I came across the following paragraph in Dickens' American Notes:

I have made no reference to my reception, nor have I suffered it to influence me in what I have written; for, in either case, I should have offered but a sorry acknowledgment, compared with that I bear within my breast, towards those partial readers of my former books, across the Water, who met me with an open hand, and not with one that closed upon an iron muzzle.

What does this mean? I would appreciate a paraphrase to help understand it.

3 Answers 3


He's basically saying that he hasn't referred to the way he was received, or allowed the way he was received to influence what he has written.

He says that if he had done either of those things he would have failed to express the real depth of the appreciation he really felt toward the people he met.

He describes the people as having been generous towards him and not threatened him with guns.

In this sense 'sorry' means 'inadequate'

'Partial' means 'having a predilection for something', so they are fond of his books.

'Open handed' means 'Liberal and generous'

'Muzzle' means ' The mouth or the end for entrance or discharge of a gun, pistol etc.' though it does make on wonder how Dickens had been received in other places if it seems a generosity for people not to greet him with guns!


Dickens seems to have encountered plenty of muzzles in America. In Martin Chuzzlewhitt (which Adam Burke mentioned) part of his criticism of the country concerns the ubiquity of guns.

Mr. Chollop [ . . . ] always introduced himself to strangers as a worshipper of Freedom; was the consistent advocate of Lynch law, and slavery; and invariably recommended, both in print and speech, the 'tarring and feathering' of any unpopular person who differed from himself. He called this 'planting the standard of civilisation in the wilder gardens of My country.'

. . . . He was usually described by his friends, in the South and West, as 'a splendid sample of our na-tive raw material, sir,' and was much esteemed for his devotion to rational Liberty; for the better propagation whereof he usually carried a brace of revolving pistols in his coat pocket, with seven barrels a-piece.

(It's a long time since I read it but I remember wishing they would get back from America so we could have more of Mrs Gamp.)


As well as the definitions of the words explained by @Spagirl, there is some context from Dickens' life. Dickens made two tours of America, decades apart, and they went very differently.

On the 1842 tour, after a warm welcome, he became exhausted with American fans while touring as a celebrity, including the many people trying to leverage his fame for business opportunities, and he developed a poor view America in general. As a result much of American Notes is in this critical tone. Martin Chuzzlewit, written soon after, is also satirical and broadly critical of its American setting.

So he is trying to distinguish the friends he made, and the warm welcome he received, from the criticism of America in general found in the book.

Overview from the BBC and HarpWeek.

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