« AnteriorContinuar »
such a mass of contradiction and absurdity could have been produced on any given subject."* Since 1786, remarked John Jay, I have found scarcely six foreign travellers that knew any thing of America ;t--and this number, adds a skilful reviewer, is still too high !
Yet in spite of this censure, and of these leaders or misleaders, my longing to behold the youthful present of this remarkable country increased, and with it my desire to hear true prophets discourse of a brilliant future. Still I was often told plumply and plainly by Americans (although I had carefully prepared myself and used every exertion to become a diligent learner), that “no foreigner could accurately judge or properly describe any thing American.” Declarations of this kind rendered me more and more sensible of the magnitude and difficulty of my undertaking, and urged me to redoubled scientific exertions; but they could not wholly discourage me. In the first place, because it can scarcely be denied, that the native who always stays at home very easily becomes partial in his views; that travelling, on the contrary, widens and clears up the intellectual horizon. I It is not until a man has one or more times left his native land, that he can thoroughly comprehend both that and foreign countries. Again, when native-born Ame. ricans, as is very natural, entertain different opinions on a host of topics, a traveller must also be allowed to adopt the views of one or the other. Lastly, so long as they are praised, most Americans do not require either a long residence or native birth; it is only when this is intermingled with blame, that complaints are almost invariably heard of prejudice, ignorance, difficulty of understanding the American character, too short a stay, &c. &c.
It is true nevertheless, that the observer very seldom places himself at the proper point of view for America; hence it results that even wellwishers have frequently regarded things in a crooked, distorted, false light. Scattered and trivial anecdotes hastily caught up, have been used to characterize and even to depreciate an entire people ; and observations made in rail-cars, steam-boats, and hotels, have often been the only sources of confident representations. In their zeal against undeniable and unpleasant trifles, they fail to see any thing of the great and unparalleled historical phenomena offered to their view; they find fault with all that differs from what they have been accustomed to at home; sigh after kings, courts, nobles, soldiers, orders, titles, an established church, rights of primogeniture, and the like ; look for routs, soirées, and perfumed fine gentlemen and dandies in the western wilds; and reproach the Americans with all sorts of defects (of which they themselves have long been aware), without ever undertaking to show how they should be treated and removed.
* Hinton, Topography, ii. 412.
† American Review, xvi. 281.-The witty Clockmaker says, in his peculiar way (p. 39): “ Wishy-washy trash they call tours, sketches, travels, letters, and what not-vapid stuff, just sweet enough to catch flies, cockroaches, and half-fledged gulls."
10 wad some Power the giftie gie us,
Perhaps I too would have fallen into the like errors, had I not been supported and instructed in the most obliging and courteous manner by the best informed men in every department of life. For this I here publicly render them my most sincere and heartfelt thanks : and if I do not name every individual among my instructors and friends, or mention every obliging act, every instructive and pleasant companionship which I enjoyed, it is by no means owing to lack of feeling, but because I must fear that repetitions, accruing on every page, would weary even the kindest reader. On this account I have printed only fragments from the Letters written during my tour, by way of addenda to the book. They have a personal although not an objective truth, and exhibit the first impressions of the moment. The demand, that I should have delineated more sharply, have written with greater piquancy, and not have shunned even the violence or offensiveness of caricature, is one to fulfil which would be foreign to my rature. If, notwithstanding, I have fallen into this fault against my will, I beg that it may be forgiven, and that the errors (which in a book of such varied contents are unavoidable, in spite of the most careful endeavors) may be kindly excused. As for the rest, the moderate compass of my book will show that I have not even desired to touch upon every topic, much less could I exhaust them.
But many will probably object, as they often have done before, that I am obnoxious to a much severer censure, and am devoid of gratitude and feeling ; because I do not see the whole truth in one extreme, but endeavor to penetrate to the centre from which life and motion radiate on every side. Extremes however--as in the vibrations of a pendulum-show only the points of stoppage and return; and it is not from them that the force which impels in both directions proceeds. Certainly Aristotle never intended by his energy of being, thinking, and feeling, to signify a mere negation; his energic medium was no stupid letting of oneself down between two stools,
-a line of conduct which no man can praise or recommend who retains the use of his five senses.
Should my book reach America, I request my readers there not to forget, that it is especially intended for Germany, and can offer nothing new to the well informed inhabitants of the United States. On that account I was obliged, among other things, to give a summary of the constitutions and a somewhat lengthy historical introduction. The latter was rendered necessary by the fact that in Europe many imagine
that the great confederation grew out of a rebellion, and consequently can never enjoy a sound existence or bear wholesome fruit.
The peculiarities of Europe cannot be indiscriminately imitated in North America, nor those of North America in Europe. Excellences as well as defects may serve for mutual instruction and improvement.
Many at home had prophesied to me, that when I returned from the United States, I should be cured of all favorable prejudices, and bring with me an unfavorable opinion of the country and the people. How differently has it turned out! All the trifling disagreeablenesses of the journey have utterly lost their importance; while the truly great and wonderful phenomena and facts still remain like the sun-lighted peaks of the Alps, in full splendor before my eyes.
But in proportion to the depth and sincerity of this my love and admiration, I feel it to be my sacred duty not to dissemble or cloak the dark side of the picture. In the censures I have uttered, regardless of consequences, yet according to the best of my knowledge and belief, there will be found expressed at the same time the wish for improvement, and faith in the possibility of such improvement.
While there is but little hope of a new and more extended development of humanity in Asia and Africa, how sickly do many parts of Europe appear! If we were forced to despair too of the future progress of the Germanic race in America, whither could we turn our eyes for deliverance, except to a new and direct creation from the hand of the Almighty !