The Old World in Its New Face. Impressions of Europe in 1867-68

By HENRY W. BELLOWS. New York: Harper and Brothers.
THE difficulty of writing home from Europe anything that is worth reading does not seem to affect the production of foreign letters, or the volumes of travel growing out of them. To this fact, no doubt, we owe now and then a book like Dr. Bellows’s, which is interesting and desirable; and as for the books that are neither, they are forgotten even in spite of the critics who blame them, and seek to give them the sad immortality of dispraise in the newspapers. So the state of affairs might be worse than it is.
We shall hardly describe what Dr. Bellows has clone if we say he spent a year in France, Prussia, Switzerland, and Austria, — so many people have done all this ; but if we say that he looked at Europe from the pulpit of the Broad Church, and with a view to study it in an honest and liberal way, we distinguish him somewhat from the million other Americans abroad. He writes down his thought in candid and manly fashion, without flippancy, and commonly without effort to be either funny or fine, — Eloquence and Humor being the Scylla and Charybdis of most travellers. Mountains, we confess, are occasionally too much for him. There is, for example, “ Untersberg, whose awful comb saws the sky with its marble teeth ” ; and in the noonday haze of the adjacent meadows, other of these unmanageable mountains “seem to swim like beautiful black monsters in a sea of emerald ” ; while at dawn they are mottled with black and white, and “ Beauty, Love, and Terror seem contending for their possession.” All this, however, may be forgiven a traveller who tells us something of the state of religious thought in Germany, and describes to us several of the leaders of the conservative and liberal church parties, in a way to make them and his readers glad that he saw them and talked with them. His observations and ideas of Switzerland strike us as being very true and good; there is much that is new in what he tells us of the present social and political life of the Swiss; and the chapter on Berne is particularly interesting. It appears to us that he justly characterizes the political condition of Austria as one in which the government has to take the lead in creating liberal institutions for a people indifferent to nearly all liberty but that of laughing at their rulers. There is no prophecy in the book as to the political future of France,— a subject on which every one ought to be grateful to be told nothing, knowing that thereby only is he dealt fairly with. Our author does not refuse to see that the French people generally are contented with a despotism which he dislikes; better still, he does not become enamored of it because they bear it quietly. This again distinguishes him from the million other Americans abroad. He can even tell us something intelligible and probable about Prussia, in whose military superiority to France he does not at all believe, and in whose over-restrained and over-protected people he does not see the greatest promise for the future. It is one of the virtues of Dr. Bellows in this book that he nowhere makes pretence to infallible understanding of what he saw, or to subtile analysis of the varied character presented to him.