My Quarter Century of American Politics
by Harper and Brothers. 1920. Two vols. l2mo, 495 and 472 pp.. New York.
THESE two volumes of informal reminiscences are very readable. In some ways they are too informal. Apparently they were dictated as convenience permitted, in the midst of other duties, and the manuscript was carelessly put together. Their matter and arrangement, like some of the author’s sentences, betray loose construction. Abrupt changes of theme, interpolated paragraphs evidently out of context, and repetitions of both incident and phraseology, mar their unity. It is excusable that a fond father, writing during the war, should mention occasionally the young colonel in France who bore his name; but it is not easy to see why the reader should be favored three times in neighboring pages, and in almost identical words, with the details of the surgical operations performed on Speaker Henderson.
These faults, however, are more than compensated by the book’s good qualities. It is very American — written in the Middle West vernacular, racy, humorous, candid, and keen. Anecdotes and incidents, probably well polished in stump campaigns, are interwoven with interesting personal experiences, to make a tale that is worth preserving as a picture of manners and conditions that will disappear but should not be forgotten. Its spirit is manly and wholesome. Its early chapters are a real contribution to the social history of the Border States during the Civil War and Reconstruction. They draw the veil from some of our own latent savagery, which should make us charitable toward that of Russia.
To many readers the climax of interest will be in these earlier chapters, the scene of which is laid mainly in Kentucky and Missouri. A poor country boy, fighting his way up from the farm through college, teaching school, moving West, struggling for a foothold in his profession, is a hero of whom we never tire, when his story is told plainly and modestly.
But there is nothing dull about the later Washington chapters, in spite of an occasional lapse into statistical curiosities. They contain sketches of public men at work and at play which are vivid and of enduring value. They are also an unconscious self-revelation of the writer. Speaker Clark never mars his memoirs with mythopœic introspection. He refers, as a looker-on, to ‘uplift politicians.’ His political homiletics are strictly practical; they relate to constructing speeches and getting them heard, not to the issues which they serve. His book is in no way a history of public thought during his career.
The former Speaker is a generous man, who loves his associates in public life regardless of their party — with individual exceptions whose identity he makes clear. He sees the good in people before he sees the evil. He has measured up to the tasks he has been called to perform. His later years have been embittered by his disappointment at Baltimore, which unhappily shadows the closing chapter of his reminiscences. But he has written a cheerful and entertaining book, which will be read with both pleasure and instruction. V. S. C.