Philadelphia, Holy Experiment
THIS reviewer passed the so-called impressionable years of from one to seventeen as an involuntary citizen of Philadelphia. Consequently he is able to appreciate the nostalgic fervor with which Mr. Burt approaches the subject of his home town. On the part of Philadelphians, and possibly on the part of Bostonians, there is inevitably a kind of apologetic attitude when they square away and start to defend their cities. It is almost as if they said, “She is a pretty terrible woman, but she is my mother.”
Boston is now in the hands of the Irish, of the Monsignors, and of the Watch and Ward Society, and Philadelphia is a vast, expanding slum. Yet Mr. Burt in this book lavishes a vibrant and convincing affection on a city and a society which no longer exist — and somehow contrives to make you like it. Principally he is concerned with eighteenthcentury Philadelphia, a kind of rus in urbe where Franklin walked and talked, and gentlemen discoursed over their Madeira, and stately ships docked, after long voyages, at the wharves of the “Green Countrie Towne” on the Delaware.
There is a great deal of sound factual material in this book, a lot of the author’s likes, dislikes, prejudices, and opinions — with most of which the reader will agree. But it can hardly be termed an orderly book. There is more enthusiasm than method in its making. And perhaps that is why it is so charming. It is a human and a living document —a letter from a Philadelphian to his city.
RICHARD E. DANIELSON