Reader's Choice

“ You got up dreary as a dromedary,” Boswell glumly reported to Boswell, one morning after he had put behind him the delights of London and the dream of a commission in the Guards. During the ten months he spent studying law at Utrecht, Jamie struggled manfully — and with success — to live up to his father’s stern ideas and the moral precepts of Dr. Johnson. But the wages of virtue so heroically achieved was fits of the blues. Boswell was industrious, frugal, dignified, modest by his lights, even chaste —and he almost went out of his mind. He was often so melancholy on awakening t hat he thought of having a bed specially constructed which, when he pulled a cord, would jerk him into an upright position and so dispel the “ vapours.”

The Journal Boswell kept in Holland was lost and has never been recovered. But the editor of the Boswell papers, Frederick A. Pottle, has compiled an admirable replacement by fitting together in chronological order selections from Boswell’s memoranda, notes, correspondence and other documents. Boswell in Holland (McGraw-Hill, $6.00), though not as lively and not of the same literary quality as the London Journal, is captivating reading, studded with piquant revelations about the human heart and mind. The self-portrait here is completely unretouched; and the chronicle has a brilliant and outspoken heroine — Belle de Zuylen, also known as Zélide — a young woman of Boswell’s age, who belonged to one of the oldest Dutch families.
Few men can ever have plied themselves so copiously with good resolutions committed to paper as Boswell did in Holland; or rubbed in their backslidings so zealously by writing them out in longhand; or kept so meticulous an accounting of their moods, conduct, and daily plans. “Pray, pray be retenu,” Boswell continually exhorts himself. “Never aim at being too brilliant. Be rather an amiable, pretty man. Cure Vanity.” “Write to Temple of Veuve [a rich and comely widow Boswell was respectfully courting], Separate fiery passion. Tip her valet.” “O man, thou hast a sad inclination to talk.” “Yesterday you did just as well as you could wish. Upon my word, you are a fine fellow.

. . . Bravo!”

Boswell adhered to a formidable program of study — Latin and Greek; French and Dutch; civil law. But he also became well-known in Dutch Society, and on occasion was quite the man of fashion: “Dress in scarlet and gold, fine swiss, white silk stockings, handsome pumps, and have silverand-silk sword-knot, Barcelona handkerchief, and elegant toothpick-case which you had in a present from a lady.”
Three months after his arrival, he recorded in his “Ten-Lines-a-Day” Verses that Belle de Zuylen had made “my gay bosom beat with love’s alarms.” The priggish young Scotsman, however, considered Zélide “too forced-meat” — too sophisticated and vivacious — to be suitable as a wife. When Boswell left Holland on his European tour, there began a fouryear correspondence with Zélido — and about Zélide to others — whose high points were published in the April Atlantic. It is certainly one of the oddest series of love letters ever written, as Mr. Pottle says.

Report on Asia

Last summer, Thomas E. Dewey made a 41,000-mile trip as a private citizen to acquaint himself with conditions in the Far East; and now he has turned in an account of what he saw and learned in the seventeen republics, kingdoms, territories, and colonies he visited. His Journey to the Far Pacific (Doubleday, $3.50), while critical of the Administration’s past policies toward Chiang Kai-shek, does not grind a partisan ax to any appreciable degree, and it is quite free from the emotionalism which has muddied discussion of the Far East. The Governor of New York has done a valuable reporting job — modest, very readable, informative (and not, by the way, ghost-written).
Mr. Dewey’s headline point is that the West, with its mind understandably focused on Korea, has failed to appreciate that the crucial spot in the Far East is Indo-China. If Indochina’s Rice Bowl were to fall to the Communists, Japan, where food is already scarce, would either starve or be forced to trade with the enemy; Thailand, Burma, and Malaya would be wide open to penetration; and our
whole Pacific position would become calamitous. The struggle against the Viet-Minh Communists is a largescale war, a very tough and costly one. The French, whose effort over the past year Dewey speaks of with admiration, now have 173,000 troops in the field, and their casualties (killed) to date have been one and a half times the number of American dead in Korea.
Indo-China, says Dewey, furnishes an eloquent example of how American aid to its allies can pay off. A few million dollars’ worth of U.S. munitions, rushed to Indo-China at the desperate moment when General de Lattre de Tassigny took command, turned the tide. The French must at all costs be helped, Dewey stresses, to defeat the Viet-Minh rebels; and the Chinese Communists must be warned that, if they invade Southeast Asia, “we will retaliate . . . with every weapon at our command.”
Dewey ran into considerable divergence of opinion about Chiang Kaishek. One informant said to him: “ Chiang is the only man who can hold this government together and he is the only man under whom it cannot succeed.” There has been a real housecleaning, Dewey is convinced, at the top of the Nationalist government; and he also believes that millions of Chinese idolize Chiang as a leader. On the other hand, he found that “no one had any illusions that the Formosa army could immediately land on the mainland and hold large areas.”
Some of the other major points in Dewey’s report are: 1) The figures of enormous enemy casualties in Korea are not exaggerated, 2) The Filipinos are extremely bitter about the Japanese Peace Trealy. 3) “In almost every country . . . I found the ugly trail of damage done to our diplomatic service by unfounded or ignorant criticism at home.” 4) “We must spend more on propaganda and make it infinitely better.” Freedom, democracy, “the American Way of Life” mean nothing to the Asiaties, “One of the most damaging mistakes . . . has been our seeming insistence on making Asia over in our own image.” 5) Dewey’s conclusion is that we urgently need a Pacific treaty of mutual defense organized on similar lines to the North Atlantic Treaty.

