Westward the Briton

Westward the Briton

Westward the Briton

Westward the Briton

Excerpt

There are certain professional hazards involved in undertaking a study which uses the British traveler as a principal source of authority. His caustic comments, his devastating dismissal of some prized American accomplishments, brought fire from the natives more than a century ago. Observers like Frances Trollope infuriated nineteenth century Americans, yet one of them (Mark Twain) confessed that the uproar was because she told us the hard truth.

Today, when the historian learns that his colleague is interested in the comments of these people, he smiles, waves his hand, and deprecatingly says, "Oh, yes, the good old British traveler!" That closes the conversation. By "the good old British traveler" remark, he means that the subject is a hackneyed one which has produced only superficial portraits of the American scene. The suggestion is patent that the traveler made no valid observations, and that he inevitably mistook the atypical for the ordinary, and sold it as such.

The question of what constitutes a traveler is perhaps central to the problem. Anyone, who travels briefly, anywhere, in his own country or in another, has obvious limitations in his ability to understand what he has seen. The charge of superficiality can be as fairly leveled at the comments of British observers here as it can be at contemporary reporters who leave America by air and return next week with "the European situation" all digested.

But this volume is not one solely of those who saw America through a Pullman window. Many of the visitors covered the land carefully, and slowly. Others made repeated and extensive visits here. Still others had lengthy residences in this country and then returned home to set down their impressions, and thus are really more "observers" than "travelers." There were Englishmen in the nineteenth century who knew and understood America as Denis Brogan does today--from living here. Lord Bryce and Alfred Maurice Low knew the land and the people better than many Americans did, and saw the scene with greater objectivity.

That the impressions of some of the travelers were superficial . . .

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