This first of an eight-volume project which, when completed, will form a ""documentary biography"" of Governor Stevenson covers the initial 40-plus years -- from his earliest letters to parents and schoolboy essays to his speeches and debates as a rising young civic leader and politician in Illinois. The editors announce that their emphasis is on such questions as ""How did he educate himself?"" How did he become the man he became?"" but the later admission that ""We used nearly all the material available to us for Volume I"" belies any effort at selectivity or deliberate biographical focus. We might admire the editors' industry while hoping that future volumes will be less inclusive: Stevenson, like so many thoughtful statesmen-politicians, was a fluent and prodigious writer but it is indeed wearisome to plough through endless correspondence from Choate and Princeton prating on about why he's taking Spanish instead of Solid Geom and Trig or the later partisan statements of the budding political leader. Stevenson emerges here, with the aid of valuable editorial headnotes, as a witty, charming, contemplative, and purposeful young man of upper-middie-class circumstances who elected to devote his life to public service, a family tradition. But that is all. For example, when he writes in a ""Dear Mum/Love Ad"" letter from college that ""I am each day gaining in erudition and sincerely believe that you will not recognize me in my present intellectual disguise when next we meet,"" you can read into this things to come, but logic suggests that it's merely the affectionate banter of a well-bred young man. By a shabby turn of fate, the mature Stevenson became the Willy Loman of 20th century American politics; he was cherished by some but not well-liked by many. The best that can be said of this first volume of Stevenson's papers is that it lays the groundwork for what is to come.