17 APRIL 1880, Page 20


A POET has told us that" Love lends a precious seeing to the eye ;" and after reading Mr. Potts's prettily-bound and printed volume, we are in some doubt whether to look upon his un- disguised delight in America as the cause of the charming and apparently truthful character of the descriptions he has given us of it, or to regard him as one whose powers of " seeing " and of " loving " are independent of one another. Upon the whole, we incline to the former hypothesis,—without, however, any prejudice to the author's literary faculty, which is discernible. But he is evidently a man whose powers of observation depend almost entirely upon the degree to which his sympathy or enthusiasm is aroused. He cannot observe deliberately, for mere observation's sake,—as a cold-blooded novelist, for in- stance, might do. He is more a man of emotions and prepos- sessions than of note-books and anecdotes; and he does not cultivate that form of self-complacency which is derived from a consideration of the shortcomings of other people. If any- thing disagreeable gets in his way, and will not disappear for being smiled upon, Mr. Potts either ignores it, or dis- covers some latent good of which it is the temporary disguise. Ile never scolds or sulks, and grumbling is not in him. In fact, his good-humour, buoyancy, and optimism sometimes fail to be contagious only because they impress one as supernatural. "My visit to America," declares Mr. Potts, when half-way through his visit, "will seem, when it is over, like a delightful dream, too good to be true. There will not be a single speck of cloud on all the bright horizon of it, except those which are caused by my own imperfections !" We sober-sided folk are almost afraid to keep pace with impetuosity such as this.

But, after all, if sunshine ignores some facts, it tells the truth about whatever it does look at ; and perhaps the strongest im- pression left on our minds after reading these Letters, is of the artless veracity and transparent candour of the writer who has been addressing us. Moreover, so far as we are acquainted with the subjects of which he treats—and to some extent, we happen to enjoy that advantage—we can bear testimony to the surprising accuracy and fidelity of the picture he draws; except that it may not have occurred to us before how very agree- able these scenes or these circumstances were capable of appear- ing. Mr. Potts's humour, of which we have occasional glimpses, is of rather an obvious and childlike kind; but so far as can be judged, it is quite in character. Our author is, we should imagine, a guileless, rosy-checked, childlike personage, with a fund of innocent, childlike prattle, and a childlike belief that most people may be as guileless as himself. His is not the slow, wise smile of a cultivated intelligence, but rather a boyish giggle, spontaneous and easy, and more indicative of a prone- ness to appreciate the pleasantness of things in general, than to fathom obscure depths of facetiousness in anything in par- ticular. His style of composition is free and informal, to a perhaps extreme degree. "I wasn't," "he couldn't," "they weren't," and similar contractions, appear rather too often. It is true that the Letters were originally written for the columns of the weekly journal of the religious denomination to which the Rev. Mr. Potts belongs, and that he probably felt in writing that he was among friends, and need not be over-anxious about literary niceties. But literature had better be treated with respect, if she be meddled with at all, for every liberty taken with her reflects with multiplied force upon whomsoever takes it. Not that we would have had Mr. Potts feel embarrassed, by any means. His unrestraiut is manifestly one main cause of his lively and accurate de- scriptions. In this respect, his Letters are as valuable as those which an intelligent woman might write to her intimate friend. There are happy touches of almost feminine insight in them, such as do not come of premeditation. But having called Mr. Potts childlike, boyish, and feminine, it is time we should stop. It is not often that a critic finds it in his conscience to pay such compliments. But the fact is, there is a flavour of freshness and originality about this little book which is not common now-a-days in any branch of literature,

• Letter* from Amerfea. By the Bev. J. F. Potts, RA. 1 vol. London : James pairs. Isso.

least of all in narratives of visits to the Eastern States of America ; while its blemishes are superficial, and in themselves somewhat attractive, as making us feel better acquainted with the sunny nature of the author. And certainly, in a book of travels, the personal traits of the traveller are of almost para- mount importance to the reader, who may be supposed already to know something about the subject described, and who is only concerned that the point of view shall be novel and entertaining.

In the extracts which we are about to give, we intend to adopt the somewhat irregular course of "garbling," without desig- nating the places where omissions occur; and we do this partly to economise space, and partly to give the reader a connected impression of the things described. Since the extracts are not made in a depreciatory spirit, Mr. Potts will, perhaps, excuse our liberty.

