When the cruel and subtle grimalkin, roused from her slumbers by some sudden impulse of hunger, meditates an expedition to the regions which she knows to be occupied by mice, do you think she foolishly frustrates her purpose by heralding her approach, shoeing herself, as it were, with walnut-shells, clattering, mewing, spitting, and sputtering? Alas, unhappy mice! no; but she glides suddenly, unseen, and noiselessly into your dusky territories . . . . Now, to compare small things with great, (the former Grimalkin, the latter Boz), when we first heard it breathed that he was going to America, we thought within ourselves thus: -- If we had the admirable talent for observation and description, and the great reputation (to give universal currency to our "Notes") of Boz -- a man who has amused for several years, a greater number and more various classes of his fellow-creatures, than anyone we have for some years known, heard, or read of -- and had intended to break up new ground in America, we should have imitated the aforesaid cat in all except her bloody designs and doings. In plain English, we should have resolved to take -- good-naturedly -- brother Jonathan off his guard; and transmuting Mr. Charles Dickens into Mr. Johnson, or Mr. Benjamin Brown, gone away without allowing a hint of our visit to transpire either at home or abroad. We should thus have entered America, and made all our most important observations, under strict incognito. A month before quitting, however, we might perhaps have resumed our character of "Charles Dickens, Esquire," and presenting the best letters of introduction with which we had come provided, mixed in the best society in our own proper person. Thus we should have seen Jonathan asleep, in dishabille; and also wide awake, and in his best clothes, and his best manners . . . .
But what did our good friend Boz do? Why, alas, to our inexpressible concern and vexation, we saw him formally announce his intentions to the whole world, months before he set off . . . . From that moment, (as we then said to those around us), we gave up all expectation of any such product as Mr. Dickens' qualifications and opportunities, prudently used, would have entitled us to rely upon. He was hamstringed and hoodwinked at starting; he doubtless unconsciously prepared himself for a triumphal progress through America -- all having long before been put on their guard, and by a thousand devices of courtesy, hospitality, and flattery, disabling their admired visitor from taking, or communicating to his countrymen, just and true observations on the men and manners of America; for it was to see them that we supposed such a man as Boz would have gone; and not the mere cities, villages, railroads, coaches, and steamboats, or the rivers and mountains and forests of America, all of which have been repeatedly scanned, and adequately described, by perhaps a hundred of his predecessors . . . .
. . . There can be no doubt that, originally, and all along, he has been greatly indebted for his popularity among his numerous readers in the lower classes of society, to the spirited and often admirable illustrations with which all his writings have been accompanied, by Cruikshank and others -- at once rousing and sustaining the most dull and torpid fancy, giving form, and substance, and corporeal and tangible shape and reality, to his characters. They have, however, had also another effect . . . . The constant presence of these pictorial illustrations has unconsciously influenced his own fancy while at work in drawing his ideal characters . . . . The writer's "mind's eye" becomes thus obedient, insensibly, to the eye of his body; and the result is a perpetual and unconscious straining after situations and attitudes which will admit of being similarly illustrated . . . . [It] is calculated, since he must write so much, and so frequently, to put him upon straining after, and forcing out, these hidden qualities and effects, instead of -- so to speak -- allowing them to exude before the eye of minute and penetrating observation . . . .
Yet once again. The works of Mr. Dickens afford many evidences of their writer's great familiarity with theatrical matters and associations; a dangerous thing to a young writer on men and manners, as apt to induce a style of writing, turgid, factitious, and exaggerated. It is to look at the realities of life through a glaring, artificial, and vulgarizing medium . . . .
. . . [We] did not desire or expect from Boz any dissertation upon the political institutions of America, or their remote influence upon the habits, humours, and character of its citizens. We have long had, and are constantly acquiring, ample materials for judging whether the men, or the institutions, are to be praised or blamed for the state of things at present existing in that country. The penetrating intellect of the candid, but biased, De Tocqueville, and the invaluable observations of our accomplished, experienced, and highly-gifted countryman, Mr. Hamilton [author of Men and Manners in America, 1834 -- ed.] . . . and others whose names will at once occur to the reader, have laid bare to us the very pulsative heart of America. We expected from Boz great amusement; and thought it not unlikely that, before setting off on his trip, or, at least, before publishing an account of it, he would have read the fine works of his more eminent predecessors, if not to guide his observations, at all events to enable him to avoid pre-occupied ground . . . . We utterly dislike and despise all those who would seek to set us against Jonathan, by dwelling, as some have done, with resolute ill-nature, on the weak parts of his character -- needlessly wounding his vanity, and irritating his national feelings . . . . [We] believe that they and theirs have very grave faults; but we make such allowances for them as a kind experienced father, with willing affection, makes for the errors and imperfections of a youthful and inexperienced son.
