by Albert Furtwangler ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 1, 1987
A group portrait of the Founding Fathers that, despite illuminating patches of literary analysis and anecdote, is too impressionistic in its overall composition to qualify as a coherent piece of scholarship, and too esoteric in its materials to interest the general reader. Furtwangler (English/Mount Allison) uses John Trumball's famous painting, The Declaration of Independence, as the starting point for his own sketch of the ""rhetorical identities"" of Franklin, Adams, Washington, Jefferson and John Marshall. Trumball's aim (and Furtwangler's) was two-fold: ""to generalize, to see a common purpose reducing these congressmen to tiny elements in a grand design. . .[and] to particularize, to preserve for posterity the exact lineaments of each face."" Furtwangler attempts to explain each of these men's personal myths within their literary contexts. Thus we learn of Franklin's indebtedness to Addison and Steele in his early newspaper writings, and how this new style of communication threatened the Puritan clergy's old system of control through the pulpit. One of the best anecdotes describes a visit the ambitious young Franklin made to Cotton Mather in which the aging Puritan warned Franklin to stoop because there was a low beam. Franklin didn't understand and smacked his head, whereupon Mather took the opportunity to read a lesson into this providential event: ""Stoop, young Man, stoop--as you go through the World and you'll miss many hard Thumps."" There are moments such as this throughout the book, but there is no real argument to pull them together or guarantee that each section will lead up to something worthwhile. The chapter on Washington and Joseph Addison's Cato goes on endlessly about the production history of this play and yet, finally, offers only the most tentative conclusions about the actual performance Washington attended at Valley Forge. Lots of suggestive details, but the big picture is missing.
Pub Date: April 1, 1987
Page Count: -
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1987
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