Late Books of Travel

AT some time or other the writing of books of European travel will doubtless cease. Not that there are any signs of it now; on the contrary, a large proportion of those who cross the Atlantic find it incumbent on them to tell us all about shuffle-board on the steamers, the Liverpool docks, the English railway carriages, etc., as if it were all a new story. But unless the whole account has to be gone over anew with every generation, like the life of Kaspar Hauser, the description of the great Tun at Heidelberg, of the building of the Eddystone Lighthouse, and those other bits of information of which Chambers’s Journal has pretty much the monopoly, it seems as if readers would at some time refuse to read the familiar story of European travel. Why they should read it now it is not easy to see; yet there must be readers, or the monotonous books of travel would not be steadily pouring from the press.

Mr. Luther L. Holden has his public ready made for him. He has undertaken to preserve for posterity the story of the Tourjée party, as he calls them, during a sort of excursion trip through Europe that was led by the immortal Cook, the well-known conductor of tourists, and by Dr. Tourjée, who is of some local note as a conductor of music.1 The gentleman who obliged the author by writing the introduction for him is polite enough to say that “ the perusal of this book will be interesting to all readers,” — a statement which can in no way be called exact; but that “ it will be peculiarly and interestingly suggestive to members of the Tourjée party ” is very possible. In the first place, their names are all printed at the end of the book, and there are frequent references to the social charms of Mr. This or Miss That, — a sort of compliment that is calculated to please those who are fortunate enough to receive it.

Possibly a cold public may be indifferent to the humor of the programmes announcing the evening entertainments on shipboard. Here is part of one: —







And the rest is of the same nature. As for the body of the book, it is composed of a brief diary of the sight-seeing of the excursionists, together with copious extracts from different guidebooks. It is only seldom that this somewhat dreary monotone is broken by the account of the antics of the people themselves, as when, in Zürich, “ We observed on our arrival at the Hotel BelleVue a portrait of General Grant in the reception-room, and this circumstance called forth many pleasant expressions. The next morning the ladies of our division prepared a handsome wreath for the brow of the general; and after the portrait had been thus adorned, the partyunited in giving expression to their patriotism in ‘ Columbia ’s the gem of the ocean,’ and in three rousing cheers for the American warrior and ex-president. Further cheers were given for the republic of Switzerland and for the Hotel Belle-Vue.”

In a word, this book is as incomplete a medley of statistics as one often secs. It may possibly serve as a good advertisement for further excursions, by which people shall be taken abroad under the pretense of “musical and literary culture,” but really for the emolument of those who take the trouble to plan and supervise the trip. With this the public has nothing to do; the excursionists doubtless got a great deal of pleasure from their journey, and will enjoy reading about it in print. The general reader, however, has his rights, and if he regards them he will take the warning against this hasty editing of a certain number of diaries. Guide-books and much better books of travel are to be found in every town library.

One cannot help wondering what the French and Belgian foreigners who had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Gibbons2 abroad thought of her and her omnipresent note-book. In her diary she set down everything that she thought of value; but it would seem as if strict revision, or even slight revision, would have struck out much of triffling importance. With a frankness that outdoes that of the French on their own ground, she reports faithfully her conversation with men and women on all kinds of subjects that are frequently avoided in mixed company in this country, and what she has to say does not warrant her excessive candor.

Moreover, the author’s simplicity concerning many customs she observed in France is something in which the world at large can feel but little interest. Why should any one go to the trouble and expense of writing down the bills of fare of the simple dinners mentioned in this book? That asparagus should be eaten cold with oil and vinegar is so astounding to the author that she mentions it twice. The deficient water arrangements of most French houses are continually spoken of, with many superfluous particulars. Perhaps, however, an example will bring the book before the reader better tban pages of description. Here are a few lines taken from Mrs. Gibbons’s vivid account of her first visit to the Louvre: —

“ Above-stairs in the picture-gallery, among the artists at work, are a number of women. There is one young woman who is drawing from Paul Veronese’s Marriage at Cana in Galilee. She is corseted, and I wonder whether any great work can ever be expected from

women who confine the waist. A great artist, too, must be an anatomist, and should understand these things. The reader will please recall the picture of Rosa Bonheur, with her arm over the neck of a bull. Paris, however, it seems to me, is not remarkable for a knowledge of anatomy and physiology in the people at large. Perhaps they have not had popular writers on these subjects, like George and Andrew Combe.”

