John Paul Jones: Man of Action

By Phillips Russell | Go to book overview
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Afterword

HISTORY is outwardly the most respectable of dames. Her prestige is still enormous. But those who have visited her dwelling place and rummaged through her escritoire have experienced the impulse to denounce her claims as frequently suspect if not fraudulent. Her closets are filled with strangled, stunted or mutilated facts; her shelves are lined with suppressed or unopened documents; while the lady herself, in unguarded, or perhaps merely naïve, moments, has manifested bias, prejudice, furtiveness, and even spleen, occasionally breaking out into barely concealed objurgation and invective, in accordance with her epoch, her race, her religion, her nationality, her social class, and sometimes even in accordance with the opinions of her native village. It is when she declares she is wholly objective that she is so subjective as to deserve the attentions of psychanalysts. Pretending to be a detached observer, she is frequently the advocate, propagandist, and even agent provocateur. Assenting her lofty, if not divine, origin, she reveals herself as all too human.

History has many times dealt with John Paul Jones and his period. She has occasionally permitted herself to be dazzled by his boldness and gallantry; at other moments she has donned the garments of a prosecutor, or Mrs. Grundy, and belabored him. Rarely has she tried to disentangle the inner from the outer man, or separate the essence from the froth. As with her other subjects, she has too often been content with the mere chronicle of triumphs and defeats, never asking: What were his motives, what his purposes, and did he greatly try?

The statements made concerning John Paul Jones, particu

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