The U.S. in the world today

The Irony of American History (Scribner’s, $2.50) by Reinhold Nicbuhr, Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary, is a small book with a large content. Written with lucidity and intellectual grace, it discusses this country’s position in the world community. Although there are matters on which I do not share the author’s outlook, I found his essay packed with provocative insights and important truths. If— to indulge in a fantasy — it were to be read and inwardly digested by millions, I suspect that this commonwealth would add greatly to its understanding. In fairness to Dr. Niebuhr, I must stress that the penetration and scope of his essay can only be crudely suggested in a few hundred words.
The ironic view of history, Dr. Niebuhr holds, is the Christian view. Irony points up responsibility, and it induces us to moderate vain pretensions by exposing their consequences. Dr. Niebuhr sees sharp irony in the way that history has refuted so many of the dreams of our Puritan and Jeffersonian forefathers, and also in the many incongruities within the contemporary situation.
This nation came into being with a sense of being “separated” from the Old World’s evils and power politics, and the idea of American “ innocence” became deeply embedded in American tradition; but history has forced us to assume leadership in a global power struggle, and we cannot exercise the virtue of responsibility without risking the guilt of atomic warfare. Our orators profess abhorrence of the Communist creed of materialism, but “we are rather more successful practitioners of materialism as a working creed than the Communists.” Prosperity is linked with virtue in our ethos; but every effort we make to uphold our way of life by proclaiming our prosperity proves our guilt to our enemies and even strengthens our allies’ prejudices about our culture. The crowning irony is that the Communist evils against which we now contend are “frequently the fruit of illusions similar to our own.”
These ironies have their root, Niebuhr argues, in the delusions and pretensions of the “bourgeois-liberal ideology” — for instance, the belief that man is fundamentally reasonable and virtuous, and that all his problems can be solved by the “scientific” approach; the complacent economic dogmas of laissez-faire and its blindness to passions and ideals not recorded in the market place; a smug and shallow view of the relations between power and freedom, power and justice. Power, says Niebuhr, cannot be exercised without guilt, because man is imperfect: it is virtuous to accept the responsibilities of power, but those responsibilities involve us in guilt, since man cannot act with perfect disinterestedness.
Dr. Niebuhr sees Communism as an ideology in which the dangerous sentimentalities and pretensions of bourgeois culture have been stripped of their redeeming inconsistencies and have been transmuted, with diabolic logic, into hateful realities. On the other hand, America’s great achievement has been in developing social policies which are wiser than its official credo: our practices have often run counter to our cultural dogmas.
While showing that liberal-bourgeois culture has taken a naïve and too complacent view of man, Niebuhr develops the social implications of a viewpoint which accents man’s moral ambiguity and scales down his pretensions. This viewpoint, though Dr. Niebuhr calls it a recognition of “ original sin,” has its secular counterpart, it seems to me, in modern psychology; even without its theological premises, most of Niebuhr’s argument would remain searching and persuasive. Its political implications are the reverse of “illiberal.” in the conventional sense of the term, and they are immensely relevant to our immediate tensions and perplexities. Among other things Dr. Niebuhr, by demolishing the conceit that we are the masters of history, supplies a corrective to “the hysteria which arises from the mistaken belief that [a disastrous development] is due merely to some political or strategic miscalculation by this or that government agency.”

