now it is worth $500. For Cotton Mather's “Magnalia Christi Americana,” $6 was then thought a good price ; now, $50 is thought cheap for a good copy. Smith's “History of Virginia," $30; now $75. Stith's “ History of Virginia," then $6, now $20. Smith's “ History of New Jersey," then $2, now $20. Thomas's “ History of Printing," then $2, now $15. Denton's “ History of New Netherlands,” $5, now $50. These are but a few out of many hundreds that could be named, that have risen from trifling to extraordinary prices, in the short space of half a century.”—Western Memorabilia.
+ “The importance of this subject has been more directly brought to our notice in the examination of the foundation of Collection of European Opinion upon the War," now before Congress for the use of the members, and to be deposited in the Congress Library. This desirable collection is to comprise the various pamphlets, speeches, debates, and brochures of all kinds that have appeared in reference to the war, from the attack on Fort Sumter to the present day, and to be continued to the end of the struggle. We have the leading editorials, arranged with great care in chronological order, from the most powerful representatives of the public press in England, France, Germany, &c.; also, the correspondence from both armies in the field, of the special agents sent for that purpose. The various opinions expressed by eminent military and naval writers upon our new inventions in the art of war will well deserve study; and the horoscope of the future, not only in our own country, but in its influences upon the welfare of the Old World, should be carefully pondered over by all political economists." -National Intelligencer.
Numerous as are the books of travel in and commentaries on America-ranging from the most shallow to the most profound, from the crude to the artistic, from the instructive to the impertinent--so far is the subject from being exhausted, that we seem but now to have a clear view of the materials for judgment, description, and analysis. It required the genius of modern communication, the scientific progress, the humane enterprise, the historical development, and the social inspiration of our own day, to appreciate the problems which events will solve on this continent; to understand the tendencies, record the phenomena, define the influences and traits, and realize the natural, moral, and political character and destiny of America.
New York, March, 1864.