Ohio History Journal

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Assistant Professor of English, Ohio Wesleyan University

Soon after his arrival in the United States in January 1842,

Dickens wrote to an English friend: "There is a great deal afloat

here in the way of subjects for description. I keep my eyes open

pretty wide, and hope to have done so to some purpose by the

time I come home."1 That he kept his eyes open is evidenced by

his vivid letters to Forster,2 his friend and biographer, and by

the volume of American Notes3 drawn from a combination of these

letters and his imagination. Yet the report of what Dickens saw in

the United States aroused a storm of criticism.4 Most of the critics

complained on grounds of national pride; a few were dis-

appointed by the lack of thorough understanding in the report.

Emerson, for instance, after reading the American Notes, called

Dickens' picture of American manners too narrow and super-

ficial to be adequate.5 Philip Hone, a New York diarist contem-

porary with Dickens, thought the judgments of the Notes sound

but commented that the "sketches are slightly drawn from hasty

observation, and it is evident that his [Dickens'] volatile wing

has not rested long enough in one place to enable him to under-

stand its localities or discourse wisely upon its characteristics."6


* This article was originally delivered as a paper at the annual meeting of

the Ohio College Association at Columbus, April 8-9, 1949.

1 To Thomas Mitton, January 31, 1842, in Georgina Hogarth and Mamie

Dickens, eds., The Letters of Charles Dickens (3 vols., London, 1880-82), I, 59,

referred to hereafter as Letters.

2 See John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (3 vols., Philadelphia, 1872-


3 American Notes for General Circulation, first published in London in 1842.

All references to this work are to Volume I of the Nonesuch Dickens, ed. by Arthur

Waugh, Hugh Walpole, Walter Dexter, and Thomas Hatton (23 vols., Bloomsbury

[London], 1938).

4 See for examples of the protest such contemporary parodies of the American

Notes as Current American Notes by "Buz!" (London, [1842?]) and [Harry

Wood], Change for American Notes (n.p., 1843).

5 Entry in his journal for November 25, 1842, in Bliss Perry, ed., The Heart

of Emerson's Journals (Boston, 1926).

6 Allan Nevins, ed., The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (2 vols., New York,

1927), II, 633.