MR. SALA'S DIARY IN AMERICA.*
- [FROM OUR CORRESPONDMTT Dr NEW YORK.] BEFORE this letter reaches London, the readers of the Spectator will probably have seen many reviews of Mr. Sala's Diary in America in the Midst of War; but perhaps they may like also to know how that pair of goodly octavos impresses us in this country, and that an early copy enables me to tell them before, I hope, this last serving up of "America and the Americans" becomes an old story with the people to whom it is chiefly addressed. I say chiefly, because Mr. Sala owns that he expects a large audience in this country. Addressing himself in his " justificatory " chapter to "an intelligent American "—a title to which I do not pretend— he says, "You know, dear Sir, that these volumes will be repro- duced in the North, and will have thousands more readers there than they probably will have in England." Mr. Sala is in error. His Diary will not be reprinted here, nor will it receive the coun- try over as much notice as I shall give it in this letter. But let not his vanity be thereby wounded. His book will merely share the fate of the books of recent British tourists, to whom he modestly confesses that he is "not fit to hold a candle." Mr. Russell's Diary was reprinted because of his Crimean reputation ; and Mr. Trollope's North America by one house to complete the set of that gentleman's works which it has undertaken to com- plete, and by another because Mr. Trollope made special arrange- ments therefore. But Grattan's book, the fruit of much more knowledge than Mr. Sala's, and of a malignity which his do not exhibit, and Mr. Dicey's, which also displays a greater capacity of observation and a far greater freedom from prejudice, have never been reproduced here, and are quite unknown to our general public. British tourists have been led to overrate very much the importance which attaches here to their opinions, by mistaking the reasons for the feelings which their comments have, in most cases, excited. What they write is regarded with pleasure on the one hand, or resented on the other, not on account of any great consideration for their judgments—we Yankees are entirely too self-sufficient a folk for that, being in this respect, you know, a peculiar and a degenerate people ; but because the tone of these multitudinous books of travel is taken as a measure of the degree of candour and good feeling that we may expect from the representative men of a nation with whom we are, or rather were, not ashamed to own that we desired to be upon terms of friendship and mutual respect. And I notice Mr. Sala's book here, not by any means on our account, as will appear, but solely that those of his readers who may also be mine may judge, as far as I can help them to do so, of his trustworthiness as an observer. I shall criticize it no farther than by saying that it is not what it professes to be—a diary, or record of observation with running comment, but a book of loose discussion and opinion, garnished by a few statements of personal experience and picked-up stories, and, as it seems to me, and those who have read with me during the past week, very shallow, very flippant, monstrously wordy, stuffed with generalization based on very insufficient ob- servation, captious but not ill-natured, insufferably and ridicu- lously arrogant, but not purposely insulting, chokeful of exag- geration and perversion, but not (using Mr. Sala's own siord) of deliberate "lies," and withal very lively and amusing. I and my friends owe the writer some of the heartiest laughter we have enjoyed for a long while, which is something, and he has also another personal claim upon my consideration which be does not know. But all of any moment that he has truly re- presented in these two volumes of 450 pages each might be written upon a single page of the Spectator. He boasts that what he has written has been already laid before nearly 300,000 British readers. Setting aside all other considerations, should I be unreasonable in taking an opportunity of expressing a Yankee's judgment upon it to a much smaller number? But I shall merely test his trustworthiness by some of his statements of facts, and those the simplest and most easily ascertained.
• My Diary in America in the Midst of War. By George Augustus Sods. London: Tingley Brothers.
In his second paragraph Mr. Sala says, "You have made up your minds that national shall be pronounced naytional,' adver- tisement, 'advertyzement,' that defence shall be defense,' and theatre, theater." Here is his distinct statement, made for the purpose of illustrating a characteristic trait of our people. Now I, born and bred here, tell you that this is not true. If a boy in one of our common schools should pronounce advertyzement too often, he would probably have reason to exclaim, with Leonato, "My griefs cry lender than advertisement."
Webster, the most widely known of our lexicographers, gives advertisement only as the pronunciation ; and Worcester prefers this, but gives also the other. But of the most eminent British authorities Richardson gives advertysement and Walker both, with an apologetic note for the irregularity of advertisement ! So as to defence and theater ; Worcester gives them as I have just written them, and that is the best usage here ; but Webster " defense " and "theater." Mr. Sala is all abroad, at home or here.
