American Monthly Review (September 1832)


In this review, published September 1832, a writer for the American Monthly Review compares and contrasts three books, among them John Pendleton Kennedy‘s Swallow Barn; or, a Sojourn in the Old Dominion (1832).


We notice these three works together, not merely on account of their belonging to the same class of books, but also on account of their general similitude of character in a certain point of view. The story in all is a secondary affair, serving merely as a bond of connexion, and often a slight one, between a series of descriptions of persons, scenes, or manners. This character indeed is common to very many of the novels of the present time,—since it is found much easier to procure materials for book-making from the extensive and varied stores of geography and history, than to task invention for new combinations of the scanty and exhausted elements of story-telling.

The first of the works, whose titles we have given above, is attributed to a writer of some celebrity in this country,—and if it be his, we are surprised that one formerly associated with Irving in a literary undertaking, should have been willing to offer to the world an imitation of “Bracebridge Hall” (for such it appears to be), under such unfavorable circumstances. It indicates a great want of judgment; since, in the first place, the mere fact of being an imitation, other things being equal, is always unfavorable to a work; and, in the second place, a great part of the merit of “Bracebridge Hall” consists in the advantage which the author takes of certain associations, existing in the minds of the reading classes both in England and America, in favor of the old English country life. The charms of this have been so long the theme of the poet and the essayist, and have been sung and said to us so often, that we have learned to consider the situation of an English country gentleman in affluent circumstances, as the beau idéal of existence. The picture is as familiar to the imagination of the English reader, as that of Arcadia to the mind of the classic one, and perhaps has as little foundation in any reality. But when a writer, forgetting all this, attempts to keep up an interest through two volumes, in the sayings and doings and every-day modes of life of a Virginian planter, we must say we consider his courage in advance of his discretion; and this is the fact. “Swallow Barn” is the name of the mansion of a country-gentleman in Virginia, at which the writer is supposed to reside for a short period. The characters are few and without interest, living, acting, and talking, in the way which we are bound in courtesy to the author to suppose is usual with individuals of that class in Virginia, and which, it seems to us, must be quite as dull in the reality (though this may seem a bold supposition) as it is in the description.

All the three works, as we observed before, bear a general resemblance in one circumstance, namely, the slightness of the story; but the likeness between the last two is much stronger in the general plan. Both of them relate the adventures of a person whose youth was unhappy and deserted, and who grew up to be knocked about the world by circumstances more or less untoward. The difference is that the principal scene of adventure in the one case is Russia, and in the other the islands of the Indian Archipelago. It may be that the resemblance between these works exists only in our imagination, arising from a turn for classifying and arranging things in files or bundles for convenience of reference; but it struck us so strongly, that we should have suspected them to have been by the same author, were it not for the use, by the writer of “Ivan Vejeeghen,” of such phrases as “received in a present,” “once he had gone” for when once, and the like, indicating the author to be a Scotchman, while in “The Adventures of a Younger Son,” the natives of Scotland are spoken of occasionally in such terms of dislike or contempt as no man ever applies to his own countrymen.

The first volume of “The Adventures of a Younger Son,” and both those of “Ivan Vejeeghen,” are interesting from the descriptions they give of classes of people and manners, of which very little is known among civilized communities, if we may be allowed the expression. The habits and manners of the Malays described in the former, like those of all the Eastern world, and of savage nations generally, have too little variety to interest long, and it was a mistake to undertake to dilate the matter into two volumes. One may be read with interest; but there is not story enough to induce a reader to wade through the repetitions of a second.

With the other work the case is different; and if we can put confidence in the accuracy of the descriptions (and we presume they are well founded, since they bear the marks of being the results of observation), they must certainly be perused with the curiosity and interest which belong to accounts of the political and economical state of the interior of a country so little known as Russia,—a country of which we know that they have an emperor, who says he is the father of his people; while we have little or no means of learning what the children think about the matter. We hear now and then of trifling disturbances,—a few regiments getting uneasy, a few hundred officers being shot, or sent to Siberia, &c.—but on the whole, we have so little notion how matters are managed on the other side of the Polish barrier, and what sort of hordes are likely to pour in some day from that quarter over civilized Europe, that every thing is to be welcomed which seems likely to throw any light on the subject.

APA Citation:
The American Monthly Review. American Monthly Review (September 1832). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
The American Monthly Review. "American Monthly Review (September 1832)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 15 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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