By American Publishing Company. [Published by subscription.], Author of “ Field, Dungeon, and Escape,” and “Beyond the Mississippi.” Hartford:
WE cannot find, from an examination of Mr. Richardson’s book, that a Personal History of General Grant differs from most other histories of him, except in being a great deal more entertaining. To be sure, there is an effort made throughout to fix the reader’s attention upon General Grant’s character rather than his performance ; but the two are not to be separated, and the only perceptible result is the accumulation of anecdote. A larger proportion of the work is given to the record of his life anterior to the Rebellion than is usual in biographies of our matter-of-fact hero; but he is not more studied here than in his subsequent history. In fact, we get no fresh impressions of the man from his personal historian, except that the most and the worst has been made of those early lapses from sobriety, of which we hear less and less now every day. Commonly Mr. Richardson is frank enough in the treatment of all points in Grant’s career, and we cannot suspect him of uncandor when he describes him as peculiarly susceptible to a little wine ; but we are loath to be reminded in that way of the great public character whose innocent habits rendered him such an easy victim, and we prefer to believe that Grant’s temperance is a virtue, — that he may once have yielded to drink as other men do, and reformed as other men do. It appears to us that Lincoln set this whole affair right in the answer which Mr. Richardson says he made to a “persistent grumbler,” demanding Grant’s removal. “For what reason ? ” asked the President, “ Because he drinks so much whiskey.” “ Ah, yes ! ” (thoughtfully). “ By the way, can you tell me where he gets his whiskey? He has given us about all our successes ; and if his whiskey does it, I should like to send a barrel of the same brand to every general in the field.” We cheerfully accept Grant upon this method of valuation ; and if the habit of taking strong waters breeds so much good sense, energy, modesty, and correct principle in prospective Presidents, we hope the coming man of the people will always drink wine — to excess.
A very interesting part of Mr. Richardson’s work is that describing General Grant’s boyhood, and the state of society in which he grew up. Here, however, the field of anecdote has been pretty well gleaned, and Mr. Richardson achieves new effects rather by the carefulness with which he gives circumstances and conditions than with novelty of material. We get a clear idea of Grant’s home-life, and the local influences which went to form his character. Among the latter, a lack of local appreciation was doubtless useful to him. A boy from whom not much is expected has already a fair start in the world, and Grant always had the assistance of a good deal of neighborly doubt. His first advance in life gave dissatisfaction to the neighbors, and when it became known that he was appointed to West Point, one of them said to his father : “So Hamer has made Ulyss a cadet?” “Yes.” “I am astonished that he didn’t appoint some one with intellect enough to do credit to the district.” Improving snubs have attended many steps of Grant’s life, civil and military; but nothing has soured him, and he is so far from “ a good hater,” that he probably cherishes enmity against no man alive. He is in fact a good forgiver, — as good a forgiver as Lincoln himself, who could have said nothing better than Grant did when the insolent Rebel officers at Vicksburg failed to offer him a chair, during the visit he made them after their surrender: “ Well, if Pemberton can stand it, under the circumstances, I can.” Here is the large allowance for human nature so eminently characteristic of Lincoln ; and in some of the other stories Mr, Richardson gives there are touches of humor which remind us of Lincoln’s peculiar pleasantry.
At Vicksburg, “ a young Rebel officer, an aid of Bowen’s, was brought in prisoner. He rode a beautiful horse, with a quilted saddle and costly trappings. He answered a few questions, and then manifested the assurance of his class : —
“ PRISONER. — ‘ General Grant, this horse and saddle don’t belong to the Confederate government, but are my private property, presented by my father. I should be glad if I might retain them.’
“GRANT. — ‘I have got three or four horses, which are also my private property, meandering about the Confederacy. I ’ll make an exchange with you. We ’ll keep yours, and when you find one of mine, just take it in his place ! ’ ”
There are notices of nearly all of Grant’s associates and many of his contemporaries in this personal history, and, on the whole, it might have been called a history of the war with no great presumption. Necessarily, perhaps, in making a book for strictly popular sale, a big one is desirable, and bigness is the greatness that comes of “stuffing out with straw.” We must not conceal that the present work is considerably padded, not only with irrelevant narrative, but with any little story of Frederick the Great, or Napoleon, or Daniel Webster, or anybody, or any little quotation that happens to take Mr. Richardson’s passing fancy. Yet it is an entertaining book ; it is a valuable book in so far as the writer is eye and ear witness of many things Grant did and said, and has his material at first-hand. We readily conceive of its outliving the political campaign.