The Peripatetic Reviewer
ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL
by James Herriot
St. Martin’s Press, $8.95
Thirty years ago James Herriot was a young veterinarian beginning to practice in the Dales of Yorkshire. His interest was in All Creatures Great and Small (as he relates in his good book with that title), not exclusively in the care of cattle and sheep, which are the main staple of that rugged country. As his reputation spread, so did the demands on him from troubled farmers and the idiosyncratic owners of dogs, cats, and other pets. An impecunious, modest bachelor, he was lucky to be taken into partnership with the jaunty, experienced “vet,” Siegfried Famon, who was highly regarded, and luckier still to catch the eye of the most attractive daughter in the district.
The ordeal of delivering calves or lambs by candlelight in a cold stone barn or of serving the dour, often cantankerous, Yorkshire temperament was a trial of both stamina and patience, but Herriot is such a likable cove, so painstaking in his attention to man and beast, so good-natured in his predicaments. that one rides along with him in effortless enjoyment. After his first nasty case, in which he has to shoot an incurable thoroughbred, his boss consoles him with: “Animals are unpredictable things so our whole life is unpredictable. It’s a long tale of little triumphs and disasters and you’ve got to really like it to stick it.”
All Things Bright and Beautiful continues the story of this youthful practice in an earthy profession: with growing confidence and strong arms he learns to cope with calves that are strangling in birth and with complications like husk, grass staggers, calcium deficiency, or “wool ball on t’stomach.” His courtship of Helen Alderson prevails despite her testy father and Herriot’s undiplomatic judging of the Pet Show. The warmth which she brings into his life is as truly told as the admiration he feels for his gifted senior partner. His prose gives us the sound of sheep, the sight of lambs, the smell of spring in the Dales; perhaps the least successful chapters are those about the scamp Tristan, whose escapades border on the fictitious. But the laughter and fidelity in the writing arise from the fact that Dr. Herriot loves his work—and is still at it in Yorkshire.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR
by Cornelius Ryan
Simon and Schuster. $12.50
Battles are confusing, and the battle of Arnhem, on a “one-tank front,” to seize the network of bridges which might lead to a decisive crossing of the Rhine, was confusing, audacious, and more costly than D-day. The first achievement in Mr. Ryan’s panoramic narrative is his clarification of why the battle was fought where it was. Following the Normandy invasion of June, 1944, the German Army had been ripped apart: in the north by the British Second Army and the U.S. First Army driving through Belgium toward Holland, and to the south by General Patton’s Third Army piecing its way toward Metz and the Saar. The retreat became a rout, and a seventy-five-mile gap opened as the Allies approached Antwerp. But the tanks were outrunning the supplies, which still came over the beaches, and Eisenhower had to decide which of the two spears to press home. Field Marshal Montgomery was the more obstreperous, and he finally won approval to drop a combined airborne force (35,000 men, jeeps, and artillery) sixty-four miles behind the German lines to capture Arnhem and the crucial bridges. It was Monty’s argument that such a surprise attack would cut off the bases of the A-2 bombs then pulverizing London, and end the war before Christmas. In the final conference at Montgomery’s headquarters, a British general asked how long it would take the army to link up with the airborne. “Two days,” replied Monty. Looking at the map, his subordinate said. “We can hold it for four. . . . But, sir, I think we might be going a bridge too far.”
The airborne divisions—the British Red Devils, and the U.S. 82nd and 101st—had been held in leash in England and were chafing for action. No such armada had ever been flown before, and the C-47’s and gliders brought the men in with courage and astonishing safety. General Gavin’s 82nd Division made its drop of 7467 with minor casualties, and the 101st was equally fortunate. Then trouble began. The radio contact on which so much depended was snafued from the start: General Urquhart lost control of the forward division and was driven into a Dutch garret; the roads were too narrow, the street fighting was murderous, and to make things worse, two Panzer Divisions, with Mark V Panther tanks, the 9th and 10th, which had been drawn back to Arnhem for refitting, were spotted at the last moment by Allied air reconnaissance, but their presence went unheeded by Monty’s Intelligence and now they and other unsuspected German troops fierceK intervened.
To bring this bewildering action into human focus, the author has relied on the oldest form of heroics -veterans remembering after the fight. His interviews ranged from the German Field Marshal Von Rundstedt to Eisenhower, from the American pilots to the leaders of the Dutch Resistance, and from the paratroopers to the Dutch civilians who were cheering them on. It has taken the author years to gather and piece together such graphic, stirring testimony, and surely no other engagement in the Second World War has been so brilliantly recorded.
One emerges from the reading of this enthralling book with the conviction that Montgomery, in his rivalry with Patton, and with his insistent demand for priority in supplies, had envisioned a battle plan which belittled both the physical difficulties and the German resistance and which lay beyond the reach of his splendid, courageous troops.
