J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

“O that mine enemy would write a book”

For most of the nineteenth century, editions of The Life of Gen. Francis Marion, a Celebrated Partisan Officer in the Revolutionary War, carried this author credit:
By Brig. Gen. P. Horry, of Marion’s Brigade:
and M. L. Weems
The book was written in the voice of Peter Horry (shown here, courtesy of the Horry County Historical Society). For a sample of that voice, the preface began:
“O that mine enemy would write a book.”—This, in former times, passed for as sore an evil as a good man could think of wishing to his worst enemy.—Whether any of my enemies ever wished me so great an evil, I know not. But certain it is, I never dreamed of such a thing as writing a book; and least of all a war book. What, I! a man here under the frozen zone and grand climacteric of my days, with one foot in the grave and the other hard by, to quit my prayer book and crutches, (an old man’s best companion,) and drawing my sword, nourish and fight over again the battles of my youth.

The Lord forbid me such madness! But what can one do when one’s friends are eternally teazing him, as they are me, and calling out at every whipstitch and corner of the streets, “Well, but, sir, where’s Marion? where’s the history of Marion, that we have so long been looking for?”

’Twas in vain that I told them I was no scholar; no historian. “God,” said I, “gentlemen, has made many men of many minds; one for this thing and another for that. But I am morally certain he never made me for a writer. I did indeed once understand something about the use of a broad sword; but as to a pen, gentlemen, that's quite another part of speech. The difference between a broad-sword and a pen, gentlemen, is prodigious; and it is not every officer, let me tell you, gentlemen, who can, like Caesar, fight you a great battle with his sword to-day, and fight it over again with his pen to-morrow.”
Of course, the reason those friends kept asking Horry about his Marion book is that he had collected information for a history of the brigade. But he had trouble getting it published. The Rev. Mason Weems—already a bestselling biographer of George Washington—convinced Horry to send him the manuscript so he could make it saleable.

TOMORROW: Big mistake.

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