THE SWORD DANCE: Lady Sarah Lennox and the Napiers by Priscilla Napier

THE SWORD DANCE: Lady Sarah Lennox and the Napiers

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Napier-Fox-Holland-Lennox family lines cross and crisscross in a bewildering plethora of generations and countries (Scotland, Ireland and England) in this continuing chronicle of a Georgian family in, out and around seats of power and fields of war. This volume covers, roughly, the reign of George III and the Regency, reconstructing the fortunes of Sarah Lennox, a great-granddaughter of Charles II (via a bar sinister) and her family. The Lady Sarah at fifteen flustered the young George III into a proposal (""I am daily grown unhappy, sleep has left me,"" sighed the King; "". . . luckily for me I did not love him,"" wrote Sarah after the fact). Married early to the dapper Bunbury, Sarah soon ran off with one of the rakish Gordons, bore him a daughter and after her divorce and a few infatuations, married the admirable soldier ""Donny"" Napier, who provided her with few worldly goods but many children and years of happiness. The second half of the book mainly concerns the careers of three of her soldier sons -- William, Charles, and George -- who throughout the Napoleonic wars were usually in the thick of the action; each was wounded, but miraculously returned home. The author has made full -- perhaps too full -- use of a bounty of material. Not surprisingly for the time, the Napiers were indefatigable letter writers and journal keepers. They were also a commonsensical, decent lot who hated cruelty, official stupidity and mismanagement. Sarah speaks of the American revolution as ""that shameful war""; and the brothers often deplored slavery, the mistreatment of the common soldier and the slaughter of innocents, although they doggedly continued to discharge their duties. Not literary writers, the Napiers were however shrewdly observant -- the reconstruction of the Peninsular engagements are strikingly convincing as are such memorable encounters as Prime Minister Pitt in a pillow fight while Castlereagh waits without or a young French officer aiding a wounded Charles and crying out passionately against the war. The book is slow going and too long and the author occasionally strains when quipping (""The rain in Spain fell mainly on the plain where the army was""). But this is a solid portrait of a 19th century family -- weathering through.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1972
Publisher: McGraw-Hill