Journey Into America
IN HIS new book Mr. Pcattie sets out to give a former German friend a sense of some of the historical antecedents which have made America what it is. This device affords him a pleasurable re-examination of many half-forgotten and a few all too familiar episodes and characters of the American past: Robert Owen’s “Utopia on the Wabash.” the kidnaping of Daniel Boone’s daughter, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s mother moving to town for the duration, and so on.
Not many people could pick up Mr. Peattie’s book without acquiring from it some new piece of information and without feeling the impulse to go back and reread American history. This is the book’s value, and yet its final effect is as theatrically unreal as nineteenth-century prints of stockades, scalpings, and Mississippi steamboat races. It is not unlike Emanuel Lutze’s painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware, which Mr. Peattie describes. The only resemblance between the facts and the painting is that General Washington did cross the Delaware.
In certain chapters Mr. Peattie confesses that he is drawing freely on his fancy, as in Jim Bridger’s discovery of Shakespeare. There are some minor inaccuracies: in the chapter on the missionary Whitmans, Eliza Spalding was not pregnant when she crossed America; the orphaned Sager child with the broken leg was not the baby, but one
of the older girls. But Baldur, the German friend, would probably not be so exacting.