Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Preface

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An apology for a book implies that the public are obliged to read it; an obligation that would reverse the order of nature—transfer the power from the strong to the weak. But, unfortunately for them, there is a portion of the public who are, in a certain sense, obliged to read a book—the kind friends of the author—and among these—I say it gratefully, not boastfully—I have the happiness to number many of my countrymen personally unknown to me. Of my friends, then, I ask indulgence for the following pages. They are published rather with deference to the wishes of others than from any false estimate of their worth. Our tour was made under circumstances which forbade any divergence from the highway of all the travelling world, and, consequently, we passed over a field so thoroughly reaped that not an ear, scarcely a kernel, remains for the gleaner. In addition to this, and to painful anxieties and responsibilities that accompanied us at every step, we were followed by intelligence of deep domestic calamity. On this subject I need not enlarge; the disqualifying influence of these circumstances will be comprehended without my opening the sanctuary of private griefs.

I was aware that our stayers-at-home had already something too much of churches, statues, and pictures, and yet that they cannot well imagine how much they make up the existence of tourists in the Old World. I have sedulously avoided this rock, and must trust for any little interest my book may possess to the honesty with which I have recorded my impressions, and to the fresh aspect of familiar things to the eye of a denizen of the New World. The fragmentary state in which my letters appear is owing to my fear of wearying readers less interested than my own family by prolonged details or prosing reflections, or disgusting them with the egotism of personal experience.

One word to my English reader, rather of explanation than apology, which I trust the case does not require. I have unscrupulously mentioned the name of such distinguished English people as it was my good fortune to see. I could have screened myself from reproach by giving merely their initials; but, as they are too well known for this device to afford them any shelter, it seemed to me but a paltry affectation of delicacy. I might plead the authority of English travellers in the United States; but if wrong, no authority justifies it; and if right, it needs none. I have confined my notices strictly to public characters—to gallery portraits; for so such persons as Mr. Rogers, and even that most refined and delicate of gentlewomen. Joanna Baillie, may be strictly called, after the full exhibitions in Moore's Life of Byron and Lockhart's Life of Scott. I have violated no confidence, for none was reposed in me. My opportunities of social intercourse were few and brief; and I should have omitted these slight records of them, but for the wish to transmit to my friends at home my delightful impressions of those to whom we all owe many happy hours. Perhaps my anxiety is superfluous; the King of Ashantee was anxious to know what the English people said of him, but I never heard that the English people cared to know what the King of Ashantee said of them!