Birkbeck was an activist abolitionist who came to the US the year before this journey. He helped settle Albion, Illinois.
p. 134: Scientific pursuits are also, generally speaking, unknown where I have travelled. Reading is very much confined to politics, history and poetry. Science is not, as in England, cultivated for its own sake. This is to be lamented the more, on account of the many heavy hours of indolence under which most people are doomed to toil, through every day of their existence. What yawning and stretching, and painful restlessness they would be spared, if their time were occupied in the acquisition of useful knowledge!