The Hero in America

By Dixon Wecter
MR. WECTER begins his preface with the first of very many acute and probing observations: to wit, that Carlyle, writing on hero-worship just a century ago, quite failed to perceive that democracy (which he abominated) ‘might not be an enemy to the Great Man, and might in tact reflect a hero-worship—by popular consent — purer than that of autocracies.’ From this point ot departure Mr. Wecter writes, not primarily ot the Great Man as individual, but ot him as creature-creator of the folk — ot the making and the history of his reputation. His purpose is, first, ‘ to look at a few of those great personalities . . . from whom we have hewn our symbols of government, our ideas of what is most prizeworthy as “American”’; and, secondly, to examine ‘our minor heroes and hero types . . . whose shadows fall across the spaces between our national gods.’ The book is made up of fulllength portraits of those gods from Washington to Franklin Roosevelt, and of hold, rapid sketches of their lesser fellows from Captain John Smith to Lindbergh. (Oddly omitted is all mention ot our heroes of polar exploration — Kane, Greely, Peary, Stefansson — together with the typical merchant skippers of the great era of sail. The book runs, however, to nearly 500 generous pages without them.) The chapters abound in telling characterizations and apergus as well as in curious facts as yet unknown to the popular reader; and it maintains everywhere a judicious balance between the thick-and-thin bigotry of patrioteers and the scandalizing irreverence of the debunker. Probably no American who loves his country can read The Hero in America without loving it the more as a result; and certainly there are few who can read it without learning a good deal about their country. The index, comprehensive enough in proper names, is niggardly as to abstractions and topical nuclei — a serious defect in a work of this order and, let us hope and believe, permanence.
W. F.