After all, if the book is not taken too seriously, its simplicity will be found entertaining; and it may serve to encourage those who believe that all Americans, and American writers especially, are disgracing themselves by the slavish following of European customs. Here is an American who is pained that she is not “ invited to ask any questions” of the pupils of a French school, and mentions as strange “ salad dressed with oil and vinegar, without sugar.” It will be seen that there are some Americans who are not lovers of the vices of imperialism. These two books would seem to make Martin Chuzzlewit credible.

Mr. Harrison’s Spain in Profile3 is a confusing book, about which it is not easy to make any definite statement. It is certainly free from statistics, and no attempt is made to describe the country. The author has tried to convey to us the impressions made upon him by what he saw in that country without giving us a very definite notion of what it was that he saw. It does not help the reader to be told that “ the glory of Andalusia — perhaps the most elegant thing of its kind in the world — is the cathedral of Seville.” No definite notion is brought to the mind by the command, “ Imagine the radiance streaming from the ninety-three painted windows, five of which are wheels as full of glory as the windows in the Eve of St. Agnes! ” Nor is much help given by the statement, “ Here are the Scriptures dyed bloodred, purple, and amaranth ; it is an incarnation in flesh-tints; it is a Pilgrim’s Progress and a martyrology in colors.” Few travelers will agree with Mr. Harrison that “ Toledo is simply hideous,”

Yet it is not so much these statements that will puzzle the reader as it is Mr. Harrison’s somewhat turbid eloquence. Here is an example, taken from the account of the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra: “The Court of Lions is the acme of the Alhambra. As the return ing Agamemnon was to Klytæmnestra like summer in the winter time, so is this court the most cherished possession of the Arab palace. Without tanks, or gardens, or statues, or the ideal wealth gathered from painting or sculpture, its simple self produces the most enchanting effect. No race of barbarians could have fashioned so perfect a place.” It should be said in justice that from this point the description goes on in more temperate language. If the writer could only free himself of the love of “ fine writing,” and would inexorably cut out all his eloquence, there is no reason why he should not in time write a very good book of travels; but his present overwrought efforts to be picturesque only disturb the effect be is anxious to produce. Reading his book is like looking into a kaleidoscope. The author’s introduction of Ids conversation with the present minister from the United States at Madrid we cannot help looking upon as indiscreet. The criticism of a gentleman’s pronunciation can hardly be said to be a proper part of a book of travels. It is evident that Mr. Harrison meant no harm; but a little reflection must convince him that he runs the risk of bearing a dangerous likeness to the professional interviewer, who, after giving a report of his talk with his victim, describes that person’s dress, the furniture of his house, and his manners.

Captain John Codman’s book 4 about remote, and, one may say, in spite of all that has been written about them, almost unknown, regions of the far West, is in many ways interesting and valuable. The author has undertaken to give the reader information as well as a faithful account of his journeyings by land and water, and he dwells with especial emphasis on the enormous agricultural advantages of the country he visited. The silver and gold mines he passes by with a contempt which experience will probably teach a good many of our fellow citizens before they get through speculating in “ bonanzas.” On the other hand, the cultivation of the surface of the ground has seldom found a more enthusiastic supporter than Captain Codman. He is probably wise enough, however, not to expect that his advice will have better luck than good advice in general; for as the human race is at present constituted, there are more men who would dig down five hundred feet for a piece of gold than would do a week’s farm-work for six months’ food.

The book is crammed with the author’s views on all kinds of subjects. He has, as is well known, a right-minded detestation of the destruction of American commerce in the interest of certain American builders of iron ships; he exposes briefly, but conclusively, the fallacies — to use a mild word — of those who oppose the Chinese; and he speaks of Mormonism with knowledge and judgment. In short, there is little that he has seen that he has not formed a very definite opinion about, an opinion based on a good deal of experience.

Certainty, no account of the richest mines can be more fascinating reading for a man who knows anything about our arid New England soil than this account of the farms of California, where there is no need, or at least no acknowledged need, of manuring the soil; where the only foe to the crops is an occasional drought, which in many places may be averted by irrigation; and where good years produce harvests such as in the East one does not read about except in the most extravagant advertisements. All of this farming region Captain Codman describes, not at exhaustive length, but intelligibly with picturesque touches, and his practical advice is well worthy of consideration. The book contains, besides, many amusing stories and good accounts of the travelers’ adventures.

