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SHORTER BOOK REVIEWS Kenneth A. Lockridge. The Diary,and Life, of l¥illiam ByrdII of Virginia, 1674-1744. Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1987.xiv+ 201pp. Illus. In this provocative book, Kenneth A. Lockridge explores the personality of William Byrd II, a leading member of Virginia's planter class. This work represents new departures for Lockridge, the author of two innovativebooks about Puritan New England: a change in focus from New England to the Chesapeake and, more importantly, a change in methodology from the quantitative, social science orientation of his earlier books to the psychobiographic emphasis of this study. Lockridge seems uncertain about the results: "I admit that I hope it is true"(viii). Unfortunately, this is the book's most serious problem; there is no wayto tell whether the author is correct. William Byrd II was a prominent member of Virginia's tobacco squirearchy. Emulating his father, Byrd ultimately held most of the colony's important political offices: as member of the House of Burgesses, militia commander, colonial agent, and president of the Council of State. His vast landholdings in Virginia and North Carolina included Westover, seat of colonial Virginia's most impressiveplantation mansion. Byrd was also a man of letters. Educated in England, he spent many years in London, where he associated with influential playwrights and politicians, and he became one of the few colonists elected to the Royal Society. Throughout his life, Byrd kept detailed, secret diaries. In addition, he wrote two long narratives describing his experiences surveying the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina, and two accounts of lifein Virginia and Carolina. Byrd probably wrote more than any other colonist except Cotton Mather. Lockridge assesses the master of Westover, despite these impressive accomplishments, as an insecure, ineffective and brittle person who was largely a failure until middle age. Key to this interpretation is Lockridge's 120 Shorter Book Reviews argument that Byrd developed a "preceptual" personality during his school years in England. A preceptual person tends "to learn a role as a series of precepts, specific behaviors learned usually from books, by rote, or as abstract examples, the rigid and continual practice of which is thought to constitute the successful fulfillment of the role in question" (171-173). The real gentleman was not bound by this preceptual straightjacket; he could adopt a more flexible "metaphorical" mode of interacting to fit various social relationships (186). Lockridge applies this theory to Byrd's life. William was sent to England at age seven to learn how to be a gentleman. Unfortunately, he suffered numerous rejections, apparently because of his colonial origins, and had no effective role models from whom to learn; he had only books. In a passage reminiscent of Stanley Elkins's use of personality theory, Lockridge relates the consequences of this development: "As a boy Byrd had never had a relationship with a significant other, a living model for the gentleman, to whom precepts were living metaphors to be flexed and transformed by individual experience" (33). Lockridge insists on the lack of role models, despite admitting that "Byrd's life in general until he is sixteen or even twenty is very sparsely documented" (170). Byrd's dependence on published guides to gentlemanly behavior resulted, according to Lockridge's close reading of his diaries, in a stiff, ineffective colonial masquerading as an English gentleman. In England, Byrd was subsequently unsuccessful in politics and love, failing to replace Alexander Spotswood as Virginia's governor and unable to marry an English heiress, despite several attempts accompanied by many amateurish love letters. Eventually, he realized he would never become an English gentleman, so he returned to Virginia. Only after he made this decision did he learn finally to "flex"his behavior ,.metaphorically" and so become a successful Virginia gentleman. As Lockridge states: "Byrd had passed from the world of precept to that of living metaphor ... he had ceased the obsessive pursuit of rigid ambitions aimed at making him an English gentleman and had become a Virginia gentleman, politician, and writer" (103). Given Lockridge's definitions of "preceptual" and "metaphorical" personalities, it is difficult to see...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 119-121
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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