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BOOK REVIEWS Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. By Edmund Wilson. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962. Pp. xxxii, 816. $8.50.) I wish I had written this book. Imitation is said to be die highest form of flattery, but perhaps envy is an even more sincere praise. Unabashedly I envy die breaddi of knowledge, die depdi of perceptivity, the sharp critical ability of Edmund Wilson so brilliantly displayed in Patriotic Gore. Patriotic Gore by Richard Harwell would, however, have been a very different book from Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson. It would have been better balanced, more historical in its approach, more enclyclopedic—and not half so interesting. It would not have carried the impact of Mr. Wdson's book. It is Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore diat I envy and that I wish I had written. Mr. Wdson is an accomplished writer, a brilliant critic, and an original thinker. This volume of essays on the literature of the Civil War is a strenuous exercise of his various talents. As a piece of writing it is of the highest order. As literary criticism it adds luster to an already lustrous reputation. As original thinking it is, unfortunately, sometimes so original as to seem more nearly out of step with, than ahead of, the field. Patriotic Gore does not set out to debunk American literary history as it grew out of the Civil War, but Mr. Wdson views the past with critical glasses more jaundiced than rose-colored. He finds literary history often more historical than literary. He is not shy about poking at revered skeletons, whedier monumentally entombed or in the closets of our past. His approach adds up to something closely resembling debunking: witness the incisive chapter on Harriet Beecher Stowe which somehow manages to praise in its parts and yet produce a whole diat is devastatingly scadiing. It is no new idea diat die mydis of history are believed, not die facts. But never has the idea been ridden harder or more effectively than by Wilson. "In connection widi die Civil War," he writes, "in general, it is astonishing to what extent the romantic popular legend has been substituted for the so much more interesting and easily accessible reality. . . . The reality was far more dramatic and more characteristic of the actors." The reality of the war as revealed in its literature (literature in a broad sense that includes history, memoirs, etc., as well as belles-lettres) is the basis of Mr. Wilson's book. His search for truth and the real meaning of the war has led him to some unpalatable conclusions, but they are always interest100 ing conclusions. It has also led him into fascinating by-ways of American literary history. Patriotic Gore is marred by a quixotic and bitter introduction in which Mr. Wilson parades an intellectual, literary version of thinking about history that is not only far right but also far out. But the book (not die introduction) is the thing—and a very fine thing. Mr. Wilson can have his introduction. I wish I had written the book. Richard Harwell Bowdoin College Lion of White Hall: the Life of Cassius N. Clay. By David L. Smdey. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962. Pp. 294. $6.00.) The career of Cassius Marcellus Clay, the Lion of White Hall, is a study in frustration and fadure. His one ambition in life was to obtain political power and public office, but with die exception of tiiree short terms in die Kentucky legislature he was never able to gain an office. He was elected to his first term in the legislature in 1835 at the age of twenty-five, and his last term five years later. He lived sixty-three years after this last success, but despite numerous attempts he was never elected again. Quick tempered and fearless, he was involved in many gory fights with his opponents. One man lost his life and anodier lost an eye and an ear when they tangled widi Clay's bowie knife. Bom into a slaveholding Kentucky famdy, Cassius Clay fought slavery until its extinction—though his motives were not humanitarian. He gave economic reasons...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 100-101
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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