Page 199 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

1 91
ments in the all-too-rare interstices between political caucases
and journalistic deadlines. Others, he thought, had done better.6
Noah’s most significant contribution to American letters was
his book o f travels, published in 1819. The volume was conceived
while Noah was serving as American consul to Tunis, a post he
received in 1813. “I am taking notes for writing a Book . . .,” he
informed his friend David Bailie Warden in 1815, “I wish to add
my poor mite to,the store o f American literature.”7 By the time
the book appeared, however, it had taken on an additional func­
tion. Soon after writing to Warden, Noah found himself recalled
home for reasons — among them “the religion which you pro­
fess” — which he considered to be grossly unjust. In part, at least,
he used his book, “as a work o f explanation and defence.”8
in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States
is thus a mixture o f
travelogue and apologia. The first book o f its kind by an Ameri­
can diplomat, it won considerable acclaim and went through at
least two editions.
Noah’s travelogue included all the standard motifs o f the
genre: injury on the road, a near robbery, and lusty moments o f
embarrassment. Noah rendered typical judgements on each o f
the countries he visited. England, he felt, should be considered a
“permanent enemy,” ever eager “to check our progress or mar
our national prosperity.” France, on the other hand, left not a
single unfavorable impression: “no circumstance . . . served to
lower the respect which is generally entertained towards this
country and its inhabitants.” As for Spain, he was very critical o f
its “indolence” and “prejudices.” He urged the country to “toler­
ate all religions, [to] call back the Moors and Jews,” and to free
her South American colonies. These were all regular Jefferso­
nian sentiments and probably evoked no surprise from readers.9
What did distinguish Noah’svolume from other contemporary
works o f its type was the attention devoted to Jewish affairs.
6 Ibid, p. 115; Sarna,
Jacksonian Jew,
pp. 6-8, 12-13, 47-51.
7 Noah to David B. Warden (February 10, 1815), Warden Papers, Library o f
8 Mordecai M. Noah,
Travels in England, France, Spain and theBarbary States
York, 1819), p. iv.
9 Ibid, pp. 58, 125, 241.