What I Saw on the West Coast of South and North America, and at the Hawaiian Islands

REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
By H. WILLIS BAXLEY, M. D. New York: D. Appleton & Co.
CHARLES LAMB describes his old friend, George Dyer, as purchasing a bulky volume of blank verse solely on the ground that there must be some good things in an epic of six thousand lines. On the same principle, there may be assumed to be some good sentences in this octavo of six hundred pages,—although, if so, they must lurk in some paragraph which we have unluckily missed in the reading. In the spirit of the book, however, there is a certain frankness which is a frequent merit in that class of exSecessionists to which this Baltimore physician apparently belongs. And as their graceful little improprieties in Virginia and elsewhere are daily making new converts to negro suffrage, so this book, by its guileless exhibition of the whole inner man of one of Mr. Buchanan’s office-holders, may help to avert the resurrection of the class whom he represents.
Dr. Baxley claims to have been sent in the year 1860 to the west coast of America, as Special Commissioner of the United States. What he ought to have done in that capacity is not stated; what he did is plain. He sailed along the continent upon a bubble of pro-slavery prejudice, and brought home his aërial ship intact, while all similar bubbles had burst during his absence. The book, therefore, takes us back to the good old times. Every allusion to Slavery reminds our Commissioner of joys now departed. Every glimpse of a black man in the melancholy misery of freedom recalls to him those happy scientific reveries contributed to anthropological lore by Messrs. Nott and Gliddon. He admires each dusky figure in the direct ratio of its nudity, and every added rag of civilized clothing seems to him so much subtracted from the proprieties of life. Of course a colored soldier is the climax of aggravation to his grief; and it does not even relieve his feelings, if the uniform-coat has no buttons.
The author mentions the war only towards the close of the book, and of course attributes it solely to Northern fanaticism. This fanaticism he evidently supposes to have been led on by the fierce, ungovernable Muse of Professor Longfellow; for, in quoting from the “Arsenal at Springfield,” that poem is described as “ sung by one whose harp was then attuned to melodious measures, but whose now ‘ discordant noises jarrest [sic] the celestial harmonies ’ of his younger days.” (Page 618.) This rather bewildering introduction of the second person singular places our voyager at disadvantage, by irresistibly suggesting that far more entertaining traveller, Artemas Ward.
The book might at least give some novel facts about the working of the missionary system in the South Sea Islands, — inasmuch as a wrathful and foolish observer will often spy out single facts which a more moderate partisan would omit,—but that he unfortunately takes the whole thing for granted and observes nothing. It has been more than suspected that there is a little bigotry mingled with our missionary system; but Dr. Baxley adds nothing to our knowledge on this point, preferring to rest his case on the general proposition, that there was also some degree of bigotry among the Puritan ancestors of these same missionaries two centuries ago. This fact will hardly be questioned, but it is a poor substitute for a little information as to contemporary matters.
In favorable moments, the style of this book has the glow, the affluence, and the fine vein of poetical quotation, that may be found in our most eloquent real-estate advertisements. At other times there is a tendency to ponderous and polysyllabic phrases, tempting the unwary critic to characterize them in words as long. Thus, on the voyage : “ The more pretentious passengers, the upper-ten of the cabin, are wonderfully characterized by quantitative propensity, while the omnivorous nature of man is illustrated by them still more strikingly. . . . . The art of gastronomy is clearly in the ascendant. . . . . Vegetables in season and out of season, the hebdomadal occupants of the ship’s hold, some, doubtless, the forestallers’ residuum, withered, wilted, and decaying ; . . . pickles, pastry, puddings, and pecan, duly decorated with those dernier resorts of the dinner-table, almonds, raisins, and filberts, which generally prove alike first in the order of morbid causation, and first in that of retroversive result.” (p. 20.) For sea-sickness the author advises "resort to the ship’s surgeon," which seems a sort of pill at second hand; but he further counsels that “ a person’s customary dose of laudanum, morphine, chlorodine, or prussic acid may be resorted to.” This is really unsafe, considering the suicidal propensities usually found among sea-sick people ; and it would be safer, perhaps, to recommend to those in extremis the perusal of this book, as a milder narcotic.