Books of the region: Paine, Poe, batboys

BOOKS & AUTHORS

March 26, 1995|By James H. Bready

For Thomas Paine, token honor and public disregard have been his modern lot. Up-country school boards do not ban "The Age of Reason"; talk-show hosts are unaware how often he used the word "liberal." Paine's writings are now enshrined in the Library of America. Two hundred years after the violent births of two republics, with Paine at the bedside, he is the property of 500-page biographers.

Winter began with the publication of "Thomas Paine, Apostle of Freedom," by Jack Fruchtman Jr., professor of political science at Towson State University; winter ends with the publication of "Tom Paine, A Political Life," by John Keane, professor of politics at the University of Westminster in London. Instead of conjecturing what Paine would have had to say about today's rabid fund amentalism, corporate hierarchies and disdain for the underdog, a balancer of ideas is left to marvel at this bookstore collision -- to weigh one book (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows. 557 pages. $30) against the other (Boston: Little Brown. 644 pages. $27.95).

Messrs. Fruchtman and Keane each provides more than 100 pages of critical apparatus. As befits "the master pamphleteer of his time," each author writes well.

The device used nowadays to shelve the man who wrote "Common Sense" and "The American Crisis" is the invoking of his self-classification as "a universal citizen." World citizenship is forceless in an age of spreading tribalism. But Paine also had a practical, nationalist side. He wanted to see his all-classes form of republicanism applied, even if in a limited jurisdiction.

Tall, long-nosed, red-faced, largely self-educated and fluency itself, Paine had, in succession, three nationalities. Born in England and in 1774 a 37-year-old emigrant, he quickly became a prominent American. Then turning up in France as an activist in its revolution, he returned afterward to the U.S., where in 1809 he died. Which nation's claim to him is strongest?

France made Paine not only a citizen but a member of the National Assembly; however, he favored only the monarchy's overthrow, not the monarch's execution. The Terror jailed Paine, and when his cry for help from the U.S. was ignored, he attacked President Washington. Ultimately released, Paine went to Belgium. Meanwhile, repressive, wartime England outlawed him. Only when his friend Thomas Jefferson entered the White House did Paine feel free to come back to the country he thought of as home.

Rank and privilege, the ancient English ruling formula, hold no charm for Mr. Keane, himself an Australian. His book is a bit wordier than Mr. Fruchtman's, a bit more magisterial. But Mr. Keane labors to portray Tom Paine as "the greatest English political writer of his century." And in Paine's words, echoed by Mr. Fruchtman, "the country of my heart" was America.

Where did Tom Paine land, in 1802, after that final Atlantic crossing? In Baltimore. What bursts of praise -- and abuse -- thereupon lit up our print skies.

*

Frederick T. Wehr's new book, "Poe Died Here: Recollections of Church Home and Hospital" (Baltimore: Church Home and Hospital. 112 pages. $24.50), is interesting, separately, for its method. Mr. Wehr, long on its staff, did oral histories with 13 hospital old-timers, rounded up old photos, persuaded Church Home's board of trustees to pay the printer. The resulting book, saleable indefinitely, is a process model for other institutions that would like to record their seasons in the sun and the rain.

*

Out in time for St. Patrick's Day, "Creating a New Ireland: A Tribute to the Irish Lobby" (Baltimore: Hughes Enterprises. 142 pages. $11.95), by William Hughes, is a collection of articles, many reprinted from The Evening Sun and other periodicals, in strenuous support of efforts to reincorporate the six counties of Northern Ireland into the republic.

*

Neil D. Isaacs of Colesville is a university English professor, a family therapist, a sports nut. In March, the flame forms into a point: baseball. Having tracked down nearly 100 former major league batboys, Mr. Isaacs presents their recollections in "Innocence & Wonder: Baseball Through the Eyes of Batboys" (Indianapolis: Masters Press. 243 pages. $14.95). Occasionally, they were there in the clubhouse for some wild stuff.

Nine of his batboys were Oriole employees. Four had the same last name as former general manager Frank Cashen.

James H. Bready has writen for The Sun for many years as a reporter and book editor. He now writes a monthly column on Maryland books for these pages.

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