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Literature

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1148, p. 592.

June 7, 1862

LITERATURE.

...In the titlepage of his new work, North America, which has been recently published by Messrs. Chapman and Hall, Mr. Anthony Trollope mentions his authorship of "The West Indies and the Spanish Main," which is appropriate, and leading up to his latest book of travels; but he also refers to such works as "Doctor Thorne" and "Orley Farm," an announcement which might lead intending readers to ideas with regard to that which they were about to peruse, which would be erroneous. What we mean is, that it might be supposed that Mr. Trollope was about to exercise his well-known power as a humorist and delineator of manners from a bantering point of view, and that we should find America and the Americans treated in the style of "Framley Parsonage." It may, therefore, be necessary to warn those whose attention we desire to turn to this book that they must expect nothing of the kind. Mr. Trollope writes with a seriousness probably caught from the contemplation of what he states to have been a long cherished purpose. It appears that it has been the ambition of his life to write a book about the United States, and he had made up his mind to visit the country with that object before the intestine troubles of the United States' Government had commenced. He has not allowed the division amongst the States and the breaking out of civil war to interfere with his intention; although, naturally enough, he says that he should not purposely have chosen that period either for his book or his visit. It is probable that his readers would have been glad if it had happened otherwise. He wishes it to be understood that it is not his special purpose to write an account of the struggle as far as it has yet been carried, but that his wish is to describe, as well as he can, the present social and political state of the country. This he should have attempted, with more personal satisfaction in the work, had there been no disruption between the North and South; but he has not allowed that disruption to deter him from an object which, if it had been delayed, might probably never have been carried out. He was therefore forced to take the subject in its present condition, and, being so forced, he has been compelled to write of the war, of the causes which have led to it, and of it probable termination; but he pointedly declares that it was not his selected task to do so, and it was not his primary object. Perhaps the latent primary object peeps out in another statement, in which he recalls to recollection that thirty years ago his mother wrote a book about the Americans which was a well-known and successful work. It was, however, Mr. Trollope thinks, essentially a woman's book. Mrs. Trollope saw with a woman's keen eye, and described with a woman's light and graphic pen (may not this description stand for the previous efforts of her son?) the social defects and absurdities which our near relatives had adopted into their domestic life. All that she told, he says, was worth the telling, and the telling, if done successfully, was sure to produce a good result, and he is satisfied that it did so. But he is of opinion that she did not regard it as a part of her work to dilate on the nature and operation of those political arrangements which had produced the social absurdities which she saw, or to explain that, though such absurdities were the natural result of those arrangements in their newness, the defects would certainly pass away, while the political arrangements, if good, would remain. Such a work, he believes, is fitter for a man than a woman. There is, therefore, a sort of filial feeling involved in the undertaking, and a laudable desire to make "Trollope on America" complete has been the main motive cause of this publication. With sufficient modesty the author disclaims any notion that he thinks it is a task which he can perform with entire satisfaction either to himself or to others, but no doubt the reading public are willing to give him the credit he deserves for possessing many of the qualities for the duty he has undertaken, and they expect at once an agreeable and an able book. There is good sense as well as good feeling evinced in Mr. Trollope's declaration of a desire to do something to add to the familiarity of Englishmen with Americans. He says, with some reason, that the writings which have been most popular in England on the subject of the United States have hitherto dealt chiefly with social details, and, though in most cases true and useful, have created laughter on one side of the Atlantic and soreness on the other, and he consequently feels a desire to do what he can to mitigate the soreness and add to the good feeling which should exist between two nations which ought to love each other well, and which do hang upon each other very constantly. It is in this spirit that our author started for Boston on the 24th or [sic] August, 1861, with the design of staying in America over the winter, and returning in the spring; and this programme he carried out with sufficient exactness. The account of the rather discursive route of the traveller through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, thence through Lower and Upper Canada to Niagara, and thence to the Mississippi, back to New York, and Boston, Cambridge, and Lowell to Washington, is interpersed with somewhat elaborate disquisitions on the causes and prospects of the war, and such social questions as the rights of women as they are considered in America, and the educational system of the States, with a touch here and there of manners, under such headings as "American Insolence." A long leap is next made to St. Louis, which is about as far south as the author seems to have reached. Long chapters are devoted to the Constitution of the United States, its government, its law courts and lawyers, the post-office, and the financial position of the country. Of course there is a chapter on "hotels," and here there is, perhaps, a slight infusion of Mr. Trollope's ordinary style, but not much. In the section devoted to literature even-handed justice seems to be dealt out to merits and defects, as might be expected from one whose experience must have matured his judgment. On the whole, this is a serious, solid, sensible, well-written book; but if any one expects that it displays any striking specialty, or that a writer of peculiar powers has dealt with a comparatively familiar subject in a peculiar way, we think they will be disappointed. But the evident care which has been bestowed upon it will, even after the prestige of the author's name has been dissipated, entitle it to hold the place in public estimation which, as we think, the writer designed it to occupy.

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