restricted access Cavalier and Yankee: the Old South and American National Character (review)
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BOOK REVIEWS The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial. By Robert Penn Warren. (New York: Random House, 1961. Pp. 109. $2.75.) Taking as ins theme the latter half of the old saw that "all that happened before die Civil War led up to it, and diat all diat has happened since is die result of it," Robert Penn Warren, novelist and poet, has written a brief, wellorganized , thought-provoking essay. Out of the war, says Warren, came a society of big business and big technology, with the result that "the old sprawling, loosely knit country disappeared into the nation of Big Organization." The war created a union which had not existed before, brought about an explosive westward expansion, and created a climate of opinion peculiarly favorable to the formulation of pragmatism as a philosophy. Thus the psychological cost of the war gave the South the "Great Alibi" by which die Soutiiemer explains, condones, and transmutes everything, turning defeat into victory, defects into virtues. For the North the psychological cost is die "Treasury of Virtue" whereby die Northerner feels redeemed by history through an indulgence for all sins past, present, and future. Botii of these are found equally corrosive of national and personal integrity. Warren believes that "history cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future." Thus in the contemplation of the Civil War "some of that grandeur, even in the midst of the confused issues, shadowy chances, and brutal ambivalences of our life and historical moment, may rub off on us. And that may be what we yearn for after all." WrLLARD E. Wight Georgia Institute of Technology Cavalier and Yankee: the Old South and American National Character. By William R. Taylor. (New York: George Braziller, 1961. Pp. 384. $6.00. ) By 1860 most Americans had come to think of their country as consisting of two disparate cultures: that in the North was commercial, equalitarian, enterprising , money-minded, while that in the South was agricultural, aristocratic, decorous, conservative. Each was thought to have its own traditions, its own set of values, its own culture, and—according to a notion tiien current—its own separate ancestral heritage. The one was Yankee, the other was Cavalier. Much of diis was myth. Yet as everyone familiar with history knows, what 337 338 CIVIL WAR HISTORY actually is true is sometimes less important than what people think is true. The task that Professor Taylor has set for himself in this book is to describe how one substantial part of this mythology sprang up and grew. This was the part that was "literary." In a series of judicious essays, he has analyzed the writings of William Wirt, James Fenimore Cooper, Sara Josepha Hale, George Tucker, John Pendleton Kennedy, William Alexander Caruthers, James Kirke Paulding, William Gilmore Simms, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every one of these men and women was to some degree concerned with, and worried about, the direction that American national character seemed to be taking. How these writers set forth their anxieties, what the social problems were that gave them concern, what kinds of mentality and personality they had, and what sort of needs their "fictional sociology" satisfied—these are the questions that Professor Taylor seeks to answer. He has answered them interestingly, often with acute perception, and in a style characterized by clarity and felicity. His principal concern is with the South. By 1830, he says, numerous writers in both North and South had expressed strong reservations about the aggressive , mercenary civilization they saw developing in America. Northerners often expressed concern about the soulless, grasping world of business and the kind of life that it seemed to be producing. Some of these Northerners saw in the South the very qualities that the North lacked—stability, gentility, magnanimity , order, devotion to public service, respect for republican institutions. In the minds of such Northerners, "the legendary Southern planter, despite reservations of one kind or another, began to seem almost perfectly suited to fill the need. . . . More and more, he came to be looked upon as the characteristic...