LEW WALLACE: Militant Romantic by Robert E. & Katharine M. Morsberger Morsberger

LEW WALLACE: Militant Romantic

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A labor of undiscriminating love: 500 slow-paced pages chronicling the curiously disappointing life of the man best known as the author of Ben-Hur. Wallace (18271905) had many talents, but none of them blossomed into greatness. He wrote best-sellers, but no really lasting books. He was a brilliant self-taught soldier; but he saw little action in the Mexican War, had a misunderstanding with Grant at Shiloh that practically ended his career as the youngest general in the Civil War, and was denied a commission in 1898 when he offered to raise and lead a Negro brigade in the Spanish-American War. He was a fine administrator too, but except for a term as territorial governor of New Mexico and four years as ambassador to Turkey, he had little chance to show his skills; he was beaten in most of his (halfhearted) efforts to win public office. He was even a failed artist--a good amateur draftsman and painter who never realized his potential to be a better one. With the royalties roiling in from his novels (Ben-Hut was also a huge success when adapted for the stage in 1899), Wallace could afford to be philosophical. The Morsbergers, however, feel justice must be done to this Renaissance man (he was, on top of everything else, handsome and musical) so mistreated by destiny, and thus they have memorialized him on a vast and minutely detailed canvas. They paint in the background of his every battle, they describe the landscape of every country he visited, they outline his books at excruciating length, they quote his friends and admirers (including some fan mail from one Isidor Levi of the Zylonite Comb & Brush Company, Zylonite, Mass.). And yet all this yields only a dim picture of Wallace himself. Perhaps he was, in the final analysis, a mediocrity. If so, the fault is not the Morsbergers'. But in any case they overrate his literary gifts--and our willingness to hear how those gifts propelled him to the pantheon of eminent Hoosier Victorians.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: McGraw-Hill