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Early U.S.HistoryFirsthand Robert H.Eliasand Eugene D. Finch, eds. Letters of ThomasAtwood Digges, 1742-1821. Columbia: Universityof South Carolina Press, 1982. 666+ lxxxivpp. Milton Meltzerand Patricia G. Holland, eds. frdtaMariaChildSelected Letters, 1817-1880. Amherst: Universityof Massachusetts Press, 1982. 583 +xviiipp. Lillian B.Miller,ed. The Selected Papers of Charles WillsonPealeand His Family. Volume/: Charles WillsonPeale:Artist in Revolutionary America, 1735-1791. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press, 1983. 673+!iiipp. Robert Seager,II, ed. The Papers of Henry Clay. Volume 7: Secreta1)' of State,January I, 1828-March 4, 1829. Lexington: The UniversityPress of Kentucky, 1982.777 + xi pp. G.A. Schultz Acommon lament of historians is that outsiders too often define their craft forthem. In the popular mind their job is seen as "stating the facts," implying thatfactssomehow speak for themselves. The wounds are largely self-inflicted. Toomany historians are satisfied to record vital statistics or survey oftenrepeatedgeneralizations . The briefer the survey, the easier to assume splendid detachment.In broad sweeps they chart the rise and fall of civilizations, the clashof classes and the achievements of the great. These then are set in stone asthefacts of history. Thereare no ready solutions, and the debate will go on forever. It is refreshing inthesecircumstances occasionally directly to hear the voices of the past. In recentyears there have been a number of major American projects to publish thepapers and diaries of regional and national luminaries. The costs have beenstaggering,but governments and private endowers have helped underwrite thesepublications, particularly if done by university presses. The four books reviewed here have this in common. YaleUniversity Press has undertaken the publication of the select papers of Charles Willson Peale and family. There are about 6,000 extant items from 1735to 1885covering three generations. Approximately 2,000 have been chosenfor publication in eight annotated volumes. The editors have incorporateda variety of papers, letters, diaries, lectures, newspaper articles and advertisements. In many ways the Peales were a very ordinary middle-class Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 17, Number 3, Fall 1986, 327-335 328 G.A. Schultz family, but their artistic talents and scientific interests and their pretensions set them apart. The series centers of course on Charles Willson Peale, portraitist, founder of the first important museum of natural history in the U.S., and a bit ofa soldier and something of a scientist. The first volume covers Peale's emergence as an artist and his struggle to make a living at it in what is styled as Revolutionary America, 1735-91.Although colonial sponsors sensed potential for greatness and underwrote two years of study in England, he never attained international stature. He did on his return to America paint the portraitsof many partriot heroes and founding fathers. He painted five pictures of George Washington. The most famous is a mezzo tint of Washington with his handon a cannon. The earliest in 1772 is of a distinctly cross-eyed Washington. The eyes straightened out remarkably in the subsequent pictures as Washington's fame increased. In all, Peale painted more than 1,000 portraits. They area significant visual record of early U.S. history. Peale was born in Maryland in 1741, where his father lived in forced exile from England. A convicted forger under sentence of death, the elder Peale would seem to have been grateful for a chance for a new life. Despite unrelieved poverty, he attempted to maintain the airs of a gentleman who had studied at Cambridge. The younger Peale apprenticed as a saddlemaker, but clearly he wasnot satisfied to remain one. The drive for "self-improvement" is evident in the progression of the papers. They reflect a growing facility of expression. There is no explanation in the papers of Peale's interest in painting. A skilled artisan, he turned to art and viewed it as another craft to be learned like saddlemaking. He read what books were available, and exchanged a saddle for three lessons from a local portraitist which "infinitely lightened the difficulties of the new Art." Charles Carroll, an Annapolis barrister, saw some of Peale's early portraits and was impressed. He and several other gentlemen provided funds forPeale to go to London to study painting with an expatriate, Benjamin...


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