Mr. Sala says, with the emphasis of italic type, "Personally you may have despised me. Nationally you did not dare touch one hair of my head. The meanest of British subjects could not be treated like Don Jose de Arguelles." That depends upon the British Government. Don Jose was placed, as a criminal of the deepest dye, in the hands of his own Government. Mr. Sala, I suggest it with diffidence, may entirely overrate the importance attached to his performances here by the people and the Govern- ment of this Republic, and their consequent desire to send him to prison. But he may be sure that if he had fled hither from Canada and, upon satisfactory evidence of his having sold 150 negroes into slavery, his own Government had demanded him, he would have been handed over to it with little ceremony. He might have complained,—but what would have been his Govern- ment's ground of complaint? Don Jose was not brought before a Court here simply because we had no extradition treaty with Spain which gave a Court jurisdiction.
On New Year's Day in New York there is a not very sensible custom of calling upon all your acquaintances, and Mr. Sala says, "If you possess 500 acquaintances and meet them, you will have very great difficulty in escaping the drinking of 500 drams." That depanis upon who you are. I spent the whole of last New Year's Day, foolishly enough, in making five or ten- minute calls, and yet I had no difficulty at all in escaping "a dram" at every friend's, having taken but one " drarn " during the whole day; and although wine was to be had in every house, I saw very little taken, as usual.
Mr. Sala, like another British tourist,, was afflicted upon the subject of boots. He bought a monstrous pair, and says "The
maker, a German, to whom I was introduced, and with whom I of course shook hands, &c." Very obliging, but by no means a matter of course. I have bought boots for twenty years, and never shook hands with a bootinaker in my life, or a hatter, or a tailor, or saw any other purchaser do so. There are many boot- makers, hatters, and tailors here whose worth and intelligence would make the giving of their hand a Compliment. But it is not the custom of the country to preface by the shaking of hands the ordering of a garment.
Mr. Sala supports a most mistaken fancy of his that "civiliza- tion has been sudden" here (which I shall not notice further, for I confine myself to facts, and those of little intrinsic consequence) by saying that in New York you see "a marble palace seven stories high, and beside it a livery stable, and next to that a log cabin."
It is difficult for me, who live in New York and go about in it continually, to understand how a man who has ever been here a day with his eyes open can make such an assertion. In the first place there are not half-a-dozen marble palaces (to use Mr. Sala's words) in the whole city, and not one with a livery stable beside it, and a log cabin is a thing which I have never yet seen. The whole passage in which this sentence occurs is one monstrous mis- statement, not, to use Mr. Sala's word again (a word never spoken or written here, by the way, among people who take thought about decorum), a deliberate "lie," but the result of a reckless effort to write something which would produce an effect, —to satisfy an appetite for some" stunning" statement about those extraordinary and incomprehensible people "the Americans," who, let me tell you, are the most ordinary and easily understood people in the world, if you don't come among them determined to see something queer, and go about and about and about to understand them.
At conversation-parties in this country you are told "there is a refreshment buffet for the ladies and a bar for the gentlemen."
Mr. Sala is a tremendous joker, but he should not hoax with quite such a serious face and keep it up so steadily. A serious assertion like the above, or anything like it, would be unworthy of serious contradiction. There is not the slightest foundation for it.
"White kid gloves are pretty generally worn at church." You should have heard the merry peal of laughter that went up from the little circle to which I read this announcement among others. White kid gloves are never worn here at church, except it may be at the lunatic asylums. Indeed they are scarcely worn at all. A gentleman who should make an evening call in very light-coloured gloves would attract attention, and on full-dress occasions, when they are worn, straw-colour or lavender are preferred. Petty business this, but it is not of my making.
