John Paul Jones: Man of Action

By Phillips Russell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXV The Man, the Victim, and the Knight

I

JUDGING by his achievements, his written projects, and the admiration of the accomplished men who knew him best, John Paul Jones was transcendently able as a sailor and man of action; yet frustration and disappointment waited at the end of almost every energetic movement, every daring plan. He never lost a battle, yielded in any naval contest, or failed in an errand; yet defeat, with light but repeated strokes, hacked his energy to pieces and eventually broke him down. He was like a prizefighter who, though unmarked and having wind and muscle unimpaired, suddenly falls heavily in his corner, his face clearly reflecting his astonishment and unbelief.

Like most men who have a touch of what is called genius, he was consumed by a desire for the unattainable. The walls of his imagination were painted with the artist's dream of perfection. He was haunted by the chimera of a Great Squadron which, sailing in perfect line, he was one day to lead across glittering seas into the harbor of the Minotaur and gloriously sink him and his combined fleet. He was a compound of Tom Sawyer, Don Quixote, Alexander the Great, and Sandy McPhairson.


II

As human being he suffered from the common malady of a "split personality." He could not harmonize his own warring elements or coérdinate his contending faculties. The hardy man of action was frequently halted by the intuitive artist. The sea captain was checked by the musing, undeveloped poet.

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