Thomas Hamilton ~ Margaret Hall ~ George Combe
Harriet Martineau ~ Alexander Boloni Farkas ~ Frederick Julius Gustorf
Charles Lyell ~ Francis Kemble

Thomas Hamilton

Thomas Hamilton's Men and Manners in America could have been a monumental work, worthy of a place next to Democracy in America, if its tone had not bordered on sarcasm. Author of the novel Cyril Thorton, Hamilton traveled to America from Scotland in 1830 intending to write an informative account. He had been frustrated with all the conflicting reports of the new democratic experiment and was determined to write a definitive book.

Men and Manners in America is a very complete and astute description of the United States. However, Hamilton's depressive personality and personal prejudice against America shines through every analysis, discrediting what appears to be exhaustive scholarship. Undercutting his character even more is the congenial tone he adopts in the dedication and conclusion of his book. He thanks the Americans for their personal kindness and hopes that his harsh criticisms will only be regarded as honest evaluations.

Too much of Hamilton's character is apparent throughout the book for it to be dismissed it as mere bluntness. For example, when he is in Philadelphia, Hamilton is continually asked whether he has seen the waterworks. Finally he becomes so annoyed by these pleasant inquiries he refuses to see the attraction altogether.

"A dozen times a-day was I asked whether I had seen the waterworks, and on my answering in the negative, I was told that I positively must visit them; that they were unrivalled in the world; that no people but the Americans could have executed such works, and by implication, that no one but an Englishman, meanly jealous of American superiority, would omit an opportunity of admiring their unrivalled mechanism" (194).
Hamilton also dwells a good deal on the inconveniences he encounters on the road. At each new distasteful occurrence he proclaims that "he has never suffered more."

Despite its cutting style, Men and Manners is a considerable piece of work, considering it was published in 1830, well before most of the other well known narratives, including Tocqueville. Hamilton is very in-depth and he examines both the society of the United States and its political structures. He also pays close attention to architecture, continually pointing out the origins of the various designs. However, like Margaret Hall, he is caught up in endless comparisons with England and Scotland. Even when he finds a positive aspect of America, such as the public school system, he is quick to point out that Scotland's educational system is similar, and more importantly, they were first.


Margaret Hall

In 1827, Margaret Hall traveled to the United States on holiday with her husband and fifteen-month-old daughter Eliza. They stayed eleven months. She was Scottish aristocrat and like many women of her standing, very well-traveled. Hall's An Aristocratic Journey is a collection of letters she has written to her sister Jane during the course of her travels in the United States. This epistolary form makes Hall's narrative less contrived than the more serious writers, but it is also more superficial. The letters are mainly a collection of Eliza's antics, detailed descriptions of sites and habits, and frequent complaints about the inferiority of American high society. The Halls travel in first class style and carry with them over 100 letters of introduction. Their trip is virtually a parade of social events, and they meet many prominent people of the time including Henry Clay, John Jacob Astor, Daniel Webster and President Adams.

Hall has no scientific training nor does she have a social or political agenda, and for these reasons her account is a useful contrast to the works of Hamilton, Tocqueville, Farkas, Martineau and Lyell. Her narrative is representative of the average aristocratic tourist's diary, not a sociological or political analysis. Also, Hall carries no pretenses of being unbiased. She does not try to disguise her opinions, nor does she worry about finding consistencies or patterns within her observations.

An Aristocratic Journey is quite a superficial, but well written book. Hall never quite sees her own prejudice and is constantly engaged in comparing the United States with England. It never occurs to her that she is in a wholly different country and that the habits and practices there might be altogether different. Her attitude that America should be essentially a "New World England" is apparent in her realization that the United States is "more foreign than England" (18).

If the American reader forgives Hall her pompousness and sees the merits of her observant and eloquent words, An Aristocratic Journey can be an entertaining and even enjoyable read. The account not only paints a picture of America in 1828, but also portrays how the English aristocracy felt about the new democracy.


George Combe

George Combe was an English phrenologist who traveled to the United States to conduct lectures from 1838-1840. Like Charles Lyell, Combe looks at America through the eyes of a scientist. As a lover of the scientific method, Combe understood the difficulties of writing a comprehensive narrative of any group of people. Combe read many 1830's accounts of the New World, including those of Francis Trollope, Harriet Martineau and Thomas Hamilton. Combe's complete understanding of the pitfalls of his daunting task is apparent in his lengthy introduction. This piece is truly an outstanding examination of the process of writing a study of a people or country and it would do any reader of travel narratives great service to read it. In this introduction, Combe acknowledges better than any other of the writers the extent to which personal impressions cannot begin to adequately describe an entire republic. Combe is also very explicit about his intended audience: the English. He clearly states that Americans, knowing their own habits and character first hand, will find the narrative tedious.

Combe's final product, Notes on the States of North America During a Phrenological Visit reflects a very scientific mind. Almost a third of the book is dedicated to explaining and legitimating the questionable science of phrenology. Combe supplies numerous charts and drawings for this purpose. Indeed, if properly edited, the title of the work could have been Manual for the Amateur Phrenologist, or A Defense of the Science of Phrenology. Overall, the account is clear, to the point, and the most unbiased of all the writers with the possible exception of Charles Lyell, the English geologist.