Mr. Sala notices a political satire published here called The New Gospel of Peace, the somewhat over broad humour of which has won it an enormous circulation. He scourges it as a charac- teristic exhibition of Yankee irreverence, because it is written in the phraseology into which the English translators rendered the language of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. I had_ myself supposed that it was a Yankee notion, but Mr. Sal& himself points out a similar performance by William Hone and Archbishop Whately, and the other day a countryman of his showed me another, called The Chaldee Manuscript, in Blackwood. I think that after that the less said about the Yankeeness of the irreverence the better. Mr. Sala suggests that the author's only reason for using this style was that (italics Mr. Sala's again) "he wished to express in a fantastic form that for writing which in sober newspaper style he might have been sent to Fort Lafayette." Will you believe it? —this satire supports the Government and the war- through thick and thin, is launched only at rebels, slave-drivers, and Copperheads. Mr. Sala had read the pamphlet, for he. quotes from it ; but so loose are his statements, or so vague his notions. Their looseness, however, is of a kind which lets them, always slip round to one side, the side opposite this country. And here let me say that no man was ever sent to Fort Lafayette or- suffered in person or in property for opposing by word or deed the policy of the Government. Throughout the war, whoever has chosen to do so, has been at full liberty to oppose and denounce the measures of the Government, and its ministers and highest officers. But there has been one thing that no man could do with impunity, and that is to adhere to the public enemy and to interfere with the administration of the Gevernu3ent. Perhaps that is permitted in Great Britain. My readers know. Mr. Sala "improves the occasion" by commiserating Mr. Fernando Wood (who is severely handled in this satire), because although "high in position, rich, &e.," he is "pub- licly branded as an extortioner," although, again, "he has not been tried," and he (Mr. Sala) goes on to say, apropos, that "nobody [here] seems to think that there is anything particularly shameful or scandalous in such a career as that attributed to Mr. Wood." Is it possible that Mr. Sala can have been so long in New York and not learned that Mr. Wood is branded, not as an extortioner, but as a common swindler, upon evidence produced in court, which evidence has been published in full in half-a- dozen newspapers, and that he was saved only by the application of a statute of limitation ? And as to Mr Wood's position, in spite of his reputation, can Mr. Sala be ignorant of the notorious fact that this man was made Mayor of New York and afterwards. member of Congress not by the votes of "Americans," but by those of Irishmen born and bred? If Mr. Sala says that that reveals a weak point in our polity, he will find many here who will agree with him.
Mr. Sala says that here, "If you purchase an article, no one- dreams of saying 'Thank you." I say that, according to -my memory of my experience through all my life, and my particular observation within the past few days, salesmen not only dream of it, but do it. There are exceptions, but " Thank you" is the rule. Mr. Sala tells you that this courtesy—thanks—is not common here, except among those who have travelled in Europe. I tell you, having been brought up among people who had not been in Europe for seven generations, that any Yankee who is brought up at all is. taught to say, "If you please" and "Thank you "even to a servant. Mr. Sala tells you that he "NEVER saw a lady thank a gentleman for handing her fare and returning her change in an omnibus. I tell you that for the sake of observation I have ridden up and down in all sorts of omnibuses throughout this week, placing myself in a position in which this service would fall upon me, so that in one ride I have performed it for six female fellow-passengers, and never for less than two, and in every case except one it was acknowledged either with an audible" Thank you," or with a bow
and a smile. The exception was a woman in a dirty gown, with nails in fall mourning, who took her money out of a greasy purse and ill smelling. But the purse was full, and her daughter will probably flaunt in silk, and inherit not only her mother's money but her manners, which were not learned in this country. I admit that there are many such women to be found as that daughter will be.
Mr. Sala tells you, writing lugubrious pages about it, that he could not get any lucifer matches, and that he had to buy three hundred feet of cord to get a little to cord his trunks. That be may have had some difficulty about these trifling matters I of course will not deny. But I assure you that every chamber in every house or hotel has matches in it as a matter of course ; that you can buy one box or a dozen at any grocer's ; that there are stalls in the streets, even Wall Street, at which you can buy them, and that boys rush into your office shouting "Matches !" also that if my little boy wants a new cord to his sled he goes to one of half-a-dozen places near by and buys it. Mr. Sala's repre- sentation would be as tame of London if he said that he could not get a pot of beer there, and that if he wanted a slice of beef he would be obliged to buy an ox and roast him whole.
The points upon which I have touched are nearly all trivial ; but they were selected for that reason. They are the simplest matters of fact, as to which an observant, intelligent boy's evidence ought to be good. Yet here you have Mr. Sala's testimony and that of a resident here confronting each other plumply. It is not implying that Mr. Sala has purposely told what is false to say that both these testimonies cannot be true. And we at least will ask (those of us who see Mr. Sala's book), are the observation and the judgment which are at fault upon matters so plain that it would seem that the wayfaring Briton though a fool need not err therein, to be trusted in matters more difficult and of more im- portance? But if Mr. Sala when he came here had reversed his provision for his journey, and brought his good sense with him and left his prejudices at home, what a truthful, but what an
tminteresting book he would have written ! A YANKEE.