Literature.The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1194, p. 339.
March 21, 1863
Those who are desirous of weighing fairly the merits of the questions in dispute between the contending parties in America, as well as to judge of the exact condition of the contest, are impeded by the difficulty of getting at any accurate knowledge of what has happened and is going on in the Southern States. Every one interested in the matter, therefore, eagerly welcomes any contribution to the slight acquaintance which we have possessed since the civil war began of the Confederate districts. Thus, a new work just published by Chapman and Hall, and entitled Life in the South from the Commencement of the War, by a Blockaded British Subject, has all the benefit of a good introduction, as it purports to supply an obvious want. Very meagre accounts, and very rough notes of things down South, would be accepted without any regard being paid to special literary fitness in their production; but, in the case of the book before us, its acceptance will, we think, be without qualification. It professes to be a social history of those who took part in the battles of the internecine war from a personal acquaintance with them in their own homes, which, being interpreted out of too literal a sense, means that the author has had good opportunity of seeing and knowing Southern men and manners, and becoming acquainted with traits of character and domestic life. The writer seems to desire that the book should be considered as a contribution to the social rather than the political history of the revolution which has taken place; and, as it is the production of a lady, the statement of such a design is tactical with reference to the frame of mind to be induced in the reader who takes it up. At the same time, as is very justly observed by the author, it is impossible for even the softer sex not to be something of politicians in America, where the business of committees and conventions is brought home to every household and family; and therefore, while recording what she herself saw and heard, politics inevitably find a place; and there have been introduced into the narrative extracts from the public papers of the South, few of which have reached England since the commencement of the war. As regards the treatment of that part of her subject which touches on the condition of the slaves, the writer claims to have given an impartial account of the "domestic institution", and therefore expresses a fear that sometimes she may incur the imputation of upholding a system which is repulsive to the opinion of England. All, however, she ventures to do is to correct misrepresentations by statements of facts; and, without at all deprecating the notion, and even indulging the hope, of the ultimate extinction of slavery, she asserts that the most calamitous and unmerciful infliction that could befal [sic] both master and servant would be the sudden emancipation of the slaves of the Southern States. Having thus stated, almost in the author's own words, the scope and object of her work, it may be stated that she was tempted to visit Virginia by a professional engagement--that is, she undertook the duty of instructress to the daughters of the proprietor of an estate in that State, not very distant from Fredericksburg. Although the author gives no name on her titlepage, she signs her preface with the initials S. L. J., and in the narrative calls herself Miss Jones; and if that be not a nom de guerre, we will venture to say that by her work she has done much to illustrate that somewhat commonplace name. It was shortly after the insurrection at Harper's Ferry, in the autumn of 1859, that the author went South, her route lying through Ohio, across the Alleghenies, by Washington, and the River Rappahannock, now historical, to the little town of Tappahannock, whence, her journey proper terminating, she was conveyed to Forest Rill, the plantation of the gentleman into whose family she was about to enter. In the very earliest chapters there are afforded proofs of the author's capability of catching manners and characteristics as they present themselves, and the descriptions of the negro servants, her room and its furniture, the idiosyncrasies of her pupils, the education of young American ladies of the South, domestic habits and discipline, are happy and lifelike. It is only with a shade less of vigour that she sketches the character of the population and the more public and general features of the country. Circumstances having caused Miss Jones--if we may call her so--to leave Forest Rill, she took up her abode in Richmond, whence a new engagement took her to another part of Virginia, soon after the war began; and thenceforward the narrative, though mainly confined to domestic occurrences, is interspersed with matter of which the struggle between the Federals and Confederates is the subject. In the course of these episodes there is an account given of a visit to one of the Confederate camps, and the pass which she received is given literally thus:--"Miss Sarah Jones has permission to visit the camp at Yorktown, promising on her honour as a man not to communicate, either by word or writing, anything that may contribute to the endangering of the Confederate States or to the aid and comfort of the enemy." Except the names and dates, the order was printed, which accounts for the amusing collocation of the words "man" and Miss Sarah. It is not within the province of this notice to go at any length into the details of this work; and it is only intended to indicate generally its nature and its peculiarities. Summing up its merits as briefly as possible, it may be said that it is conceived with sufficient comprehensiveness, but its chief feature is the power of miniature-painting, so to speak, and the command of illustrating, by minute but pungent examples, the life of the South in all its varieties. There is a vein of humour, as especially to be distinguished from the comic writing of the day, which runs through the style and which renders it very agreeable. Some, indeed most, of the anecdotes are pointed and interesting, and elucidate the story which the author has to tell with singular felicity. As a whole the book is remarkably full of matter, all of which is informatory, much of it amusing, and none of it dull. There are no prosy disquisitions, and even when the object is to argue and discuss a question the device of animated conversation between persons, each speaking for himself, is adopted, and with considerable success. In short, all who wish to travel South--in print--will find Miss Sarah Jones a most agreeable and a very able and well-informed companion.