REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
THIS is a book almost as encyclopedic as its title would indicate ; and is evidently written with a desire to say everything which the theme permits, and to say it truly. It answers almost every question that an intelligent person can ask, in respect to California, besides a good many which few intelligent persons know enough to propound. And it is a proof of its honesty that it does not, after all, make California overpoweringly attractive, whether in respect of climate, society, or business. This is saying a good deal, when we consider that the Preface sums up the allurements of the Pacific coast in a single sentence covering two and a half pages.
The philosophy of the author is sometimes rather bewildering, as where he defines “ universal suffrage ” to mean that “ every sane adult white male citizen, not a felon, may vote at every election.” (p. 349.) His general statements, too, are apt to be rather sweeping. For instance, he says, in two different passages, that, “ so far as we know, the climate of San Francisco is the most equable and the mildest in the world.” (pp. 29, 431.) Yet he puts the extremes of temperature in this favored climate at +25° and +97° Fahrenheit; while at Fayal, in the Azores, the recorded extremes are, if we mistake not, +40° and +85° ; and no doubt there are other temperate climates as uniform.
One might object, too, from the side of severe science, to his devoting the “ Reptile ” department of his zoölogical section chiefly to spiders, with incidental remarks on fleas and mosquitos. Perhaps it is to balance Captain Stedman in Surinam, who under the head of “ Insects ” discourses chiefly of vampvre-bats.
The wonders of the Yo-semite valley he describes as well as most people ; and faithfully contends for their superiority to those of Niagara, where, as he plaintively observes, “a day or two is enough,” while one could contentedly remain for months among the California wonders. He shows, however, that his memories of Atlantic civilization are still painfully vivid, when he counsels the beholder of the Mariposa grove to lie on his back, and think of Trinity Church steeple. Might not one also beguile a third day at Niagara by reflections on the Croton Aqueduct ?
But these little glimpses of the author’s personality make the book only the more entertaining, and give spice to the really vast mass of accurate information which it conveys. There are few passages which one can call actually imaginative, unless one includes under that head the description (page 40) of that experiment “ common in the Eastern cities,” where a man dressed in woollen, by sliding on a carpet a few steps, accumulates enough personal electricity to light gas with his fingers. This familiar process, it appears, is impossible in California, and so far his descriptions of that climate convey a sense of safety. Yet even one seasoned to such wonders as these might be startled, for a moment, before his account of the mountain sheep (Ovis montana). This ponderous animal, weighing three hundred and fifty pounds, has a sportive habit of leaping headlong from precipices one hundred feet high, and alighting on its horns, which, being strong and elastic, throw him ten or fifteen feet into the air, “and the next time he alights on his feet all right.” (p. 124.) “ Mountaineers assert” this; and after this it can be hardly doubted that the products of the human imagination, in California, are on a scale of Yo-Semite magnificence.