ROBERT FROST: A Pictorial Chronicle
by Kathleen Morrison
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $10.95
In 1938, after the sudden death of his wife, Elinor, Robert Frost was disconsolate and without a base. In a touching letter to Bernard DeVoto, he wrote, “I expect to have to go to depths below depths in thinking before I catch myself and can say what I want to while I last. I shall be all right in public, but I can’t tell you how I am going to behave when I am alone.” Actually it was two years before he was all right, and the person most responsible for his recovery was Mrs. Theodore Morrison, who became his patient, devoted manager, and so served for the rest of his life. With the sympathetic cooperation of her husband, she helped frost establish himself on the Homer Noble farm in Vermont, always in close touch with her own family; when he had recovered his poise, she encouraged his return to Amherst, saw him off to other university appointments, and arranged his itinerary when he began to go “barding around.” When eventually he gravitated to his winter home on Brewster Street, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she continued to shield him and to plan his influential and festive visits to Washington, to Tngland, to the Soviet Union, to wherever.
At Bryn Mawr she had been one of the undergraduates who raised the money to bring Frost to the campus. Years later at the conclusion of his Norton Lectures at Harvard she realized that his was one of the most notable minds of a generation, “a mind with restless curiosity seeking for the truth unfettered by second-hand opinions and moving to its target swiftly as an arrow.” In the twenty-five years that followed, she perceived that the honors and the sorrows which came to the poet in his maturity formed a pattern revealing the alternating fortitude and despair he had suffered in his youth. She perceived that his long struggle against poverty had left a scar so that even in his prosperity he was reluctant to enter a Cambridge bank. She appreciated the ego which sustained his genius and that made hint so quick to take offense. She jollied him when he was downcast, but she could not modify his “consistent sense of confidence that he could direct other people’s lives and, by extension, even the relations between one nation and another.”She and her family shared Frost’s happiness in his Vergilian seclusion, and she was the mediator when his children turned against him after Mrs. Frost’s death.
This book, which began as a valuable collection of vital photographs, has in its incisive text a swiftness of perception and an elucidating empathy which make it mandatory for anyone who seeks to know Robert Frost.
A NATURALIST BUYS AN OLD FARM
by Edwin Way Teale
Dodd, Mead, $10.00
“For many years in my life,” writes Mr. Teale. “making a living pulled me toward the city and living as I wanted to live pulled me toward the country.” An authority on insects, he steadily enlarged his interests, and in his writing of that remarkable quartet which began with North With the Spring, Mr. Teale achieved a coast-to-coast survey of the effect of the four seasons on the flora and fauna of our great continent. He was the first naturalist with the equipment and the friendships necessary for such an accomplishment, and the ensuing success enabled him and Nellie, his wife and indispensable partner, to purchase a homesite where they could indulge their love of nature without traveling farther than a short walk. They listed what they wanted: “a woods, a stream, a swamp, open meadows, a Cape Cod-type farmhouse. a fireplace, at least fifty acres of ground.” What they found was a house built in 1806 but still solid and in good repair and 79 acres on the outskirts of Hampton, Connecticut; the overgrown fields included a swamp, two brooks, and a waterfall. They moved in on June 11, 1959, and this book is the observant and adventurous account of the life they have lived on their enlarged farm ever since.
As the author says; “Our fields are unplanted. But they are not unused.” Walking their boundaries, they discovered the interconnecting trails with which history and wildlife had marked their land; so they christened their place Trail Wood and began the acquaintance with their neighbors. In the woods close to the house Mr. Teale swung his summer hammock, and lying there in the stillness that surrounded him, he watched the place come to life. A woodchuck emerged from the weathered gray stones and regarded him intently; a woodcock went by on whistling wings; and later a grouse launched itself almost beneath him. At day’s end a whitetailed deer came to browse on the small, sour apples. For both Teales the aerial song of the woodcock was the proclaimer of spring; and when the birds had left, they dissected the nests, remarking the linings of fur, feathers, even the blond hair of a neighbor’s daughter used by a chipping sparrow.
Lacking a pond, they called in a bulldozer to scoop out the swampy bowl full of springs just down the slope from the house. Mr. Teale took part in the operation, and when the chain saw splattered him from head to foot with the juice of poison sumac, he was in for an ordeal of fire. But on his recovery, lying on a glacial boulder on the shore, he had his reward observing the life that thronged into the new water. So, too, in his study of the stars, while stretched out on clear summer nights. He recalls Harlow Shapley’s estimate that within the dark area of the Big Dipper there were in reality more than 10 million billion stars.
“What kind of a farm is this?” asked a woman from the city who had lost her way. “Oh, I get it. It’s a fun thing.” But of course it is much more than that. The Teales spend the year in a permanent observation post seeing things for the first time. In zero weather they watched a cottontail rabbit tunnel through the snowdrifts into the warm shelter of a woodchuck burrow. They watched a chipmunk in a sustained rage fighting its image against the glass of a cellar window. During a blizzard, when most birds were lying low, they tossed out several stale doughnuts, and saw a blue jay beneath the living-room window grip a doughnut with his feet and snatch a mouthful as the gales rocked him back and forth.
Mr. Teale was given a bird’s-eye view of Trail Wood in May when a neighbor took him aloft in a balloon; the flight as they drifted slowly north is the high point of this refreshing book, with its intimate identification of wildlife and natural beauty.