Historical View of the American Revolution

By GEORGE WASHINGTON GREENE. Boston : Ticknor & Fields.
EITHER of the two objects which Mr. Greene aimed to accomplish in preparing the materials of this volume demanded on his part the possession of large historical knowledge, and the best abilities for its judicious use. The contents of the volume were made to do service, first, as a series of twelve lectures before the Lowell Institute, addressed to a large and mixed audience, possessing generally a high average of intelligence, and exhibiting, by their voluntary presence, an interest on which a lecturer may largely rely. The second object of the author, in the present publication of his Lectures, was to contribute to the best form of our popular literature a volume which may be regarded either as introductory to, or as a substitute for, an extended course of reading on its subject-matter, according to the leisure and capacity of those who may possess themselves of it. We must congratulate alike the lecturer and the author for very marked success in the adaptation of his materials and in the treatment of his subject so as to answer equally well the wants of good listeners and of sympathetic readers.
The great perplexity of a lecturer, who has given him an hour on twelve evenings, two in a week, for dealing before a mixed audience with such a subject as the American War of Independence, must be in deciding for himself, without consultation with his hearers, how much previous knowledge he may take for granted in them. He cannot name his authorities, much less quote them to any great extent. On some vexed points the simple fact that sharp and dividing issues of controverted opinions have been agitated about them must virtually compel him almost to pass them wholly by, seeing that he cannot adequately discuss them, and that any brief and positive utterance upon them would seem to be lacking in judicial fairness. The exigencies and temptations of a lecture-room are also sadly provocative of that rhetorical bombast and exaggeration which, having been so lavishly and offensively indulged on our Fourth of July and other commemorative occasions in the supposed interests of popular patriotism, have brought our whole national literature under a reproach hardly deserved. Mr. Greene, from his long residence abroad, has heard and known too much of this reproach to have risked getting even under the shadow of it.
We believe it is a well-established fact, that both in oral and in literary dealings with historical subjects, the more thorough and comprehensive the knowledge possessed by any one who proposes to instruct others, the more concisely as well as the more correctly will he present his matter. He knows how to adjust the proportions of interest in his main and incidental themes. By this test we should judge Mr. Greene to be most faithfully conversant with his subject, and to have had his knowledge stored up in his mind, uncommunicated, long enough to have well digested and assimilated it. The admirable division of his theme for treatment under twelve distinct, though closely related topics, shows something better than ingenuity, or a skilful arrangement of a bill of fare for twelve entertainments. These topics are, —The Causes of the Revolution ; Its Phases ; The Congress ; Congress and the State Governments; Finances of the Revolution; Its Diplomacy ; Its Army ; Its Campaigns ; The Foreign Element of the Revolution ; Its Martyrs ; Its Literature, in Prose ; and in Poetry. An Appendix gives us a Chronological Outline of Historical Events ; Statistical Tables ; and an Address of Officers of the Southern Army to General Greene.
For completeness’ sake, we could have wished that the author, if not the lecturer, might have indulged himself, and pleased and instructed his readers, by presenting under one more topic, or under a miscellaneous category, the resources of the American Colonies at the date of the Revolution, what they had besides land and water ; the characteristics of the diverse elements of the population; the manufacturing interests, which had begun to be ingeniously and effectively pursued here, notwithstanding the repressive hostility of England to their introduction ; and the distinctive qualities of our farmers, seamen, professional men, and village politicians. But it is ungracious to ask for more than there is in this compact and most admirable volume. It is written with a severely good taste, in a spirit of candor and generosity, with stern fidelity to truth in relating things honorable and humiliating; and it will surely excite to wide and diligent reading those who through its pages make their first acquaintance with its subject. There are in it many finely drawn and artistic portraits of men of mark, especially of Franklin, Lafayette, Steuben, James Otis, and Josiah Quincy. In no single volume can foreign readers find what is here told so fully, so simply, and so well.