WHEN it was announced that "Charles Dickens, Esq." intended to visit the United States, our curiosity was somewhat excited to see the man, who had so suddenly written himself into notoriety and fortune. We had laughed at the adventures of Mr. Pickwick, we had wept over the story of poor Oliver, we had followed with interest "the uprisings and downfallings of the Nickleby family," we had sympathized with little Nell in her childish trials, we had been pleasantly relieved in moments of ennui by some light sketch, half-comical, half-serious, from the pen of Boz, and were thus prepared to receive him with good-natured cordiality. But when we reflected on his moral and religious principles as developed in his writings, and on the unfortunate tendency of those writings in many particulars, we were as fully prepared to treat him with indifference; or at least to show him no more than the ordinary courtesy due to strangers, should he chance to fall in our way. In fact, after dwelling on these latter considerations . . . , our curiosity so far subsided, that when we were informed that "Charles Dickens, Esq." had actually arrived in our city, and would receive his friends at the hotel near by, we did not even do ourselves the honor to look him in the face. We were not in the least agitated by the intelligence; we simply responded to it with the unfailing "yes, sir," and pursued our evening vocations with as much nonchalance, as if "Charles Dickens, Esq." had been three thousand miles away.
Nor was it an indifference to literary merit, which rendered us so apathetic on this occasion. Had we been favored with such an opportunity of being introduced to the illustrious author of Waverly, we should have embraced it with eagerness, and have considered ourselves honored in the interview. Had we been informed that our own honored Irving was stopping for the night so near us, we should have hastened to tender him our respects, and have felt a pride in exchanging salutations with one who is the ornament of American literature. We had always conceded to Mr. Dickens much merit, as a writer of a certain sort; we had even been ranked among his admirers, for rendering to him the admiration due to genius, but we felt that his literary reputation was insufficient to overbalance that moral obliquity which made it inconsistent with our self-respect to be particularly respectful towards him. We were, nevertheless, interested in observing the reception which he met with from our countrymen; and on the whole, it accorded well with our expectations. There were men of learning and honorable distinction, who, willing for a season to overlook his faults, and eager perhaps to give him a favorable impression of American manners and hospitality, made him their guest, and entertained him with marked kindness and attention. Others, of more thoughtful and cautious temper, stood aloof from the movement that would make Boz, like Lafayette, the nation's guest, feeling that the ordinary attention paid to strangers might suffice for a man with no other distinction than what he had attained as a writer of droll sketches and stories of low life. It soon became apparent, however, that the men of fashion and pleasure, the patrons of theaters, balls, and other like schools of modern culture and innocent amusement, the lovers of wine, cards and billiards -- gentlemen par excellence -- manifested a peculiar interest in Mr. Dickens, and were disposed to claim him as their own. Accordingly, the Gothamites would allow the lordly distinction of seeing the British lion to none, who could not pay ten dollars for the privilege. They converted the theater, which had long rendered "a beggarly account of empty boxes," into one vast saloon, brilliantly illuminated, decorated with illustrations from the writings of Boz, and crowded with the beauty and fashion, the foppery and coquetry of the city, where, amid the voluptuous swell of music, the giddy dance, and the splendid banquet, Mr. Dickens was introduced to American society. Whether he was satisfied with this specimen of native manners, or whether he was less flattered by such a reception than he would have been by the quiet attentions of literary men, we are not informed; but immediately afterwards, he made the necessary brevity of his visit a pretext for declining other invitations to similar entertainments. Whatever may have been his opinion of the mode adopted by the New Yorkers to tender him their respects, there were not a few who inferred from the personal appearance of "Charles Dickens, Esq.," and his apparent anxiety to be esteemed a man of fashion and to mingle in the scenes of fashionable life, that no other mode could have been selected more in harmony with his character and feelings.
. . . "Charles Dickens, Esq." was educated to the profession of a police reporter. It was in this humble, though honest, calling that he became so familiar with courts and prisons, Bow Street and St. Giles'. . . . But Mr. Dickens . . . puts on airs as if he belonged by birth and breeding to those higher classes which constitute the "Corinthian capital" of English society. Mistaken effort! It is not by wearing white kid gloves on a railroad and steamboat journey in a New England February -- it is not by being unable to understand the possibility of a gentleman's dining earlier than the latest possible hour -- . . . .least of all, is it by a fault-finding, querulous disposition in respect to accommodations at an inn, or on board ship -- that true good breeding is infallibly know . . . . Sometimes we have even queried whether his studied cool contempt for religion in every form -- the scorn which he so obtrusively expresses for the low practice of total abstinence from intoxicating drinks -- and the sympathy which he seems to have with those who have no interest in the miseries and vices of the poor, except as matters of governmental regulation, or picturesque objects of contemplation -- do not also enter into his idea of a high-bred gentleman. It often fares with pretenders to high breeding as with pretenders to godliness; they know something traditionally about "the form," but "the power" is beyond the sphere of their knowledge . . . .
We have been greatly disappointed in the perusal of these "American Notes." We were well aware that there are some defects in our social organization, which might be hit off to advantage by a master-hand; and we had hoped that Mr. Dickens' keen perception of the ludicrous would be exercised at our present expense, though for our ultimate profit. We should have thanked him for a humorous exhibition of our weak points of national character; but he seems either to have failed to apprehend them, or to have felt an unwonted reserve in making his "police reports." These Notes are barren of incident and anecdote, deficient in wit, and meagre even in respect to the most ordinary kind of information. They give no just conception of the physical aspect of the country of which they treat; much less do they introduce the reader to the homes and firesides of its inhabitants. Nor could any thing better have been expected, since Mr. Dickens merely skimmed over the country, seldom remaining longer in a place than to learn its name, to acquaint himself with the facilities of eating, drinking, and sleeping, afforded by its principal hotel, to note down a few particulars respecting its public buildings and institutions, and to inquire with a professional feeling concerning its alms-houses, its prisons, and its purlieus of low vice and wretchedness . . . . The perusal of [the book] has served chiefly to lower our estimate of the man, and to fill us with contempt for such a compound of egotism, coxcombry, and cockneyism . . . .