Text: Various, Literary Reviews, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, VI, February 1840, pp. 103-105


[page 103:]

Diary in America, First and Second Parts. By Captain Marryatt. Philadelphia, Carey and Hart, and T. K. and G. P. Collins.

We refrained from noticing the first series of this extraordinary work on account of its incompleteness, and resolved to abide the appearance of the “subsequent commentaries” which the gentlemanly writer promised as a necessary pendant to his immature statements, before we gave an opinion of the book which, according to his own words, “ has given him more trouble than any work he ever wrote.” In the first series, Captain Marryatt states that his object in visiting the United States, was to ascertain the effects of a democratic form of government upon a people which, with its foreign admixture, may still be considered as English. As the first series did not contain one paragraph of application, although some dozens of stale anecdctes and impossible adventures were introduced, we concluded to wait for the publication of the second series or moral of the story before we attacked it with our critical scalpel. But, alas, there is as little application or purpose in the second part as in the first — we have but a second edition of the same imperfect design, the same species of vituperation, and the same revival of antique but not venerable jokes, with which the Captain stains his pages and interlards his conversation. The Captain does not or rather cannot depict the beauties or the faults of our democratic institutions — the effects of which upon the AngloSaxon race he promised but failed to exhibit. Paul Pry, the tiresome eaves-dropping, ignorant and impudent meddler, visited his friend Witherton to ask him about a double tooth with which he had [page 104:] been bothered; the officious fool remained some time in idle and offensive chatter, and after he had taken his departure, discovered that he had never asked Mr. Witherton about the tooth after all. Captain Marryatt, in the management of his democratic effects, has closely followed Mr. Paul Pry and the double tooth.

Serious criticism upon the trashy works before us is beneath even the very little dignity wherewith we clothe our editorial selves. The author's capacity for national strictures may be estimated from the fact that he seriously declares, while discoursing of the American game of ten-pins, “ that he was very fond of frequenting their alleys, not only for the exercise, but, because, among the various ways of estimating character, he had made up his mind that there was none more likely to be correct than the estimate formed by the manner in which people roll the ball, especially the ladies!” To prove his impartiality, let us revert to the announcement made in his answer to the Edinburgh Reviewers that his great object in writing his book was to do serious injury to the cause of democracy! We have also a word or two to say respecting his fitness of judgment on Education, Religion, Society, Public Opinion, Patriotism, and other ad captandum names which he has selected as titles to various portions of his work.

Captain Marryatt's progress through the United States was to him a passage of mortification and disgrace — to the lovers of literature, and to the hospitable who delight in the exercise of civilities, to the worthies of every clime, his presence was a blight and his departure a relief. When his arrival at New York was first announced, a highly respectable muster of Philadelphia citizens resolved to extend the honors of the city of brotherly love to the renowned author of “Peter Simple,” and forwarded him an invitation to a public dinner, with a request that he would name his own time. The secretary received an answer that he, the Captain, would be in Philadelphia in a few days, when the desired particulars might be arranged. He did make his promised visit, but the proffered dinner never took place — the gallant captain had not been in Philadelphia three days before incontrovertible statements of his positive vulgarity and blackguardism, both in public and private, were so rise, that it was impossible to muster even a quartette committee to carry the complimentary dinner into execution. And yet this man pretends to write strictures upon the social qualities of the citizens of the United States!

Captain Marryatt states that he had not been three weeks in this country before he decided upon accepting no more invitations, charily as they were made. Ah, captain, were the grapes sour? in three weeks the social circles of the Atlantic cities were acquainted with your universal practice of profanity and smut; but from our own experience we can affirm that you did not refuse a single invitation in the city of Philadelphia for some time after the expiration of the period which you assign, however charily the invites were made — nor can we point out an individual case wherein the most wearisome disgust did not attend your presence.

In the first part of the former series, the captain states that he was invited to dine with the Mayor and Corporation of New York. This is a misstatement; the civic dignitaries refused to extend their hospitalities to the rowdy Englishman, despite his earnest exertions to the contrary, and his presence at the dinner in question arose from the well-known good nature of a certain literary general in New York, who took the uninvited captain with him as one of his aid-de-camps. We should like to detail the real facts of some other portions of Marryatt's residence in the northern metropolis — of his interference with the domestic arrangements of a friend, while enjoying that friend's hospitality — and of his sneaking out of the country without returning an answer to a hostile message, tho result of his discovered rascality. But other interests supervene, and the captain must be content as it is.

Having developed his pretensions to criticise the Religion, Education, and Social Relations of our be-diaried and over journalized country, we intend to advance a position respecting the Patriotism of this king-loving Englishman, who fabricates so many volumes of balderdash to induce his countrymen to despise democracy, and who journeyed so many thousand leagues to observe the effects of the said democracy on the government of the people. In answer to this tirade, we assert that Captain Marryatt visited the United States for the express and avowed purpose of securing the copyright of his works, and we defy his American publisher to contradict our assertion; the book-making portion of the speculation was a natural result, and the captain relied upon it as a means of paying his expenses. As soon as he airived at New York, he consulted the Chancellor of that State as to the power of holding possession of copyright; and with a view to obtain that power, he rented a house, No. 30, Vesey street. New York; declared himself a citizen of the despised democratic land, and in that character, sued for an injunction on Messrs. Cooley and Bang, who had issued what he termed a pirated edition of his novel of Snarley-Yow. For this impudent assumption of civic rights in the United States, he has just been compelled to pay about eighty pounds sterling in England. Journeying onward to Philadelphia, he repeated his avowal of citizenship; and actually obtained from Mr. Hopkinson, the Clerk of the County Court of Pennsylvania, a printed form of declaration of intention to naturalize, wherein the declarer abjures all allegiance to every European power, especially the sovereign of the land of his birth. The honest captain, who was so eager to sell his patriotism for the filthy lucre which he expected to delive from the sale of his works, did not complete his venal act. He found that citizenship must be combined with length of residence to ensure a power of copyright; and he therefore suddenly blazed afresh with patriotic fire, and joined the troops [page 105:] of his monarch in their strong holds in Canada, from whence he fulminated paper thunderbolts against the people whose civic privileges he had vainly endeavored to assume. A few hundred dollars a year extra would have changed this rebel monarchist and despiser of democracy into a naturalized citizen, and have made a sharer in, if not a defender of, our republican institutions.

In reference to the actual merit of the two series, we have but a word to say. The chapter upon “Emigration” is the best written portion of the book; and the history of the Florida War, and the accounts of the destruction of the Ben Sherrod, the Home, and the Moselle stean, packets, are the most entertaining. A considerable, nay, the largest portion of the matter is but a reprint from other works of various natures and merit; we wish the veracious captain had attended to the advice contained in the old epigram —

The stolen part is much the best,

Take courage, Frank, and steal the rest.

[[Subsequent reviews in this issue are attributed to Poe]]





[S:0 - SLM, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - BGM Literary Reviews (Sept. 1839)