From the earliest days of our history, books of travel in America have always interested Europeans. With many their popularity was due to a desire to learn more of the social and economic life here, inspired by a discontent with living conditions at home, a discontent which was bringing a steadily increasing stream of immigrants to our shores. Naturally enough vast numbers of those who remained at home were anxious to keep abreast of conditions in the country with which relatives and friends had cast their lot. Also unquestionably the mercantile classes of Europe, eager to share the American trade, seized upon any book which would inform them about the new-born nation.
Of the books of travel in America which were constantly being published in the old world, after we had become a nation, those of the Frenchmen, loyal to their new allies and exultant over their hereditary enemies, painted conditions here in much more glowing colors than those written by Englishmen.
Many of the English books on American travel had a touch of rancor which appealed to a certain class at home, for unhappily it long existed between the Anglo-Saxon peoples separated by the Atlantic Ocean. The most virulent and contemptuous of all, Mrs. Trollope "Domestic Manner of the Americans" (1832), though it brought a fortune to its author, almost precipitated an international crisis. This flame of resentment of America against England was fanned a few years later by Charles Dickens's aspersions on our people, published after a visit to the United States which had been marked by more than enthusiastic greetings and receptions. Such books certainly did much to foster the national antagonisms, which, happily, have almost entirely disappeared.
In the following pages we have another viewpoint, namely, that of Paul Svinin, a representative of the great Russian nation. In the preface to his book A Picturesque Voyage in North America (St.Petersburg, 1815), Svinin graphically describes the anti-American state of mind of the British publisher. He relates that during his sojourn in London in 1814 he received tempting proposals for the publication of his American sketches and the story of his experiences here. These offers, however, were refused. He was guided, his preface tells us, by patriotic and pro-American sentiments. "The thought," he says, "that I would have to write, not in my native tongue, and often contrary to my inclinations and ideas, and indeed unfairly, not as I felt, but as the policy of England demanded, or to gratify the desires of my publishers, who would perhaps use me as a tool of their hatred for the United States, finally the thought that not my country, but a foreign land would reap the first fruits of my labors, that my fatherland would be indebted to foreigners and not foreigners to my fatherland for . . .