Fathers of the Revolution

by Philip Guedalla. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1926. 8vo. xiv+298 pp. Illustrated. $3.50.
WHEN Prime Minister Baldwin received the members of the American Historical Association, he remarked that he should like to read a fair account of the American Revolution from English sources. He certainly would find profit in the admirable volumes of Trevelyan; but I imagine he would consider Mr. Guedalla more brilliant than conclusive.
Brilliant these pages certainly are. They sparkle with epigrams. They glitter with finely turned and stinging paradoxes. They flash and quiver with all that words can do to make human life and death suggestive and piquant and picturesque. Especially one feels that Mr. Guedalla takes pains with the introductions to his chapters and lavishes on them all his wit and all his verbal dexterity. Indeed, in some cases the introduction is so startling that the discussion of the actual subject, when it follows, seems a little tame by comparison. By comparison only; for it is safe to say that no contemporary writer knows better how to make telling and effective phrases than Mr. Guedalla. Even the vivid pages of Mr. Shaw and Mr. Strcehey pale beside the flash of these inordinate and devastating spitfires.
The plodding, homespun reader does at times get a little impatient with so much gorgeousness. He feels that perhaps in the end it rather obscures the subject than illuminates it, that the writer is more concerned with his effect than with his theme, and that the plain-thinking are not always helped to understand by having men and events involved in a rosy, auroral mist of many-colored, scintillating words. But this is not just, and underneath the glitter Mr. Guedalla has a really broad range of human sympathy and a singularly penetrating grasp on the human heart. You cannot read these analyses of the English Fathers of the Revolution — George the Third, Burke, and the rest— without feeling much nearer to them. And the firmness of Mr. Guedalla’s hold shows in such things as his perfectly just comment on the essential motive of biography: ‘Most intercourse springs from an attempt to pierce the prison walls, to discover what life is like in the next cell; and the source of curiosity about the Great may be the same — with the pretense that they are the Great as a polite excuse for the intrusion.’
When it comes to the American Fathers, the American reader will doubtless feel that Mr. Guedalla is a little rough with them. But the American reader is used to that by this time. And if Washington, Franklin, Sam Adams, and the rest are somewhat de haloed in these pages, they are none the less human for the process, and in reality none the less venerable. The makers of our nation were big men, quite big enough to bear having a mocker strip off their statuesque drapery and show underneath the firm, solid, achieving, muscled flesh, even at times in a grotesque or indecorous attitude. And if the heroes of the Revolution vanish, as heroes, under Mr. Guedalla’s prestidigitaing touch, they at least vanish, as did the devils of the Middle Ages, with a great noise and crackling.