THOMAS PAINE: His Life, Work and Times by Audrey Williamson

THOMAS PAINE: His Life, Work and Times

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Most Americans know Tom Paine best as the author of Common Sense, the pamphlet which ignited the spirit of 1776. While not neglecting Paine's role as propagandist of the American Revolution, Williamson redresses the usual American emphasis by concentrating on the later, more shadowy years of his life; on The Rights of Man, Paine's rebuttal to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, that fiery anti-royalist manifesto which became a bible to the English radicals of the 1790's; and so the ten-year sojourn in revolutionary France. Williamson is at her best when recreating the social context of Paine's flamboyant democratic pamphleteering. Like Joseph Priestley, like Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, Paine belonged to that small group of English radicals who embraced wholeheartedly the spirit of the Enlightenment which promised that Nature and Reason would inevitably triumph over kings, aristocrats and other usurpers and corrupters of liberty. It was an optimistic and guileless faith and happily the author doesn't try to deny the brave, brash naivete which was and is so much a part of Paine's personal appeal. Despite his incarceration by the Committee of Public Safety and the undeniable fact that Paine, ""bred in milder American revolutionary ideals,"" never grasped the true course of the events in France, he, unlike so many others, never lost his faith in Burke's ""swinish multitude."" Williamson conclusively demolishes the lingering vestiges of the ""black legend"" of Paine as a drunken profligate and an irresponsible gadfly; in his personal life Paine stayed close to his Quaker origins. His chief fault and his chief virtue were indeed one and the same -- that bluff candor and unique capacity for humanitarian outrage on behalf of those whom the upper classes dismissed as ""rabble."" A sparkling biography of one of the most endearing agitators and peaceniks the world has ever known.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1973
Publisher: St. Martin's Press