[Review: A Truth-Seeker Around the World: A Series of Letters written while making a Tour of the Globe, by D. M. Bennett. Vol. 1. From New York to Damascus. New York, 1881-82.]
At the time of Mr. Bennett’s visit to Bombay it was made known that he was on a voyage around the world at the request of the subscribers to his journal, the Truth-Seeker, and at their expense. This latter fact at once attests the popularity of Mr. Bennett in America among the freethinking classes, and their probable numerical strength; for unless the number were large. no fund so considerable as this journey requires could have been raised by a popular subscription of five dollars from each contributor. Mr. Bennett’s observations of travel have been regularly published in his journal in the form of letters, and the portion of the trip between New York and Damascus has just appeared in a thick volume of 836 pages, profusely illustrated, and having a well-engraved portrait on steel of the author. Mr. Bennett is a type of a class very numerous in the United States, and which has recruited some of the ablest men in American public life—that of the self-made. By dint of strong natural endowments of mind, backed by a store of bodily vigour, they have forced their way into public notice and popular leadership, often despite obstacles fit to crush all hope out of weaker characters. A representative man of this class was the late distinguished American journalist and politician, Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune; and one cannot turn over a leaf of American history without seeing the traces of similar minds having been at work. Mr. Bennett’s path to authorship and leadership in the Western Free-thought movement did not run through the drowsy recitation rooms of the college, nor over the soft carpets of aristocratic drawing rooms. When his thoughts upon religion filled his head to overflowing, he dropped merchandising and evoluted into editorship with a cool self-confidence that is thoroughly characteristic of the American disposition, and scarcely ever looked for in any other race. “The Americans invented the monkey and shod the mosquito”—is a Russian proverb expressive of the popular idea in that country of the cleverness of their trans-Atlantic friends. One would naturally look, then, to find in a book by such a man rather strength than finish, many quaint original views of foreign people and countries without any pretence of that polish which marks the literary productions of the university graduate. And such, indeed, is what one sees in the volume under notice. The author’s mission was the unique one of studying and reporting upon the religious state of the world from the freethinker’s point of view. It may be described as an anti-missionary or anti-religious pilgrimage; a commission to discover not alone how little or much good the missionaries are doing to the “Heathen,” nor how good or bad are the various other Christian nations, but also whether Christian America can draw any good lessons in morals or religion from the hoary civilizations of Asia. This duty Mr. Bennett has performed to the extent possible within the brief time allowed him in each country to look over his ground. He makes many shrewd observations, more particularly in Europe and the Holy Land, where his long previous study of Christianity fitted him to grasp its relations with the state of things he witnessed. His is not a book to be read with either pleasure or patience by the professed Christian, but it is admirably adapted to his audience; and the popular receptions which, in the latest advices from America, are reported as being given to him by crowds of sympathizers all along the line of the Pacific Railway, show that he has largely added to his influence with that rapidly-growing party which is assailing Christian theology “from every coign of vantage.” Three volumes are to complete the work, and the three are advertised at the remarkably low cost of five dollars, or about Rs. 13-2-0.