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The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1343, p. 495.

November 18, 1865


Three Years among the Working Classes in the United States during the War. By the Author of "The Autobiography of a Beggar-boy." (Smith, Elder, and Co.) The title of this book raises expectations doomed to disappointment. One looks for a round, unvarnished tale of the author's own experience; of his reasons for leaving his native country; of the hopes he had formed, and how they were fulfilled or unfulfilled; of the feelings of his class on the breaking out of the great Civil War; of the manner in which industry and wages were affected by the war; of the alacrity or unwillingness with which native Americans in his position joined the army; of everything, in fact, social, moral, and political, about which a three-years' sojourn in the United States would enable him to speak with authority and as an eye-witness. But, with some pretentiousness of style, he wields the pen of a censor and critic of the United States in general; he by no means confines himself to matters in which he himself took part and on which he might consequently claim a right to be heard; he "learns from a reliable source," and he "knows by repute," and he quotes long paragraphs from newspapers and published reports, and altogether makes up a book after the fashion of travellers who choose to employ their time in such business, and who, by education, habit, and discipline, are likely to perform such labour better than one who calls himself "a working man," and who appears to be engaged in the hat trade. There is a proverb about the cobbler and his last, and the same proverb, with the requisite changes, may be applied to the hatter. If the hatter had written a book touching what came under his personal observation in the exercise of his trade and its concomitants he would probably have turned out something original, interesting, and useful; but the world did not require a warmed-up hash of stale stories about the degeneracy of the American race, the flatness across the chest of American women, the deficient supply of natural nourishment for little Americans yet to be born, the impetus given to immorality by the institution of boarding-houses, the looseness of the matrimonial tie, the absurdities and wickedness of certain advertisements in American newspapers, and all that kind of thing. It has frequently been commented upon before in better fashion. Let all encouragement be given to the "working man" who takes advantage of the fact that the schoolmaster is abroad, but do not encourage the "working man" in bookmaking. If he have anything to say which a prophetic soul inspires or an imaginative spirit suggests--or if he be bursting with enthusiasm--or if his brain, overladen with ideas, be too much for him--or if his peculiar line of life have taught him anything which he thinks it may be of advantage to the world to know--by all means let him publish it; but, in any other case, he would do well to abstain. Howbeit, the author has some remarks upon the subject of emigration which may be found useful. Let hatters attend to the following advice (p. 189):--"If a journeyman hatter, in any part of the United Kingdom, can earn from twenty-five to thirty shillings a week, I would certainly advise him to remain where he is; nor do I know any class of tradesmen, under the altered circumstances of the country, who are likely to better their condition." Economical persons, however, may perhaps find themselves tempted by the statement (p. 190) that "men can be drunk in America without the use of intoxicating liquors." But the process by which the desirable result is attained is not mentioned. It may be that personal disappointment has blinded us to the merits of this book; but it seems to us that, except in the ninth, fourteenth, and, fifteenth chapters, the author has performed a work of supererogation....

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