Monday, April 7, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt fifteen)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

From St. Louis I moved east to Vincennes where I stayed with the governor of the Indiana Territory. William Henry Harrison was then a slight, horse-faced young Virginian in his early thirties. I delivered a letter to him from Wilkinson which he read, rather slowly, and said, as slowly, “Well, Colonel, he says the fate of the union depends upon your being returned to Congress as Indiana’s delegate.”

“General Wilkinson never exaggerates. I am sure he is right. But happily for your territory my fate takes me in another direction.” That was the end of that “promotion.”

Harrison is a most amiable man but his early rise in the world is as mysterious to me as his subsequent fall must appear to him. I am told that he is now a clerk of the court of common pleas at Cincinnati after a career which took him from the governorship of Indiana to the United States Senate. Along the way he engaged in a small skirmish with the Indians which was exaggerated by the press into a great victory, rather on the order of Monmouth Court House. But that seems to be the American pattern. Despite our numerous heroic generals and colonels and coon-skin Indian fighters, Americans are almost always defeated in battle whether it be by the British or by the Indians or even by the Spanish. Since 1775 we have had only three proper victories: Gates at Saratoga, Lee at Charleston, and Jackson at New Orleans (a battle fought after we had already lost that particular war to the British). Yet so formidable is the national conceit that any man who has ever heard so much as a bullet’s hiss is acclaimed a hero, no matter how fast he might have run from the enemy.

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