Like Mr. Harrison, Mr. Stevenson abjures statistics, and in his little volume5 he gives us the impression he received while making a little tour on foot and donkey-back rather than anything that may serve as material for a guide-book. His equipment was slight, — far different from that of the ordinary tourist, — and his plan was to make a sort of sentimental journey which should be put to use in making an entertaining book. The author’s experiences were at times amusing. His whole trip was one of but one hundred and twenty miles, and was made in the company of a donkey, wraps for sleeping on the ground, and the author’s own thoughts. When not taken for a peddler, Mr. Stevenson was looked upon as a miscreant, and more than once he was treated with derision by the peasants, who naturally enough found it hard to understand the reasonableness of the traveler’s actions. This amateur nomadism surprised them; they had not read Thoreau.

The most interesting thing in the book is the writer’s account of his visit to the Trappist monastery; there he found a hearty welcome and very warm interest in the welfare of his soul. The chapter describing this visit is pleasantly written. In fact, the whole book is pleasantly written,— possibly with a certain amount of consciousness on the part of the writer that he is amusing, and possibly, too, with a little striving after suitable thoughts which shall present a proper mixture of sentimentality and unquenchable cheerfulness; yet these suspicions may more truly mark the baseness of the reader than the fault of the writer. But even at the best, the book is very slight, though with a slightness that many will find agreeable. Humor is always a pleasant thing, and Mr. Stevenson has plenty of it. Then, too, he remembers the work of a humorist of the last century, by name Sterne, and if he follows that much-admired author it shows his wisdom.

It is curious to observe how important a part a donkey plays in the literature of the sentimentalist. Sterne made one and himself immortal by his agile pen; Coleridge hailed one brother; and now Mr. Stevenson comes on with his tribute of affection. It would perhaps be unfair to say that this latest author is a little wearisome and that ids lmmor appeal’s somewhat strained when lie writes of his donkey; still it is to be remembered that there is a good deal of presumption in aman’s undertaking to write about nothing, or next to nothing, when his real object is to show his own intellectual dexterity. Mr. Stevenson, in our opinion, has not quite succeeded in his endeavor to be as entertaining as he would like. Those who know the author are more likely to enjoy the book than is the public, for the task he has set himself of being gracefully egotistic — a quality which an intimate friend can not only pardon but enjoy — is one that has not been performed by the hand of a master. Still, in spite of these strictures, the book is interesting, and confirms in good part the feeling Mr. Stevenson’s less ambitious work lias inspired,— that be is a writer of merit.

Mr. William H. Rideing has written a brief but very readable account of his experiences with the Wheeler Exploring Expedition,6 and he succeeds in leaving us witli a very strong regret that his book is not longer than it is. In a few pages he describes a good deal of scenery, and lie makes ns sympathize with, and laugh over, various forms of misadventure. He does not have time, or probably the desire, to waste much ink in sentimental comments about animals, and he does not promote the neglected mule into a hero of literature, but some of his stories about that useful animal are certainly amusing. Closely related to this part of the book is his description of some wild denizens of the Southwest whom he had for companions during a stage drive of fifty-three hours.

Miss Betham-Edwards’s book 7 takes the reader to a very different part of the world, and it would be hard to find a greater contrast than that between the savage land with its more savage inhabitants that Mr. Rideing describes and the civilization of Eastern France. Her excursion took her off from the beaten track of tourists into a country that would seem in every way charming, and it will be singular if her description of what she saw does not tempt many to follow in her footsteps. France is little known to travelers, and every book on the provinces is pretty sure to add a considerable amount to the general store of knowledge. Miss Betham-Edwards has done her share in a very attractive way. Her book is decidedly entertaining.

Our Autumn Holiday on French Rivers8 is a most original and piquant little book of travel. Four young Englishmen, with a theoretic fifth, who never appears in the flesh, but with whom they divide the expenses of their tour, navigate some of the chief rivers of France in an outrigger, built for the purpose, and meet with an abundance of those trivially gleeful adventures which never come to anybody save healthy and happy young men. Where they are charitably assured by the natives that certain destruction awaits them, they go. Where navigation is positively not to be thought of, they land and shoulder their boat. When they are capsized, they gracefully swim ashore. When their slender craft is laid up for repairs, they make excursions into the country, attend fairs and fêtes, and shed the light of their immense good humor upon all manner of shadowy historic spots. The learning revealed in the guide-book department of this brisk narrative is not deep, but it is sufficient. The wit recorded is not of the highest order, but it has the merit of being extremely laughable, which wit of the highest order frequently fails to be. Our versatile oarsmen sketch, they sing, they drop into poetical translation. One of them studies Ollendorff in some very odd minutes, and applies the knowledges which he snatches thus with an abandon really delicious. When they are drying their garments at a hotel in Rouen, after their principal upset, Bow, the devotee of Ollendorff, tells the tale of the shipwreck to a stately old general of artillery, and thus concludes: “ Et nous étions quarante-cinq minuits dans l’eau! ”