Mr. Potts, on arriving in New York, was taken up into an exceedingly high place, the summit, namely, of the Equitable Insurance Building, nine stories high. This sudden transition from his boisterous and foggy sea-voyage was like being "suddenly transported into fairy-land r"—

" The general whiteness of everything struck me very much. The bright sunshine fell everywhere on white houses and white sails. Bound at my feet lay the clear city of New York, bounded on three sides by a broad belt of shining water, dotted with islands. Buildings of very clean and very red brick rose around us, conspicuous amid the prevailing whiteness. Beyond the river was the long line of Jersey City, made up of light-coloured buildings and hills covered with houses and trees. To the left is the vast city of Brooklyn, on a sloping ground facing us, and composed of the same light-coloured buildings, with trees intermixed among the suburban parts. Over the narrow strait of the East River, at a great altitude, swings the enormous suspension bridge connecting New York and Brooklyn, without interfering with the tallest ships. Between the East and North rivers the panorama is filled by the interminable but narrow city of New York. We look perpendicularly down into Broadway, and see the little white omnibuses running along its straight vista, with the same hurrying lines of business men that we are accustomed to at home. Almost no ill-dressed persons are to be seen. The roofs of neighbouring great buildings are flat, and people have little houses and live on them. Every building along the sides of the street is some pretty colour. Puffs of steam, almost blindingly white in the sunshine, rise over the city in all directions."

This is comprehensive and telling description ; and there is no straining after effect in it. Mr. Potts afterwards visited Providence, a large manufacturing town of New England, containing "great factories that might have belonged to Preston or Bolton." But "it is certainly the prettiest city I ever saw. It contains 105,000 inhabitants, but owing to the way it is laid out—every dwelling-house has a garden round it—the city covers a relatively large surface. All the streets, except those in the heart of the city, are lined with trees on both sides of the roadway. In the central part there are shops, ware- houses, immense hotels, large open spaces, wharves, streets crowded with business men. Granite, red brick, brown stone, and marble are the materials of which the buildings are con- structed. Looked at from a distance, however, one is struck with the semi-Oriental appearance of the city. "Immense domes, intermingled with steeples and towers, no chimneys of any kind, flat-roofed houses, trees rising in every direction, the clear atmosphere utterly devoid of smoke, the deep blue sky, the bright sunshine, the general reflected whiteness of all the city, —these make up the picture of a scene in some Eastern land." Unquestionably it affords a contrast to our Birmingham or Manchester, and even London, about Christmas-time, hardly showed so fair a front.

This astonishing brightness and purity of the American atmosphere make themselves felt all through Mr. Potts's book. "Round white cumuli, clouds dazzlingly white, are poised at a great altitude in the blue expanse. Lofty clouds are characteris- tic of the American sky ; you are conscious of a certain lofty sublimity of the heavens. It is the same at night, in a different way. On a clear night, not merely does every star shine with twofold brilliance and twofold brightness of colour, but there are at least twice as many stars visible as in England. There is very little twinkling of the fixed stars ; they glow with a blaze nearly as steady as that of the planets." In Boston, again, there is "no smoke ! The air in the heart of the city is as clear as in the open country. The sun shines with un- diminished brightness into the well-paved and crowded streets. Everybody is well dressed; there are a very great number of good-looking men and women; and I never saw so large a pro- portion of intellectual and refined faces." Really, it is incon- siderate of Mr. Potts thus to bedazzle his befogged and be- nighted countrymen with visions of unattainable splendour; and as the climate, so, in some degree, appear to be the people. In -the railway "cars," where all classes travel together, Mr. Potts has "never seen a drunken person. In cheap excursion- trains, the young working lads, who in England would be behaving like human swine, here sit still and conduct them- selves in a considerate and proper manner. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that they have all their lives been accustomed to travel with ladies and gentlemen. Even ' roughs ' just landed in the New World are completely over- awed, as soon as they enter the long car, and see the rows of silent and somewhat severe-looking faces that are turned towards them." And a large American ironfounder told Mr. Potts that he employed very few Englishmen. They are dis- liked, "because of their interfering character. They no sooner enter the place, than they begin to agitate for something; whereas, every American workman expects some day to become a master, and therefore does his best to improve himself in every possible way. There are almost no Trades Unions among American workmen."

We have not space to follow Mr. Potts further, but we can safely affirm that every reasonable person who takes up his book will gladly follow him to the end of it, and be sorry when the end comes. He touches incidentally .upon many topics of serious interest, and though he is never dull or pragmatical, he is never flippant or shallow. He is irresistibly readable on every page, and we hope he will some day go to some other country, and, find. as much that is good and beautiful there as he has found in the home of our American brethren.