Esther Forbes Burke Boyce - Essay

Burke Boyce

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Paul Revere has not left us many words. He was an artisan, not a philosopher; a creator, not a talker. But the words he has left are enough, in sympathetic hands, to bring him to life as he was, and he is solid, human, and refreshing.

Esther Forbes has done well by Paul Revere [in Paul Revere and the World He Lived In]—the actual Revere, a Boston workman of French descent, cool, canny, successful, the husband of two wives and the father of sixteen children, loving his home and the skill he wrought with his hands, a maker of silver, bells, ships' bottoms, and artificial teeth. The legendary Revere, he of the upraised arm and the rearing horse at the farmhouse door, succumbs with surprising ease. Miss Forbes does no debunking. She simply tells the truth, and the truth is more real in her telling of it than any legend could be. Perhaps it is not suited so well to oratory and high-school declamations, but Paul Revere shrewdly picking out his route on the Sunday before his ride, Paul Revere forgetting his spurs, Billy Dawes falling off his horse at Lexington, and the forty-ish, family Paul Revere carrying his half of John Hancock's trunk around the corner of a house as the first shot snaps across the Lexington Green give the picture a nearness to us—and an understanding which the legend with its heroics never had.

The real Revere is more of a problem for Miss Forbes. "He seems," she says, "to have been a man of no spite, envy, or vindictiveness." And when she adds that there is something about this quality which is hard to dramatize, those of us who write can detect the wistfulness in her tone. If the real Revere does not at first glitter for us, or strike imaginative sparks, if some parts of his biography even verge toward the dull, that is his fault, not Miss Forbes's—and ours, who come at him with the legendary vision.

Burke Boyce, "A Messenger of Freedom," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1942 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston Mass.; reprinted with permission), July, 1942, p. 98.