The Manchester Guardian
1872: March 6


. . . These two works [Roughing It and Eggleston's Hoosier Schoolmaster] have been issued by Messrs. Routledge as part of a series of American Humorists. We have coupled them because they both depict, though in a very different style and manner, phases of American frontier life. The main portion of Roughing It is an account of the author's experiences among the silver miners in Nevada, and very rough both the experiences and the miners seem to have been, though of course a certain allowance must be made for exaggeration. The life and the people are much the same as those that form the subject of Bret Harte's tales; but whereas he has shown a poetical and imaginative spirit, has represented inner life and character, and shown how the tender flower of sentiment or emotion may be found to spring among the rude and unlovely surroundings of a diggers' camp, our author has contented himself with dwelling on the outside of things and simply describing manners and customs.

The frenzied lust for gain and universal spirit of gambling that seizes on a population on the discovery of the existence of precious metals in their soil has before now been depicted in literature. Most people probably have read Mr. Charles Reade's description of the Australian goldfields in Never too Late to Mend, and, mutatis mutandis, it would hold equally good for California or the diamond miners of the Cape. There is little that is local about the picture, the phenomena exhibited are unfortunately common to all times and places. However, our author gives a lovely account of the vicissitudes and perils of a miner's life, and of the strange and weird scenery of the Nevada territory, and there is always a certain fascination in the record of experiences so remote from our own. Illustrating the credulity which always seems to be engendered by any form of gambling, whether it is rouge et noir, stock jobbing, or silver mining, he tells a story of a certain gold mine of fabulous wealth supposed to exist among the mountains. One man alone believed himself to possess the secret, which had been communicated to him by the original discoverer, and was always vainly endeavoring to find the locality. Just as he hunted for the mine, so the population hunted him, till he was compelled to go about in secret:--

Every now and then it would be reported that Mr. W. had passed stealthily through Esmeralda at dead of night, in disguise, and then we would have a wild excitement--because he must be steering for his secret mine, and now was the time to follow him. In less than three hours after daylight all the horses and mules and donkeys in the vicinity would be bought, hired or stolen, and half the community would be off for the mountains, following in the wake of Whiteman. But W. would drift about through the mountain gorges for days together, in a purposeless sort of way, until the provisions of the miners ran out, and they would have to go back home.

A large part of Roughing It is devoted to the account of the journey by the already obsolete overland coach. And here our author treads on much the same ground as Artemus Ward in Among the Mormons, though his experiences were of a somewhat different character. He does not shine in comparison, as his humour, such as it is, is immeasurably inferior, though of the same school, depending on ludicrous exaggeration and quaint unexpectedness of comparison. Artemus amused us by his genuine fun and originality; but if there is one thing more than another that is spoilt by mannerism it is humour, and if the mannerism of an individual is offensive, the mannerism of a school is insufferable. Mark Twain, too, often falls into the slang of transatlantic journalism, and displays also its characteristic inability to distinguish between the picturesque and the grotesque.

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