The major merit of Combe's work is that he does not only pinpoint the peculiarities of the Americans and their society, but he also makes great efforts to discern their cause. For instance, when he continually sees estates and stores half finished, but occupied and in use, he does not merely drop it as failed enterprise but recognizes that the high cost and scarcity of good labor creates the need to make do with a partially built structure until money can be made to pay for its completion. Combe is also well versed in the history of the United States and uses his knowledge to find the reasons behind observations. In one case, Combe recognized, as other travelers did, the solemn character of the Americas. However, he was the only one to explore the possibility that its cause might be their Puritan roots.

Although the science of phrenology has proved to be less than accurate, this is not an adequate reason to dismiss what is an astute, educated, and for the most part, unbiased picture of Americans to an English scientist in 1838.


Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau was one of the most popular authors writing about America in the 1830's. In 1834, Martineau traveled from England to the United States where she would spend two years touring with the intent of publishing her work. The products of that journey were Society in America, published in 1837, and its more informal companion, Retrospect of Western Travel, published in 1838. Society in America is very similar to Democracy in America in that it is a study and not a purely descriptive narrative. Martineau's purpose was "to compare the existing state of society in America with the principles on which it is founded" (48).

Like George Combe, Martineau sees the difficulties of her task and articulates them in her introduction. She concedes that large conclusions should not be drawn from one incident and that her own prejudices must be taken into account. She realizes that "the traveller from the Old World to the New is apt to lose himself in reflection when he should be observing" (129). In light of these difficulties, she recalls anecdote after detailed anecdote, always being careful to note the complete circumstances from which her opinions were formed.

Although she traveled in the style of the upper class--riding private stages, staying in hotels and getting first class berths--Martineau was not afraid to see and live American life first hand. She takes a lesson in rifle shooting (144), tries her hand at hewing a hickory tree, and enters deep into Kentucky's Mammoth Cave (133). Despite being almost completely deaf (she carried an ear trumpet wherever she went), Martineau's journeys take her to almost every part of the travelable United States, including rural Michigan and the pioneer city of Chicago.

Though she is critical of many aspects of American society, Martineau enjoys both the quaint rural communities and the sublimity of raw nature that the American west provides. She speaks more romantically of the nature of the New World than the other writers. "Never was a country more gifted by nature" she proclaims (131). Within the same paragraph, Martineau does not fail to see the future economic implications of a country so filled with natural resources and a body of people determined to make their fortune.


Alexander Boloni Farkas

Reverence is the only word to describe how deeply Alexander Boloni Farkas felt about America. The son of a Hungarian nobleman, Farkas came to the United States from Transylvania in 1831. His book, Journey in North America was published in Hungary in 1834, a year before Democracy in America. Farkas' account is not the typical travel narrative, but was written to ignite political reform in his native Hungary.

In the 1830's, Hungary was controlled by Austria and still basically under the feudal system. Farkas, a liberal reformer and social activist, was appalled by the conditions of his beloved country. Farkas came to America to see the "democratic experiment" in action and report its glory to his own oppressed countrymen. He traveled as a secretary to a government official who sympathized with his reform ideas and knew of his desire to see America. There were few social events for the men and they came equipped only with letters of recommendation to government officials.

The tone of Journey in North America is almost euphoric. Compared to the dry, critical narratives of the English travelers such as Hamilton and Hall, Farkas writes of a country literally in the glow of wealth and freedom. Farkas' joy on meeting President Jackson is typical of his ebullient style. "I shall never forget the elation I felt when we left, to have been able to see and talk to this distinguished man. His handshake made me feel more proud than any honor in this world and in my memory I shall always treasure it" (183). Although the narrative is written in a romantic style, it is also quite factual. Farkas writes for the average Hungarian citizen in the 1830's who would have not been familiar with the details of the newly formed republic. He relates the history of many events in America and even includes tables and graphs to illustrate the rapid growth of the country.

Farkas' journal is devoid of any complaints about the service, roads, or manners of the Americans. He is impressed by all he sees, from the progress of industry to the informality of the people. The only exception is the American institution of slavery, which sickens him.

The romanticism of Farkas' book can perhaps be accounted for by the need to get it past the Austrian censors. Although Farkas was traveling on government business, the increasingly stringent Austrian regime was becoming aware of his reformist sympathies. He could have published the book abroad, as other rebels had done, but he preferred to rewrite and condense the voluminous manuscript and try to have it published in Transylvania. He was successful, and Eszak Amerikaban became immediately popular. The book sold an unprecedented 2000 copies in the first two editions. This is an extraordinary number, as even the most popular authors in Hungary at the time sold only a few hundred copies of their books (14). However, Eszak Amerikaban was not available to a general American audiences until it was translated into English in 1977.



