The Peripatetic Reviewer
by Edward Weeks
WELLINGTON: THE YEARS OF
by Elizabeth Longford
Harper & Row, $10.00
The full-length portrait which emerges from Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: The Years of the Sword is that of a soldier aspiring, immensely resourceful, articulate in his crisp, curt style, and far more scrupulous than most men of his time. The gambling in London, the plundering in India was conscienceless. There were five Wellesley brothers, and all of them were ambitious. Their parents were “frivolous and careless personages,”but the boys were not, at the outset, when the prizes were for the taking: the first to succeed, Richard, whose exploits as governor general of India and then as Foreign Secretary might have carried him to the peak had he been less indiscreet sexually; Henry, the wittiest and an indispensable ally as ambassador in Cadiz; William, the most attentive to his famous brother; Arthur, the ablest with the coolest head and the most perseverance. The Iron Duketo-be was gazetted ensign on his eighteenth birthday, and since no young officer could live on his pay, he had to borrow money and court favor as he bought his way up to a lieutenant-colonelcy. When he landed in India he was more than £6000 in debt, and when he returned, his conquests had netted him a modest fortune voted by the directors of the East India Company.
In Ireland, where the Wellesleys had long been rooted and where young Arthur served as an aide-decamp in Dublin Castle, he fell in love with a bookish and extremely charming girl, Kitty Pakenham, but her father, Lord Longford, took a dim view of the impecunious young cavalry officer who liked to play the violin and was gambling beyond his depth. Kitty rejected him, at which point he turned serious, burned his violin, and as a lieutenant colonel with war at hand, devoted himself to his regiment. But not before he had made a pledge to Kitty that should she change her mind his love would be constant.
He left Ireland, which in the spring of 1797 was heading for rebellion, and be exchanged one troubled country for another, He was twenty-seven, and as the author says, “chronically frustrated and in constant ill-health. No doubt the two were connected.” On the long voyage to India he forgot the nag of debts in reading a trunkful of books: Oriental dictionaries, histories of India, Voltaire, Rousseau, Plutarch’s Lives, Blackstone’s Commentaries, food for an intelligence that bad been underfed, in which he anticipated that other young cavalry officer, Winston Churchill. In India he was harsh on plundering, fussed over his men’s food and health, and had no patience with negligent officers. His audacity made those at home uneasy, and he was superseded in command by a senior officer, but in the bitter fight against the Mahrattas, his brilliant victory at Assaye made his reputation ancl brought him the Order of the Bath.
Kitty was thirty-four when Sir Arthur returned to London. “Site has grown ugly, by Jove!" he whispered to his clergyman brother, Gerald, who was to marry them. Time had not treated her kindly, and she was beginning to be Highly. In any case their marriage had to withstand the five years of separation without leave which he spent on the Peninsula. It was here, culminating in the victory at Salamanca, that “the Sepoy General,” as Napoleon called him, devised the tactics which were to destroy the finest array in Europe: his riflemen dispersed the French tirailleurs, the skirmishers who had intimidated the Austrians and Prussians; lie had an infallible eye for the most favorable ground and always concealed tlie strength of his infantry below the crest; his firepower was devastating, and he insisted on the caronades, the same cannon Nelson preferred with their new charge of shrapnel. When the battle was joined he had the capacity for being in the right spot, for keeping cool, and for rarely pushing his luck. His men adored him, seeing him so exposed and confident; and his officers, even the drunkards he had to put up with, gained from his superhuman reserves of strength in a crisis. This is a fine military biography with much to excite the imagination and command one’s respect.
by Jesse Owens
In Blackthink Jesse Owens has told to Paul G. Neimark his reasons for believing that the black militants are a malignant growth in this country: “I’m saying that blackthink is a vicious, unfair, destructive philosophy and that the massive majority of the people in this countrywhite and black—will never let it flourish even if it means treating looters and rioters like the robbers and arsonists they are.” Those are strong words and they come at the right time, for the threat of polarization seems to be quickening under the “benign neglect” of the Nixon Administration.
To document his testimony, to show how he too has shared in the heritage of humiliation and hate which the militants exploit, Mr. Owens has woven through his book the candid story of his ups and downs, a career quite different from that of the “bootlicking Uncle Tom” Harry Edwards has accused him of being. Jesse’s father, an Alabama sharecropper, was the father of seven, and Jesse, a victim of recurring pneumonia, was the puniest. Henry Owens, illiterate, grossly overworked, and hopelessly in debt at the age of forty, made the bravest decision of his life when he sold his five mules, squared his accounts, and with nothing but his freedom took his family north to Cleveland.
Since their old man had no skill, all the boys worked, and it was a white teacher, Charles Riley, who saw a potential runner in Jesse, the string bean, and who began to coach the fifth-grader on the sidewalks before school opened in the morning. “Mr. Riley did a lot more than train me to be a runner,” Jesse writes; “he brought me food, because he knew I wasn’t getting enough at home. And he brought me ideas. He trained me to become a man as well as an athlete.”
