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 But with all his knowledge of fundamental facts and of local colour, the author failed to command attention. Merry Mount is not bad, but it is dull. The characters do not carry the slightest conviction. They are simple bundles of attributes, and some of the bundles have a sensational taint. Contemporary reviews did not slight the book. The North American review actually devoted seventeen pages to an abstract of the tale, in order to prove that the early settlement of New England was not a good field for fiction: ‘Later events only make the period interesting,’ ‘The conditions are too hard,’ ‘Romantic elements are lacking.’ The reviewer concludes with saying that he has been agreeably disappointed, on the whole, but he does not consider the romance a fair specimen of what the writer can achieve.1 Between the production of the two novels, Motley had had fresh experiences. In 1841 he was appointed secretary to the legation at St. Petersburg and spent some months in the Russian capital, long enough to be convinced that he did not wish to have his wife and children join him. So he resigned his post before his year was out. Once again in America, he began to give utterance to his opinions on political events, the failure of Henry Clay to secure the presidential nomination having roused him to mournful expressions of his conviction that all that was fine in American public life had been overpowered by mediocrity if not by evil. He had a little taste of public life himself; he served in the Massachusetts legislature for one term (1849). The one measure he seems to have worked for was an endowment of higher education at the expense of the common schools. ‘Failure was inevitable,’ says George S. Boutwell, a fellow legislator. ‘Neither Webster nor Choate could have carried the bill.’ Motley had written a report as Chairman of the Committee on Education, thinking that he had achieved a fine document, and was much surprised at the unanimity of its condemnation. He had no more desire for Massachusetts political life. By this date, Motley was thirty-five, no longer a youth, yet all his failures seem those of immaturity. It sometimes happens when a boy is precocious that the reputation of being in advance of his years lingers about him after the time when a man of
1 North American review, January, 1849.
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