My dear friend,
This is not the republic I came to see. This is not the republic of my imagination. I infinitely prefer a liberal monarchy—even with its sickening accompaniments of court circulars and kings of Prussia—to such a government as this. In every respect but that of national education, the country disappoints me. The more I think of its youth and strength, the poorer and more trifling in a thousand respects it appears in my eyes. In everything of which it has made a boast—excepting its education of the people and its care for poor children—it sinks immeasurably below the level I had placed it upon. And England, even England, bad and faulty as the old land is, and miserable as millions of her people are, rises in the comparison. Strike down the established church, and I would take her to my heart for better or worse and reject this new love without a pang or moment’s hesitation.
You live here, Macready, as I have sometimes heard you imagining! You! Loving you with all my heart and soul and knowing what your disposition really is, I would not condemn you to a year’s residence on this side of the Atlantic for any money. Freedom of opinion! Where is it? I see a press more mean and paltry and silly and disgraceful than any country ever knew—if that be its standard, here it is. I speak of Bancroft and am advised to be silent on that subject, for he is “a black sheep—a democrat.” I speak of Bryant and am entreated to be more careful—for the same reason.
I speak of international copyright and am implored not to ruin myself outright. I speak of Miss Martineau, and all parties—slave upholders and abolitionists; Whigs, Tyler Whigs, and Democrats—shower down upon her a perfect cataract of abuse. “But what has she done? Surely she praised America enough”—“Yes, but she told us of some of our faults, and Americans can’t bear to be told of their faults. Don’t split on that rock, Mr. Dickens, don’t write about America—we are so very suspicious.” Freedom of opinion! Macready, if I had been born here, and had written my books in this country—producing them with no stamp of approval from any other land—it is my solemn belief that I should have lived and died poor, unnoticed, and “a black sheep”—to boot. I never was more convinced of anything than I am of that.
The people are affectionate, generous, openhearted, hospitable, enthusiastic, good humored, polite to women, frank and cordial to all strangers; anxious to oblige, far less prejudiced than they have been described to be, frequently polished and refined, very seldom rude or disagreeable. I have made a great many friends here—even in public conveyances—whom I have been truly sorry to part from. In the towns, I have formed perfect attachments. I have seen none of that greediness and indecorum on which travelers have laid so much emphasis. I have returned frankness with frankness—met questions not intended to be rude with answers meant to be satisfactory—and have not spoken to one man, woman, or child of any degree, who has not grown positively affectionate before we parted. In the respects of not being left alone, and of being horribly disgusted by tobacco chewing and tobacco spittle, I have suffered considerably. The sight of slavery in Virginia, the hatred of British feeling upon that subject, and the miserable hints of the impotent indignation of the South have pained me very much—on the last head, of course, I have felt nothing but a mingled pity and amusement—on the others, sheer distress. But however much I like the ingredients of this great dish, I cannot but come back to the point from which I started and say that the dish itself goes against the grain with me and that I don’t like it.