New York : Derby & Jackson. 1858.
THE compulsion of hunger, or the request of friends, was the excuse for the printing of sorry books in Pope’s time; and it has not become obsolete yet. The writer of the book, the title of which we have given above, pleads the latter alternative as the occasion of this publication. He says it was “a few friends ” that preferred this request. It is unfortunate for him that he had any so void of judgment and empty of taste. He thinks his Letters will “receive unjust censure,” as well as “ undue praise.” We think that he may relieve his mind of any such apprehension. We cannot think his book at all likely to receive more dispraise than it richly merits. A more discreditable one, not absolutely indictable, we hope, has seldom issued from the American press.
What motive the author had in assuming a female character, we know not. He certainly has been very unfortunate in his female acquaintance, if he accurately imitates their tone of thought and style of talk, in his letters. Should they happen to fall in the way of any foreigners, we beg them to believe that this is not the way in which American women converse. But we think that there can scarcely be a cockney so spoony as not to “ spy a great peard under her muffler,” and know that it is a man awkwardly masquerading in women's clothes. It is a libel on the women of the country, to put such balderdash into the mouth of one who may be supposed to have been finished at a fifth-rate boarding-school.
The letters are in the worst style of the "Own Correspondents ” of third-rate papers. The “deadhead ” perks itself in your face at every turn, in flunkeyish gratitude for invitations, drinks, dinners, and free passes,—from “ the gentlemanly Lord Napier,” down to “intelligent and gentlemanly” railway-conductors, “gentlemanly and attentive ” hotel-clerks, “gracious, gentlemanly, and gallant” tavern-keepers, and their “ lovely and accomplished brides.” The soul of a footman is expressed by the pen of an abigail,—and the one not a Humphrey Clinker, nor the other a Winifred Jenkins,—and we are expected to admire the result as a good imitation of a lively, intelligent, well-bred American young lady ! We protest against the profanation.
The letters take a wide range of subject, and treat of “ Shakspenre, taste, and the musical glasses,” in a vein that would have done no discredit to Lady Blarney and Miss Arabella Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs themselves. We might divert our readers with some specimens of criticism, or opinion, did our limits admit of such entertainment. We can only inform them, on Belle Brittan’s authority, that worthy DrCharles Mackay, who suffers throughout the book from intermittent — nay, chronic — attacks of puffery, is “one of the best living poets of England ” ; Mademoiselle Lamoureux, the danseuse, is “ better than Ellsler ” ; and pretty Mrs. John Wood, the lively soubrette of the Boston Theatre, “ possesses many of the rarest requisites of a great actress ” ! But these are inanities which an inexperienced and half-taught girl might possibly utter in a familiar letter. Not so, we trust, as to the belief expressed by Belle Brittan, in puffing “Jim Parton’s, Fanny Fern’s Jim’s,” Lite of Burr,—“ more charming than a novel,” because, as she implies, of the successful libertinism of its hero,—when she says, speaking in the name of the maidens of America, “ We all, I suppose, must fall, like our first parents, when the hour of our temptation comes ” !
We should not have given the space wo have bestowed on this worthless book, had it not been made the occasion of newspaper puffs innumerable, recommending it to the public as something worthy of their time and money. It is one of the worst signs of our time that a false good-nature or imperfect taste should lead respectable papers to give currency to books destitute of all merit, by the application to them of stereotyped phrases of commendation. These letters, without a grace of style, without a flash of wit, without a genial ray of humor, deformed by coarse breeding, vulgar self-conceit, and ignorant assumption, are bepraised as if they were fresh from the mint of genius, and bore the image and superscription of Madame de Sévigné or Lady Mary Wortley ! This evil must be cured, or the daily press may find that it will cure itself.
We know nothing of the author of this book, excepting what he has here shown us of himself. He may be capable of better things, and when they come before us, we shall rejoice to do them justice. But we advise him, first of all, to discard his disguise, which becomes him as ill as the gown of Mrs. Ford’s “maid’s aunt, the fat woman of Brentford,” did Sir John Falstaff. Or, if he will persist in playing the part of a woman, let him bear in mind that to be unmanly is not necessarily to be womanly, and that it does not follow that one writes like a lady because he does not write like a gentleman.