Alas, how very said it is to have to own the feelings of chagrin and disappointment with which we have risen from the perusal of these volumes of Mr. Dickens, and to express our fears that such will be the result of the perusal of them by the Americans! . . . . Where are his sketches of, at all events, the public characters, and of the pursuits and manners of the great men of America with whom he must have frequently come into close contact -- the statesmen, the judges, the more eminent members of the bar, the clergymen, the physicians, the naval and military men, the professors in the universities -- nay, even the theatrical men, but above all, the authors of America? Not one! . . . . And why did he form the once-or-twice expressed determination to give no notices or sketches of individuals? And if he thought fit thus to resolve -- thus to exclude all possible topics of interest to the reading public -- why, with his reputation and influence, did he publish a book on America at all? Would not such a performance, iis omissis, be indeed the play of Hamlet, with the character of Hamlet omitted? . . . .
His book gives one an uneasy notion of perpetual and very unpleasant locomotion; . . . in every possible variety of land and water carriage, continually thrown among disagreeable and vulgar fellow travellers, experiencing all sorts of personal inconveniences and annoyances; dashing past cities, towns, villages, huts, forest, plains, hills, rivers, canals: -- surely, dear Boz, there was no necessity to give us minute and monotonous records of such matters . . . . Why dwell so long and painfully on the disgusting peculiarities of your commercial and other fellow-travellers, and say nothing about the manners of the educated and superior classes -- the ladies the gentlemen of America? . . . . Again -- we do not feel the least desire to accompany Boz in his character of inspector of prisons and visitor of lunatic asylums . . . . We did not want the many political or statistical details, nor the minute descriptions of buildings, streets, squares, villages, and towns . . . . They are neither interesting, valuable, nor new; we expected, at all events, different topics from Boz. Whenever he descends form the stilts of political and moral declamation, and walks quietly along on his own ground -- the delineation of manners and character, especially among the lower classes -- Boz is a delightful, and fresh, as ever . . . .
At Washington, Boz comically figures as a very angry lion, (and well he may be), among the little street-urchins. If he be in earnest here, these young gentlemen are the most impudent varlets we ever saw or heard of. The general character and unfinished appearance of the buildings of Washington, are thus humorously described. "To the admirers of cities, its is a Barmecide Feast; a pleasant field for the imagination to rove in; a monument raised to a deceased project, with not even a legible inscription to record its departed greatness." His descriptions of the Senate and House of Representatives, then sitting, are very meagre and unsatisfactory; and nothing can be more turgid and feeble, than the long paragraph of declamation which follows them; most irritating and offensive in tone to the Americans, however well-founded in fact. Topics of this sort should be handled with great delicacy and sobriety, in order to have a chance of being beneficial in America, or appreciated by persons of judgment here . . . .
[At Harrisburg] Boz makes some just and very touching observations on the subject of the treaties entered into (some of which are here shown him) between the poor unsophisticated Indian chiefs and the wealthy over-reaching white tradesmen.
There are two supplementary chapters: -- The first is "On Slavery," and though containing one or two passages of justly indignant eloquence, is deficient in sobriety, and communicates nothing new on the execrable vice of slavery. Into the other and last chapter, "Concluding Remarks," are compressed Boz's notions "of the general character of the American people, and of their social system, as presented to a stranger's eye." We fear his reflecting readers, both here and in America, will consider this chapter as very superficial and unsatisfactory . . . .
. . . The truth is, that Mr. Dickens was kept in such a continual fever of hurry and excitement, during his whole stay in America, as incapacitated him, even if able or disposed so to do, from ever looking beneath the surface of things and persons around him. We fear that the ethereal essence of character has wholly escaped him. He allowed himself no leisure for accurate and discriminating observation and reflection . . . . [There is] an unconsciously overweening estimate of the importance attached to his own movements, and his own views and opinions. Many sufficiently egotistic and oracular passages will occur to the reader, in support of [these observations] . . . . It is again very obvious that Mr. Dickens, as he has a perfect right to do if it so please him, is a man of very 'liberal' opinions in politics. We are as strong Tories as he is a Whig or Radical; but we earnestly advise him not to alienate from himself the affections of his readers, by indulging, in such works as his, in political allusions and dogmas. We greatly doubt whether he has read or thought sufficiently long and deeply on such matters, to enable him to offer confident opinions on them. In his own peculiar line, he is original, admirable, and unrivalled -- and that line, too, is one which lies level with the taste of the million of persons of all shades of political opinions . . . .