By Harper and Brothers. 1866.. New York:
THE slight value which this volume possesses is of a nature altogether different from that which the author doubtless ascribes to it, though we imagine most of his readers will agree with us in esteeming it chiefly for its personal reminiscences of great events and people. As for Mr. Foote’s philosophization of the history he recounts, it is so generally based upon erroneous views of conditions and occurrences, that we would willingly have spared it all, if we could have had in its place a full and simple narrative of his official career from the time he took part in secession up to the moment of his departure from the Rebel territory. We find nothing new in what he has to say concerning the character of our colonial civilization and the unity of our colonial origin ; and, as we get farther from the creation of the world and approach our own era, we must confess that the light shed upon the slavery question by Mr. Foote seems but vague and unsatisfactory. A few disastrous years have separated us so widely from all the fallacies once current here, that Mr. Foote’s voice comes like an utterance from Antediluvia, when he tells us how compromises continually restored us to complete tranquillity, which the machinations of wicked people, North and South, instantly disturbed again. There was once a race of feeble-minded politicians who thought that, if the Northern Abolitionists and Southern fire-eaters were destroyed, there could be no possible disagreement between the sections concerning slavery; and Mr. Foote, surviving his contemporaries, still clings to their delusions, and believes that the late war resulted from the conflict of ambitious and unscrupulous men, and not from the conflict of principles. Now that slavery is forever removed, it might seem that this was a harmless error enough, and would probably hurt nobody, — not even Mr. Foote. But the fact is important, since it is probable that Mr. Foote represents the opinions of a large class of people at the South, who were friendly to the Union in the beginning of the war, but yielded later to the general feeling of hostility. They were hardly less mischievous during the struggle than the original Secessionists, and, now that the struggle is ended, are likely to give us even more trouble.
Mr. Foote offers no satisfactory explanation of his own course in taking part in the Rebel government, which was founded upon a principle always abhorrent to him, and opposed to all his ideas of good faith and good policy ; but he gives us to understand that he was for a long time about the only honest man unhanged in the Confederacy. Concerning the political transactions of that short - lived state, he informs us of few things which have not been told us by others, and his criticism of Davis’s official action has little to recommend it except its disapproval of Davis.
We must do Mr. Foote the justice to say that his book is not marred by any violence towards the great number of great men with whom he has politically differed ; that he frankly expresses his regret for such of his errors: as he now sees, and is not ashamed to be ashamed of certain offences (like that which won him a very unpleasant nickname) against good taste and good breeding, which the imperfect civilization of Southern politicians formerly tempted them to commit. Remoteness from the currents of modern thought — such as life in a region so isolated as the South has always been involves — will account for much cast-off allusion in his book to Greece and Rome, as well as that inflation of style generally characteristic of Southern literature.