“ Comment, monsieur,” asked the amazed general, " quarante-cinq minuits? ”

“ Oui, oui ” (pointing to Stroke), “demandez-lui, vous-même! Un très-beaucoup temps, n'est-ce pas? ”

“ Quarante-cinq minuits,” murmured the old officer at intervals throughout the evening. “ Diable! il a raison, c’est bien longtemps.”

The compiler of these merry memoirs has been remarkably successful in adopting a descriptive style, in which fragmentary jottings, vivid as if made, as they very likely were, upon the spot, take the place of formal sentences, and produce an effeet wonderfully like that of the landscape " notes ” of a clever artist. For example: “ We lunched in a very pretty spot. An island of poplars and silver sand, with coloring of dark rock. The spire of a church and part of a little hamlet stole out opposite from a wood. The first blanchisseuses we had seen for some time at work upon the beach,” etc. But his chief literary excellence appears, after all, in his conversations, which are wonderfully simple, sprightly, and veracious, and suggest an unused and uncommon aptitude for dramatic writing.

A new edition of Mr. Curtis’s pleasant book 9 contains a chapter not heretofore given, on a dramatic dance of Japanese girls; a translation from Iasi; an essay on the curious Chinese superstition Fung-Shui, and some minor matters. The essay on Fung-Shui is compiled from lectures delivered at Hong-Kong by Professor Eitel, and is a very interesting study of an obscure branch of demonology. Fung-Shui is explained as the influence of the genius loci for good or evil, and again as the vague effort of the Chinese mind to construct a science of nature, or a theory of the universe. The translation from Iasi is the rendering of a poetical inscription on an odd sort of wooden keg, much used in Japan to carry the wine and provision of travelers : it is imbued with the simple, delicate, and somewhat plaintive fancy of that strange race. “ O keg, thou art carried by travelers from place to place at all seasons. Thy presence fills my mind with pleasant images. In the early spring, through the waving branches of the willow-trees, I hear the warbling nightingale. In summer the cool breeze gently wafts away the fog, and the sight of bamboos refreshes my eyes. In the autumn I see the bright moon shining in her full orb, and smoke wreathing upwards from a peasant’s humble cot. In the winter I see families gathered cosily at the fireside, while the blinding snow beats upon the roof.” This is the sentiment of a race which loves nature and has homes.

We are again struck, in looking over Mr. Curtis’s volume, with the usefulness and agreeableness of setting down in plain, unambitious terms the ordinary traveler’s experiences, and of refraining from the customary attempts to droll or to philosophize these experiences.

  1. A Summer Jaunt through the Old World. A Record of an Excursion made to and through Europe by the Tourjée Educational Party of 1878. By LUTHER L. HOLDEN. Boston : Lee and Shepard. 1879.
  2. French and Belgians. By PHEBE EARLE GIBBONS, Author of Pennsylvania Dutch and other Essays. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1879.”
  3. Spain in Profile. A Summer among the Olives and Aloes. By JAMES ALBERT HARRISON, Author of Greek Vignettes, etc. Boston : Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.
  4. The Round Trip, by Way of Panama, through California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado. With Notes on Railroads, Commerce, Ag- riculture, Mining, Scenery, and People. By JOHN CODMAN. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1879.
  5. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. By ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1879. ,
  6. A-Saddle in the Wild West. A Glimpse of Travel among the Mountains, Lava-Beds, Sand Deserts, Adobe Towns, Indian Reservations, and Ancient Pueblos of Southern Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. By WILLIAM H. RIDEING, attached to the Geographical Surveys and Explorations West of the One Hundredth Meridian, in charge of Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, during the Field Seasons of 1875 and 1876. New York: D. Appleton & Co 1879
  7. Holidays in Eastern France. By M. BETHAMEDWARDS, Author of Kitty, etc. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1879.
  8. Our Autumn Holiday on French Rivers. By J. L. MOLLOY. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1879
  9. Dottings Round the Circle. By ROBBINS CURTIS. Sixth Edition. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.