Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Rise, Progress and ...

I just finished reading The Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution by Mercy Otis Warren, a comprehensive (one might say exhaustive) account of said historical event from the perspective of a woman who lived during the period and corresponded with several of the Revolution's leading figures, including George Washington and both John and Abigail Adams.

Despite the extensive discussion of events, battles and negotiations, what I found I primarily learned from this book was not the history it contained, but other aspects, such as:

How history books were written in this time period. The author's bias is plain, not just in word-choice, but in the slant and description of events. She also stops to comment on the personal and moral character of the players. This is not an aberration: this was common practice in history books written around the turn of the eighteenth century.

The use of language and grammatical conventions. It came as no surprise to me that the sentences were long and convoluted, and definitely written to a higher level of reading comprehension. What did surprise me were what I'd think of as grammatical error, most especially the overuse of commas - even in places where the addition of the punctuation actually (to me) obscured the meaning of the sentence. This brings up a disturbing consideration: are we fated to keep losing commas?

The vocabulary caught my eye, too: I've never seen "sanguine" so frequently used, and of course, we no longer use "warmly" to mean heated and intense (as in debate).

The illumination of the depravities, mercies, acts of vengeance, retaliation and honor that occurred on both sides gave me a new perspective on some of the personal impact of the war and the way humans rose or sank down to its level. (The way Warren treats the defection of Benedict Arnold, though painfully partisan to the sensitivities of those used to modern history books, was particularly interesting in this light.)

But some of the historical aspects did jump out for me. I hadn't been aware that the Empress of Russia and her policies had influence on the European scene. Most of the histories of the American Revolution I've read neglect the naval battles that occurred during the same period over French and English holdings in the West Indies.

In any case, a heavy read, but worthwhile for me on several counts.

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