Frederick Julius Gustorf

Frederick Gustorf traveled in the western United States in 1835, carefully keeping a journal that he hoped to publish one day, if only for his family. Gustorf's notes were kept in the bottom of a desk drawer for 130 years. Cherished but unread, the papers were known to family members as "The Diary." Finally, in the 1960's, the papers were given to his great-grandson, also named Frederick Gustorf, who, with the help of his wife Gisela, translated, edited, and finally published them in 1969 as The Uncorrupted Heart, the Journal and Letters of Frederick Julius Gustorf 1800-1845.

Gustorf made his first trip to America in 1819. He was an approved teacher of German, and he was listed in the 1920 Harvard directory as a "Private Teacher in German". He continued to work as a teacher at both Harvard and Yale until he returned to Germany for unknown reasons in 1824. A decade later, in an equally mysterious move, he went back to the United States and became a naturalized citizen.

Technically, this makes Gustorf's journal that of an immigrant. However, his writings are from his first trip west, and therefore his attitudes are those of a traveler. Gustorf's account is useful to include among these travelers because it is written from the perspective of a working class man. He takes various jobs, usually farm work, and sweats his way up and down the Mississippi. He has no hotel reservations or letters of introduction. He sleeps in bug-infested boarding houses and travels by any means available. All along the way he meets fellow German immigrants, who, disenchanted by the endless work and hardship of the American West, long for the warmth of the old country. Gustorf is saddened and puzzled by these stories. He writes,

"How can former professors, doctors, and lawyers who lived for fifty years among the highest and most cultured of life classes in Germany abandon that kind of life to become common farmers in America? They think that they are philosophically equipped to master any situation, but they do not have the physical strength to do the work of peasants."

The Uncorrupted Heart is full of honest observations like this; it is an unfiltered picture of rural immigrant America in the 1830's.


Charles Lyell

Of the travel narratives discussed in this site, Charles Lyell's was written the latest. He traveled to America from 1841-42. In the six or seven short years between his trip and that of Tocqueville and most of the other travelers, great improvements were made in the rail system of the United States. This giant step forward in transportation ease and luxury is apparent in Lyell's book. He rarely complains about any of his accommodations and he is continually astounded by the speed and efficiency of travel in the new republic. There can be no doubt that the ease of riding the rails not only provided him with writing time on board, but also calmed his disposition during the entire trip.

Lyell was a well-known English geologist who came to America to deliver the Lowell Lectures in Boston. He lectured for an entire fall and then traveled with his wife for the rest of the year. His account is called Lyell's Travels in North America in 1841-42. Like George Combe, whose account is filled with phrenological material, Lyell's narrative contains a good deal of technical geologic information. Lyell does not confine himself to purely scientific data, however, and an abridged version of his Travels offers a well-rounded picture of American life in 1840.

Lyell was a renowned scientist in England and he was able to meet many prominent Americans such as John Jacob Astor, President Tyler and Noah Webster as well as many of the leading scientists of the time. Lyell's observations are made with a detached interest. He rarely mentions his accommodations or material goods except in passing. Lyell is astute enough to see both the beauty and economic power of America's natural resources and the devastation to the wildlife it can cause. He wonders at hummingbirds and the fall colors while also noting the losing battle of nature against man's progression west. "The removal of tall trees has allowed the sun's rays to penetrate freely to the soil, and dry up part of the morass. Within the memory of persons now living, the wild bisons or buffaloes crowded to these springs, but they have retreated for many years, and are now as unknown to the inhabitants as the mastodon itself." (141).

Lyell's book is not as comprehensive as some of the other narratives, but it is interesting to note the progress of the United States since the mid-nineteen thirties without the pompous tone of the English socialites.


Francis Kemble

Fanny Kemble did not come to America in 1832 to sightsee; she came to save the family fortune. A novice English actress from a theater family, Kemble's father had lost a great deal of money, and after a successful acting debut in London, he decided they could make more money touring in America. Fanny was reluctant to go on the trip but she was also a spirited woman who enjoyed drama and adventure.

Kemble's account has the dry criticism of the English, but it is also very bold, told from the perspective of a working actress on tour and not an idle aristocratic lady. She does not receive many visitors nor attend many social events, as so much of her energy is occupied with rehearsal and performances. Most of the time Kemble holds herself superior to all she finds, but naively so. She states plainly, "It's a darling country for poor fellows" (106). She often cites instances where she has been treated rudely, never stopping to contemplate if it was her own attitude or actions that merited the treatment.

Kemble is a very spirited woman. She throws her heart into her craft, glorying in her triumphs in front of the American audiences or wallowing in defeat. This zest for action carries over into her life. Kemble always runs or hikes ahead of the group, rides the fastest horse and climbs to the highest point. Her enthusiasm wins the heart of Pierce Butler, a Philadelphia bachelor she marries in 1834. The marriage does not last long and by 1840 the couple splits up. In the meantime, Fanny divides her time between England and America.

Kemble published her travel journals in 1835 over the objections of her husband, who deleted all the proper names before he would allow the book to go to press. Later she rankles the South when she publishes a strident anti-slavery work, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation, 1838-39.



Introduction ~ On The Road ~ Character ~ Habits ~ Education ~ The Press
Industry, Nature and Visions of the West