From an unsigned review, United States Review, March 1853 page
Setting aside the foreign reputation of the author, this book is of more than ordinary interest for two reasons: first, because the concluding part of the drama takes place in this country; and secondly, and perhaps mainly, because Mr. Thackeray has lately been an object of personal attention in our lecture-rooms and household circles, and has received a share of deferential admiration such as we are accustomed to bestow on very few literary men. We do not say that Mr. Thackeray has been at all toadied during this visit to America, or nauseated by flattery, or bored by an excess of kindness. We have seen quite enough of such nonsense in times gone by, and we have shown but little disposition to repeat our past follies. But Mr. Thackeray has been most indubitably lionized. His lectures have been listened to by crowded audiences. The hospitality of our citizens has been largely tendered him. He has met with few unfriendly criticisms. His visit from first to last has been an undeniable personal and literary success.1…
Mr. Thackeray, in writing Henry Esmond, undertook a very difficult
task. To write a novel of the social and literary life of a past age is not Mr. Thackeray’s forte, nor is it the forte of any other man. It does not come by nature. When honest Dogberry averred that reading and writing came by this easy process, he was not far wrong, and might have attributed the same origin to many other accomplishments. It is one of the most natural things in the world to write an account of what is going on about you, to dress it off with the graces and liberties of fiction, and-to publish your novel. How many pleasing and attractive books are thus produced! With what ease are they written, how freely are they read, with how little concern we cast them aside! They save us a world of observation, by giving us the results of observation ready to hand. When we have read about Bluff, the Major, and Prig, the Lawyer; when we have listened to the tea-talk of Mrs. Soand-so, and Miss This-and-that; when we have been introduced to the Collegian, and been lectured by the Divine; when we have heard the wise saws of the Doctor, and the commercial maxims of the Merchant-all through the medium of the novel-we feel quite well rewarded for investigations made with so little trouble. Do we read novels for any other purpose than to taste of the dish of human nature, without going through the labor and vexation of cooking it? It would require a great deal of time and expense, Madame, to get together Vanity Fair upon your carpet. It is much cheaper and more expeditious to recline on your sofa, and read the history of the personages who figure in that celebrated show.