The muckrakers

If Stalin had charged his most highpowered propagandists to confect, for American consumption, a book that would blacken the U.S.A. and help demoralize its citizens, they could hardly have turned in a more obscene piece of garbage than U.S.A.Confidential (Crown, $3.50), subtitled “the lowdown on all of us.”The authors, Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, are the kind of super-patriots whose patriotism runs to the conviction that the United States is becoming “a nightmare”: whose “lowdown on all of us” is that we are a nation of crooks, spineless ninnies, moral lepers, and “manicured hermaphrodites.”It’s time, the authors suggest, to tear down the Statue of Liberty and replace it with one of Virginia Hill holding high a jimmy: they feel that our national symbol should be “the Statue of Larceny.”
The newspaper reviews have already caught the authors out on a host of discreditable errors. Besides being inaccurate, their book is a vulgar compound of the leer, the sneer, and the smear, inflated with indiscriminate name-calling and reeking of racial prejudice. Any political figure less reactionary than the Hearst press makes Lait and Mortimer see Red. General Marshall “ prolonged the war in the Pacific . . . to give Stalin time to come in and claim spoils.” Margaret Chase Smith, Saltonstall, Herbert Lehman are “stunted visionaries.” Kefauver is a pet hate. The authors’ favorite smear tactic is guilt by remote association with underworld elements: they represent the Eisenhower boom as a particularly dirty political “deal,” and assert that many of the preliminary expenses were contributed by “bookmakers [and] bootleggers.”
The fact that the previous “Confidential” titles stimulated an advance sale of 125,000 copies for this book makes me wonder whether, just possibly, I have done the authors some injustice. One section of the nation, the book-buying public, must be in a really bad way if so many people can be fooled into swallowing this kind of irresponsible muck — much of it gathered, avowedly, by skipping around the country on two-night stands and collecting gossip from cab drivers and bell-captains — as the authentic lowdown on the U.S.A.

Men fighting

Shiloh (Dial, $2.75), a Civil War novel, is focused on the bloody battle fought on April 6 and 7 of 1862. The author, Shelby Foote, is a young writer with three novels behind him, the best of which was Follow Me Down. Shiloh is a better one: a fine accomplishment.
“Historical characters in this book,” Mr. Foote notes, “speak the words they spoke and do the things they did at Shiloh. Many of the minor incidents also occurred, even when here they are assigned to fictional persons.” But though the action sticks closely to historical facts, Shiloh bears the stamp of a genuinely creative talent. The combat episodes have the realism which only art can impart to reality.
Mr. Foote unfolds the various phases of the battle through the eyes of a succession of officers and men on both sides, each speaking in the first person singular. He weaves in life sketches of the leading generals and brings them sharply before the reader’s eye in the course of the action. The novel does not take sides, and strictly speaking it has no hero — though the swashbuckling cavalryman, Forrest, with his magnificent charges, was possibly the hero of Shiloh. The author’s achievement is that he has fused the landscape, the weather, the generalship, the fighting, the atrocious suffering of the wounded, the thoughts and feelings of the living, the shattered bodies of the dead, into a single dramatic entity which takes possession of the reader.
The first narrator is an Aide-deCamp on General Johnston’s staff: the Confederates are moving up to surprise Grant’s army, camped between two creeks with its back to the Tennessee River. Captain Fountain, Adjutant 53rd Ohio, is in the front line of the Union army which is awaiting Buell’s reinforcements to march against the Rebels supposedly down at Corinth. Rifleman Dade, 6th Mississippi, describes the successful Confederate attack in which General Johnston lost his life; and Sergeant Polly takes part in Forrest’s head-on cavalry charge into the Union batteries. Meanwhile, the Union retreat has been rather humorously glimpsed in Private Flicker’s story (“I ain’t scared . . . I’m what they call demoralized ”). The twelve members of a squad of the 23rd Indiana are in the vanguard of the Union’s counterattack. And finally, we see the Union pursuit checked at Fallen Timbers by another of Forrest’s dashing charges; and we leave the retreating Confederates as the lamps of Corinth come into sight.