Socratic Elunchus

Socratic Elunchus

CHARLES A. BEARD: AN APPRAISAL, edited by Howard K. Beale. University of Kentucky Press, 312 pages. $4.50.

Charles A. Beard once summarized for a friend the “laws of history”:

First, whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

Second, the mills of the gods grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small.

Third, the bee fertilizes the flower that it robs.

Finally, “When it gets dark enough you can see the stars.”

This ironically hopeful approach to history might well be extended by Beard himself to this book appraising him as historian, teacher, critic and public figure. The editor, Howard K. Beale, begins with a curious introduction whose very candor would have delighted Beard. We learn that this volume, originally planned in 1939-40 by admirers of Beard, was intended to honor him ” . . . while he was still alive and under serious attack for his latest writings.” In fact, two volumes of essays were originally intended. They were to be Festschriften in homage to the dean and greatest of living twentieth century American historians.

But, as Professor Beale puts it, World War II came. Or, more exactly, the academic ice floes which made up American historiography and which Beard had blasted apart, froze solidly together again; a new Ice Age set in. In his five-page introduction the editor feels compelled to mention no less than four times that most of those originally invited to participate so fell out of sympathy with Beard’s views or came to dislike him so intensely that they withdrew from the project. As a consequence, “what began as a testimonial to a man vitally alive and in the thick of controversy has ended as a memorial.”