Going to Jericho: Or Sketches of Travel in Spain and the East
By San Framcisco : A. Roman & Co.. New York and
THERE are many reasons why California, if she gives us literature at all, should give us something very racy and distinctive. The violent contrasts and extraordinary juxtapositions of the most unassorted persons and people which mark her history were not circumstances which, according to received ideas, invited to early literary production ; but since books have been therein produced, it was scarcely possible that they should not in some way reflect the mental characteristics of that anomalous civilization on the Pacific. And, in fact, they have done so with a singular vividness and strength, and are so far all marked by that fantastic spirit of drollery which is the predominant mood of the popular American mind, in the face of great novelties and emergencies. The author of the John Phœnix papers first made known to us the peculiar flavor of the Pacific literature, and he still remains at the head of the California school of humorists. Next to him is Mr. Harte, of whose “ Condensed Novelists ” we have heretofore spoken in this place, and whose humor has more recently found expression in a volume of very amusing verse: performances betraying greater consciousness, and having less originality of form than the sole Phœnix’s, but imbued with the same unmistakable Californianism. In Mr. Swift, like quaintness and extravagance appear in a book of travel, carrying the reader through regions where almost the only new thing to be discovered and described is the traveller himself. Mr. Swift, therefore, makes a narrative of almost purely personal adventure, and lets us off with very little information. What he does give is again of personal character, and relates chiefly to interviews with President Adams of the American colony at Jaffa, with Abd-el-Kader and Lady Hester Stanhope, and is acceptable enough if you set aside some questions of taste. “ Eothen” has pitched the pipe for all sarcastic travellers visiting the Holy Places, but Mr. Swift arranges the old air with much originality, and makes his reader laugh with a new though somewhat guilty pleasure, at fun which hardly stops short of sacred memories, and is at other times too lawless.
The best chapters in his book are those sketching some episodes of Spanish travel. The account of the bull-fight at Madrid is one of the most surprising of these,—it is both graphic and interesting, and thus differs from most efforts upon that shamelessly tattered old topic, in reading which you always regret that some one of the bulls had not made it a point to get at and gore the tourist intending to celebrate the spectacle. “My first Step in Crime,” in which our traveller recounts his adventures in ridding himself of the bad money passed upon him in Spain, is very amusing, with occasional excess and abandon which does not seem quite necessary to the expression of humor, but which seems again quite Californian.
Romantic and Scriptural scenes are generally looked at from the same point of view, and discussed in the light of San Francisco associations, — sometimes with a delightful mock newspaper-seriousness, and a habit of unexpected allusion to American politics and society. No one could enjoy the shams and absurdities of travel so keenly as Mr. Swift does, without also appreciating its other aspects ; and in spite of the levity of the book we are aware, not only of sound common sense, but of sympathy with much that is fine and good in the things seen. Still, the latter faculty is subordinated, and so we have a book in which the disposition to droll not only betrays the author into passages of very questionable taste, but at last fatigues the reader.