High Life in New York
By Peterson & Brothcrs.. Philadelphia:
THE advantages of a favorable introduction are very obvious. A person who enters society fortified with eulogistic letters, giving assurance of his trustworthiness, so far as respectability and good behavior are concerned, is tolerably sure of a comfortable reception. But if, unable to sustain the character his credentials ascribe to him, he immediately begin to display bad manners, ignorance, and folly, he not only forfeits the position to which he has gained accidental access, but also brings discredit upon his too hasty indorsor.
In literature it is not different. The collection of printed matter which appears under the title of “ High Life in New York” is accompanied by a note, signed by the publishers, who are naturally supposed to know something of the real value of the works they issue, in which “ editors are forewarned that it is a volume which, for downright drollery and hearty humor, has never had its equal in the productions of any American pen,” and are otherwise admonished in various ways calculated to inspire lofty expectations, and to fill the mind with exalted visions of coming joy. But when it appears, on examination, that the book is as utterly unworthy of these elaborate commendations as any book can possibly be, — that it is from beginning to end nothing but a dead level of stagnant verbiage, a desolate waste of dreary platitude, — the reader cannot but regard the publishers’ ardent expressions of approbation as going quite beyond the license allowable in preliminary puffs.
“ High Life in New York” represents a class of publications which has, of late, in many ways, been set before the public with too great liberality. The sole object seems to be to exhibit the “ Yankee character in its traditional deformities of stupidity and meanness,— otherwise denominated simplicity and shrewdness. Mr. Jonathan Slick is in no respect different from the ordinary fabulous Yankee. An illiterate clown he is, who, visiting New York, contrives by vice of impudence, to interfere very seriously with certain conventionalities of the metropolis. He overthrows, by his indomitable will, a great many social follies. He eats soup with a knife and fork; wears no more than one shirt a week; forces his way into ladies’ chambers at unseemly hours, to cure them of timidity ; and introduces sundry other reforms, all of which are recorded as evidences of glorious independence and a true nobility of spirit. Sometimes he goes farther, — farther than we care to follow him. It would be easy to show wherein be is offensive, not to say disgusting; but we are not so disposed. It is not considered necessary for the traveller who has dragged his way over a muddy road to prove the nastiness of his pilgrimage by imparting the stain to our carpets.
In this book, as in most of its class, the Yankee dialect is employed throughout, the author evidently believing that bad spelling and bad grammar are the legitimate .sources of New England humor. This shows that lie mistakes means for ends,—just as one who supposes that Mr. Merryman, in the circus, must, of necessity, be funny, because he wears the motley and his nose is painted red. The Yankee dialect is Mr. Jonathan Slick’s principal element of wit; his second is the onion. The book is redolent of Onions. That odorous vegetable breathes from every page. A woman weeps, and onions are invoked to lend aromatic fragrance to a stale comparison. In one place, onions and education are woven together by some extraordinary rhetorical machinery ; in another, religion is glorified through the medium of the onion; until at last the narrative seems to resolve itselt into a nauseating nightmare, such as might torture the brain of some unhappy dreamer in a bed of onions.
Why such works are ever written at all, it is difficult to imagine; but how it is, that, when written, they find publishers, is inconceivable.