This is a deeply interesting book. The objects of the author are best stated in his own words:
“The author of the White Slave, anxious to popularize some knowledge of the condition of the Russian serf among a people who sacrificed twenty millions sterling to the enfranchisement of its own colonial blacks has been desirous of rendering his work amusing, as the readiest means towards effecting this object.
“The personages whom he has called into life in this story, have been introduced, not to aid the writer in effecting a conquest in the domain of fiction, but as the types of classes, and as the vehicles for conveying to the world an impression of a state of things which nothing will tend so much to alter eventually as the public indignation, however slow the remedy.
“He has only used the privilege of the novelist so far as the chronological arrangement of his matter was concerned, and in shifting the scene as well as the period of real events—such as the anachronism of the death of the great Russian poet, or the execution of the sectarian, or making a tavern near St. Petersburg the theatre of violence, which, in reality, took place in the neighborhood of Warsaw.
“At the same time he begs to be distinctly understood that he has taken no further liberty with the anecdotes relating to any of the personages named, and that every incident interwoven in his tale is founded on reality, every imaginary character compounded from real characters; that, whilst endeavoring to sketch, as vividly as his powers of description and his personal reminiscences would allow, a few of the most prominent classes of the Russian people, the author has never ventured to quit the regions of probability, unless when he was adhering to a literal though startling truth.”
The character of the book is one of living reality. There is none of the productive power of genius—no re-presentation; it is the journal of a kind and generous man, with an eye for character, a keen sense for its higher manifestations, but without wonder at its lower, for he knows how to allow for influences and circumstances. We have seen either these or exactly similar passages given of the conduct of the Grand Duke Constantine in the foreign journals, minus the relentings, the gleams of human nature, through the outrages of the brute. We have never before seen these traced to their causes, nor understood why, if more cruelly mad than his father, he was not likewise arrested in his course. Yet we have always felt an instinctive preference of him to the Emperor Nicholas, who if not so glaringly violent, is more unrelenting in cruelty.—The two characters are well portrayed though with few marks, and the truth of portraiture none can doubt. Nicholas is, as a private man, the slave-master of twenty millions of men, as a public of sixty; never for a moment untrue to the character his position demands. Constantine was a mad bull, that trampled to death many victims, yet was capable sometimes of being turned aside by a gentle hand. Beautiful is the account of his duchess, beautiful even her love for a monster; it was that of a protecting angel for “one whom in the wide world there was none else to love, perhaps to save.” This loveliness, this Heaven inspired motherly love, is seen in the conduct of women every where, but here it shines from the hight with the diamond lustre of a star. The Peasant Girl is also full of a noble, simple inspiration, and seems, no less than the duchess, painted from the life.
The barbarians are exactly the same as occur in our own country under different circumstances.—The book combines foreign with domestic interest.*
“The White Slave . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 10 September 1845, p. 1.