American Notes

And Pictures From Italy
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Charles Dickens
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"American Notes" was written soon after Dickens had returned from his first visit to America. That visit had, of course, been a great epoch in his life; but how much of an epoch men did not truly realise until, some time after, in the middle of a quiet story about Rochester and a ridiculous architect, his feelings flamed out and flared up to the stars in "Martin Chuzzlewit." The "American Notes" are, however, interesting, because in them he betrays his feelings when he does not know that he is betraying them. Dickens's first visit to America was, from his own point of view, and at the beginning, a happy and festive experiment. It is very characteristic of him that he went among them, enjoyed them, even admired them, and then had a quarrel with them. Nothing was ever so unmistakable as his goodwill, except his illwill; and they were never far apart. And this was not, as some bloodless moderns have sneeringly insinuated, a mere repetition of the proximity between the benevolent stage and the quarrelsome stage of drink. It was a piece of pure optimism; he believed so readily that men were going to be good to him that an injury to him was something more than an injury: it was a shock. What was the exact nature of the American shock must, however, be more carefully stated.The famous quarrel between Dickens and America, which finds its most elaborate expression in "American Notes," though its most brilliant expression in "Martin Chuzzlewit," is an incident which has been much discussed and about which, nevertheless, a great deal remains to be said. But the thing which most specially remains to be said is this. This old Anglo-American quarrel was much more fundamentally friendly than most Anglo-American alliances. In Dickens's day each nation understood the other enough to argue.

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