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قراءة كتاب Diary in America, Series One

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‏اللغة: English
Diary in America, Series One

Diary in America, Series One

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 1

Captain Marryat

"Diary in America, Series One"


After many years of travel, during which I had seen men under almost every variety of government, religion, and climate, I looked round to discover if there were not still new combinations under which human nature was to be investigated. I had traversed the old country until satisfied, if not satiated; and I had sailed many a weary thousand miles from west to east, and from north to south, until people, manners, and customs were looked upon by me with indifference.

The press was constantly pouring out works upon the new world, so contradictory to each other, and pronounced so unjust by the Americans, that my curiosity was excited. It appeared strange to me that travellers whose works showed evident marks of talent should view the same people through such very different mediums; and that their gleanings should, generally speaking, be of such meagre materials. Was there so little to be remarked about America, its government, its institutions, and the effect which these had upon the people, that the pages of so many writers upon that country should be filled up with how the Americans dined or drank wine, and what description of spoons and forks were used at table? Either the Americans remained purely and unchangedly English, as when they left their father-land; or the question required more investigation and deeper research than travellers in their hasty movements have been able to bestow upon it. Whether I should be capable of throwing any new light upon the subject, I knew not, but at all events I made up my mind that I would visit the country and judge for myself.

On my first arrival I perceived little difference between the city of New York and one of our principal provincial towns; and, for its people, not half so much as between the people of Devonshire or Cornwall and those of Middlesex. I had been two or three weeks in that city, and I said: There is certainly not much to write about, nor much more than what has already been continually repeated. No wonder that those who preceded me have indulged in puerilities to swell out their books. But in a short time I altered my opinion: even at New York, the English appearance of the people gradually wore away; my perception of character became more keen, my observance consequently more nice and close, and I found that there was a great deal to reflect upon and investigate, and that America and the American people were indeed an enigma; and I was no longer surprised at the incongruities which were to be detected in those works which had attempted to describe the country. I do not assert that I shall myself succeed, when so many have failed, but at any rate, this I am certain of, my remarks will be based upon a more sure foundation—an analysis of human nature.

There are many causes why those who have written upon America have fallen into error: they have represented the Americans as a nation: now they are not yet, nor will they for many years be, in the true sense of the word, a nation—they are a mass of many people cemented together to a certain degree, by a general form of government; but they are in a state of transition, and (what may at first appear strange) no amalgamation as has yet taken place: the puritan of the east, the Dutch descent of the middle states, the cavalier of the south, are nearly as marked and distinct now, as at the first occupation of the country, softened down indeed, but still distinct. Not only are the populations of the various states distinct, but even those of the cities: and it is hardly possible to make a remark which may be considered as general to a country, where the varieties of soil and of climate are so extensive. Even on that point upon which you might most safely venture to generalise, namely, the effect of a democratical form of government upon the mass, your observations must be taken with some exceptions, arising from the climate, manners, and customs, and the means of livelihood so differing in this extended country.

Indeed the habit in which travellers indulge of repeating facts which have taken place, of having taken place in America, has, perhaps unintentionally on their part, very much misled the English reader. It would hardly be considered fair, if the wilder parts of Ireland, and the disgraceful acts which are committed there, were represented as characteristic of England, or the British empire; yet between London and Connaught there is less difference than between the most civilised and intellectual portion of America, such as Boston and Philadelphia, and the wild regions, and wilder inhabitants of the west of the Mississippi, and Arkansas, where reckless beings compose a scattered population, residing too far for the law to reach; or where if it could reach, the power of the government would prove much too weak to enforce obedience to it. To do justice to all parties, America should be examined and portrayed piecemeal, every state separately, for every state is different, running down the scale from refinement to a state of barbarism almost unprecedented; but each presenting matter for investigation and research, and curious examples of cause and effect.

Many of those who have preceded me have not been able to devote sufficient time to their object, and therefore have failed. If you have passed through a strange country, totally differing in manners, and customs, and language from your own, you may give your readers some idea of the contrast, and the impressions made upon you by what you saw, even if you have travelled in haste or sojourned there but a few days; but when the similarity in manners, customs, and language is so great, that you may imagine yourself to be in your own country, it requires more research, a greater degree of acumen, and a fuller investigation of cause and effect than can be given in a few months of rapid motion. Moreover, English travellers have apparently been more active in examining the interior of houses, than the public path from which they should have drawn their conclusions; they have searched with the curiosity of a woman, instead of examining and surveying with the eye of a philosopher. Following up this wrong track has been the occasion of much indiscretion and injustice on their parts, and of justifiably indignant feeling on the part of the Americans. By many of the writers on America, the little discrepancies, the mere trifles of custom have been dwelt upon, with a sarcastic, ill-natured severity to give their works that semblance of pith, in which, in reality, they were miserably deficient; and they violated the rights of hospitality that they might increase their interest as authors.

The Americans are often themselves the cause of their being misrepresented; there is no country perhaps, in which the habit of deceiving for amusement, or what is termed hoaxing, is so common. Indeed this and the hyperbole constitute the major part of American humour. If they have the slightest suspicion that a foreigner is about to write a book, nothing appears to give them so much pleasure as to try to mislead him; this has constantly been practised upon me, and for all I know, they may in some instances have been successful; if they have, all I can say of the story is that “se non e vero, e si ben trovato,” that it might have happened. (Note 1.)

When I was at Boston, a gentleman of my acquaintance brought me Miss Martineau’s work, and was excessively delighted when he pointed out to me two pages of fallacies, which he had told her with a grave face, and which she had duly recorded and printed. This practice, added to another, that of attempting to conceal (for the Americans are aware of many of their defects), has been with me productive of good results: it has led me to much close investigation, and has made me very cautious in asserting what has not been proved to my own satisfaction to be