By HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY. 1918. 12mo, xii+356 pp. $1.50.. Boston and New York:
MR. FARRAND’S volume is in every way a notable achievement. It was no easy task to trace within his limits the history of the American people from the earliest times to the great climax of its fortunes, and at the same time to weave into his narrative the accepted results of the most recent scholarship. Yet his book bears, on almost every page, the evidence, not merely of wide reading among books so numerous that even the stoutest heart has often the right to despair, but also of an original and critical mind eager to accept nothing that is not in harmony with the scientific analysis of the full evidence we now have. Nor is it in any sense traditional history that he has given us. His interpretation of American history is something more than a scant biography of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Lincoln. He gives us no conventional portraits. Behind t he men are in every case to be seen the vaster social forces of which they were in fact the symbol. His is the first book of its kind which makes American history a vivid and quick interpreta tion of American life. For the first time the America that baffled the travelers of Europe, Kalm and Dickens and Acton, springs into life from the printed page.
Inevitably the consequence is novelty of outlook. Here, for the first time, is an interpretation of the War of Independence which Americans can read with pride and Englishmen without resentment. Here is an explanation of those qualities Europe is accustomed to term American, synthesized, not from some stray anecdote of Jackson or Cleveland, but from the daily life of a pioneer people occupied, above all, in wresting from the frontier its immeasurable secrets. The hesitations and divisions which made the Federalism of 1787 seem so doubtful an experiment pass naturally into the exuberant optimism which de Tocqueville noted and Jackson symbolized.
The labyrinthine Liberalism of Jefferson finds a significant and vital setting in the background, not of abstract French ideas, but of thedisturbing necessities of imperial adventure. The significance of Jackson is for the first time seen, for the general reader, in the essential background of that speculation so typical of a country in process of self-discovery. The Lincoln here given is not, perhaps, the portrait to which legend has accustomed us; but it reads the more truly, and makes Lincoln only the more superb, when its doubts and complexities are honestly set down.
Not less valuable is the insistent emphasis upon the West. Here, indeed, as Mr. Farrand has abundantly shown, lies the real heart of American endeavor. For it was the opening of the West which made America the child of the railroad, and the railroad the parent of the corporation. The West was the step-parent of the immigrant, and the problems of the immigrant gave birth, in the perspective of Hanna and Aldrich, to the revolt of the Progressives against an individualism which has been outgrown. For Progressivism, as Mr. Farrand insists, was the first plain evidence that the pioneer stage had at length been passed. It marked the real discovery of Europe by America, the sense that she must link her fortunes with the Old World if she was to be true to her origins and her destiny.
The story is told simply. But it is told at every stage with a sure mastery of the facts that gives it point as well as substance, humor not less than scholarship. There must have been many Americans who felt that the fairy tales of Bancroft were no longer adequate, and were yet unable to appreciate the bearing of the new facts before us. It is the singular merit of Mr. Farrand’s book that it makes the product of a generation’s research arrestingly intelligible for the purposes of creative citizenship.
H. J. L.