HISTORY FIRST-HAND

Beston, Arthur

History First-Hand American Colonial Documents to 1776, edited by Merrill Jensen. (Volume IX of English Historical Documents). Oxford University Press. 888 pp. $12.80. Our Long Heritage: pages...

...Clough's volume succeeds because he recognizes so clearly what he is not doing...
...For one thing, it turns history into a spectator sport...
...but apparently no one found anything odd about the assumption that well-educated citizens should read at first hand the documentary sources of their nation's history...
...Each generation has its own past...
...The remedy, as Benton knew, is to make the historical record itself available, by systematic selection and proper ordering, to the adult citizen who is willing to read and also to think...
...It is accurately described by its subtitle, "Pages from the Books Our Founding Fathers Read...
...An English historical series is justified in dropping the American colonies at the point at which they chose to be dropped...
...His lucid introductions give the whole a continuity that documentary collections too often lack...
...When he treats, for example, of religion and intellectual life, he concerns himself with the organized agencies through which these forces made their influence felt...
...Using the present volume as a cornerstone, a parallel series of four or five volumes ought to be planned to cover the history of the United States on the same scale and with the same adult purpose in mind...
...Our Long Heritage: pages from the books our founding fathers read, edited by Wilson O. Clough...
...His purpose is to show the continuity of American ideas with those of the whole Western past...
...Historians plan the strategy of arriving at truth, and only they can enjoy the scrimmage...
...A brilliantly successful attempt to marshal the materials of intellectual history alone is Our Long Heritage, edited by Wilson O. Clough of the University of Wyoming...
...Where a case study is the only feasible way of presenting a given aspect of history, a sequence of documents or letters allows the whole story to unfold (see, for example, the mercantile correspondence on pp...
...Reviewed by Arthur Bestor IN 1856 the 74-year-old Thomas Hart Benton, having completed two volumes of Senatorial reminiscence, set himself the task of abridging the debates of Congress from the beginning...
...or who wish to understand the history and working of their own government...
...It is quite a different task to present the great bodies of ideas theological, scientific, and the like that came to expression during the era...
...tions in its midst...
...It should become the foundation for all serious reading in American history...
...No one can compress the intellectual development of Western civilization into such compass...
...The documents of history, however, are liable to be left for graduate students and professional historians...
...University of Minnesota Press...
...We will understand ourselves better if we read again, under Clough's expert guidance, the pages which they read and which we have too long neglected...
...297 pp...
...376 -389...
...Benton probably overestimated his potential audience (what author does not...
...In a mere 273 pages the editor presents selections from "great books" reaching back to Thucydides and the Old Testament...
...This ample volume is not a thing of shreds and patches...
...This is a pity...
...To move this great world he looks, like Archimedes, for a place to stand...
...The audience watches the play of ideas through field glasses...
...The 15-volume work, wrote the Senator in his introduction, "is intended to be national, such as would commend itself to the study, and come within the reach, of all who aspire to a share in the public affairs, either State or Federal...
...The editor has been judicious in not attempting to combine oil and water, for most editors who have tried have failed to achieve a satisfactory synthesis...
...History is still in good repute (except among "life-adjustment" educationists) as preparation for intelligent citizenship...
...Twentieth-century historiography has brought new kinds of material under scrutiny, and Jensen's documentation extends not only to economic matters but to religion and education...
...It is up to American scholarship to carry on...
...He has given to these rich materials the unity that comes to a landscaM when a traveler stops his car and gets out to look and to contemplates It is a landscape worth looking at, for it is part of our own intellectual landscape...
...4.50...
...At first blush the enterprise seems preposterous...
...The founding fathen made it so by building our institu...
...By taking the past of one generation alone, the editor brings into unified focus what would, under any other treatment, appear hopeless diversity...
...He realizes that he is not presenting that past in terms of its own complex development and interaction, and he acts accordingly...
...Its 880 pages provide space for the full text of really crucial documents, and for much more than snippets of all the others...
...That this great tradition of historical editing is still alive is evidenced by the impressive series of English Historical Documents, now appearing in Great Britain...
...Clough examines the Western intellectual tradition through the eyes of that particular generation, and he presents the elements of the Western tradition which served that generation in highest stead...
...Volume IX of the set, American Colonial Documents to 1776, is of particular interest to Americans, not only by reason of its subject, but also because it is a notable achievement of American historical scholarship, its every section bearing testimony to the insight, judgment, and breadth of learning of its editor, Merrill Jensen of the University of Wisconsin...
...Merrill Jensen has wisely strung his documentary beads on the thread of institutional development...
...That place (in the space-time continuum) is the United States during the generation of Revolution and Constitution-making...
...The volume furnishes to the general reader what he has hardly had before, a means of grasping colonial history at first hand and encompassing its full sweep...
...For the moment, unfortunately, it is a foundation without a superstructure...

Vol. 20 • March 1956 • No. 3


 
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