The four gold medals Jesse won, to Hitler’s disgust, in the Olympics of 1936 made him a national hero; he came home hearing the Americans in the stadium still chanting his name. He had married his schoolgirl sweetheart, Ruth, a child was on the way, and the best job awaiting him was that of a playground instructor at $30 a week. He still had a year to finish at Ohio State, and to raise the money for that he raced against a horse at country fairs. Then he was taken up by “whitey”; the Jesse Owens Cleaning Establishment had several branches until it went bankrupt and he was back in the poverty he had known as a boy, and $55,000 in debt. He paid this off hiring Negro personnel for the Ford Motor Company during the war; he learned to speak and speak well (he travels a quarter of a million miles a year doing so today) ; he has a radio station; and for six years he was a sports specialist, working with juvenile delinquents for the Illinois Youth Commission. Always he has searched for the inner purpose, and the people who helped him to find the middle way and of whom he speaks with revealing affection were Ruth Solomon, his wife; Larry Snyder, his coach at OSU; Joe Louis and “Bojangles” Robinson; Ralph Metcalfe and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The most powerful chapter in the book is that entitled “Anatomy of a Militant, in which he repudiates the Rap Browns and Stokely Carmichaels, “the colored con men,” as Harry Ashmore calls them. In Jesse’s affirmation he quotes Gunnar Myrdal: “the fundamental thing about Negroes is that they are Americans . . . the Negro middle class is more puritan than the white middle class.” These he says are the silent black majority, the fifteen million who enormously outnumber the extremists, and who are so peace-loving they spent fifty billion dollars to live in the United States last year. But it troubles him to think what the murder of Dr. King did to harden the core of half-embittered idealists, and of how the hate of the desperate corrodes the trust of the white and the Negro in each other.
by Nicholas Gagarin
This first novel is the love story and complaint of a Harvard senior; an uneven, self-indulgent, surprisingly tender picture of undergraduate confusion. After a couple of false starts, the narrative begins to identify the school, St. Paul’s, and the background, well-to-do Connecticut, from which the leading character, Hal, and his freshman roommate have emerged. He is very free with the four-letter graffiti now in general circulation as adolescent jargon; one gets used to them as an opaque screen through which to watch the groping, the courting, and the loneliness of the young.
Harold Mettleson, top of his class at school, is indulged by his shadowy parents, and can travel where he pleases. On a boat to Europe he falls in love with Florence Brown, freckled, auburn-haired, and sensual; and for the next three years he can neither forget nor capture her, though in his haphazard, experimental way he tries both. For purgation he flies out to the Esalen Institute in California, that state of exhilaration and self-proclaimed holy men, where John, his group leader, puts him through a routine by turns grotesquely funny and disgusting. Hal is of a mixed mind about this experience: in one mood expostulating, “I just don’t like these people. I honestly don’t. I don’t like anything about them. They’re old, they’re tired, they’re dead, they’ve based their lives on lies. All they can do is look back on it in despair, because they’ve lost it. Life’s passed them by, and I don’t want any part of them,” and on further reflection calling it “the reinjection of spiritualism.”
Midway in the book Mr. Gagarin stops the story dead, steps out from behind Hal’s mask, and delivers himself of a lecture on the teaching at Harvard and the general irrelevancy of the Establishment, The long flight of journalism in which he quotes his own editorials and defends his part in the occupancy of University Hall is irrational and naïve, and in its lazy way it fractures the fiction. One wonders precisely what he means when he says that “it will be a long time before pure, unadulterated love becomes the subject of a Harvard education.” By this he clearly does not mean the tomcat promiscuity which Hal has been enjoying in Cambridge, nor the boy’s acceptance of what goes on at Esalen. But the notion he gives us is of studentrun seminars held on the riverbank in which there is a general preening of egos.
The refreshing scenes in this book are Hal’s boat trip, when he becomes aware and jealous of Florence, his suppressed indignation at the house party on Long Island, his innocent beginnings as a freshman and his competition for the Crimson, his bafflement at the Institute, and his recurring elation with Florence. He returns to her too often, and it is a relief to them and to us when they reach their anticlimax.
NEW LIVES, NEW LANDSCAPES
by Nan Fairbrother
The English with their gift for enjoying their country have managed to preserve fragments of the ancient past. The parks, “the green lungs,” once the hunting preserves of the early monarchs, which give London such refreshment today, are a prime example. In New Lives, New Landscapes Nan Fairbrother, a delightful historian with a head for physical planning, has projected an admirable, realistic blueprint for the protection of the future, whether of vil, lage or industrial community, with photographs, frequently contrasting, which speak for themselves. “Our old Fathers can tell us how Woods are decayed, and People in the room of Trees multiplied"; so in a sentence a seventeenth-century writer deplored what the agricultural man had done to the forest. The industrial man moves ten times faster, and as Miss Fairbrother says, “Our landscapes no longer evolve but are crudely manufactured by destruction of the old.”
Her solution is the creation of Tree Belts, planted not “to disguise the urban areas we live in, but rather to enhance their distinctive identity.” She would have them flow around the urban areas in irregular masses sensitive to the land use and the contours of the ground. “A town,”she writes, “is a special sort of park in the countrv,”and her picture of leafy Cambridge with the open Fens beyond proves the point and reminds us of Le Corbusier’s statement, “the tree is man’s natural companion.” The Tree Belts would have their own identity as sylvan areas, and they would restore the vanishing heritage of native trees forever being thumbed down by high-rise apartments. Miss Fairbrother’s history and examples are drawn from Britain, from the slatewaste of Wales, to the London mews, to Wordsworth’s Rydalwater. But the moral to an American is irresistible.