literary work is to test the author on some ground with which we in America
cannot help being familiar.
It is this which makes a book of travels among us, or even a lecturing trip, so perilous for a foreign reputation; and among the few who can bear this test —as De Tocqueville
, Von Holst
, the Comte de Paris
—it is singularly rare to find an Englishman.
If the travellers have been thus unfortunate, how much more those who have risked themselves on cis-Atlantic themes without travelling.
No living English writer stood higher in America
than Sir Henry Maine
until we watched him as he made the perilous transition from ‘Ancient Law’ to modern ‘Popular Government,’ and saw him approaching what he himself admits to be the most important theme in modern history, with apparently but some halfdozen authorities to draw upon,—the United States Constitution
, the Federalist, and two or three short biographies.
Had an American written on the most unimportant period of the most insignificant German principality with a basis of reading no larger, we should have wished that his nationality had been kept a secret.