5 APRIL 1963, Page 23

Meticulous Captain

Mad, Is He?: The Character and Achievement of James Wolfe. By Duncan Grinnell- Milne. (Bodley Head, 30s.)

THIS is one of those books that are calculated to alarm a reviewer mightily, unless he happens to have unusual special knowledge of its sub- ject. The title, to begin with, is off-putting, with its suggestion of journalism and 'gimmickry': yet examination shows it to have a point—the remark made about Wolfe by George IL to the Duke of Newcastle : 'Mad, is he? Then I wish he would bite some of my other generals.' Secondly, the stated purpose of the book is con- troversial: following 'a spate of books of very varied quality' about Wolfe on the occasion of the bicentenary of his death, this is 'an attempt

to set the record straight so that the account of events, particularly of those leading up to and occurring on September 13th, 1759, may to some extent be regarded as definitive.' Defini- tive' is a strong word in the History School.

I cannot pretend to act as an umpire here. All that I have read about Wolfe (including some recent works) bears out the broad con- clusions stated by Mr. Grinnell-Milne. I am thus unable to take sides against other historians of the period; but I am prepared to take sides for Mr. Grinnell-Milne to the extent of saying that he has written a very convincing and ex- citing account of the Quebec campaign, with features which are new to me and seem ex- cellent. I am not sure that the 'character' of James Wolfe has been notably elucidated. I still feel that it was more complex than even this realistic supporter gives him credit for. Sardonic, often querulous, evidently passionate, and yet extraordinarily level-headed, he remains, after all this, a good deal of a 'rum 'un.'

The great strength of Mr. Grinnell-Milne's work is in its handling of the last phase of the Quebec campaign, when an attempt which showed every sign of ending in frustration and sorrow was suddenly transformed into brilliant victory. This account seems to me to establish most reasonably that the transformation was Wolfe's work—a matter first placed in doubt by the secrecy with which he himself (for very good reasons) surrounded his plans. Mr. Grinnell- Milne is very good on the subject of that secrecy, and equally good on such matters as season (a decisive factor in all North American warfare at that time), tides (a subject apparently scarcely touched) and topography. On this last,

I know from personal experience how mislead- ing eighteenth-century campaign-maps for that region can be, and how rarely modern 'improve- ments' actually enlighten. For once a publisher's 'blurb' may be accepted: the map in this book is clear and wholly helpful.

How Wolfe arrived at his decision to land where he did, and the manner of arranging the landing, as here expounded, show him to have been a professional in the very highest class. This was amphibious warfare at its trickiest; the meticulous accuracy of his movement would be a credit to a modern force with all its artificial aids. At the root of everything lay two factors: the St. Lawrence tides (if this book did nothing else, its attention to them would be invaluable), and navigation. Wolfe had evidently schooled himself in something that many commanders tend to ignore: the hazards and skills of another service. Thanks to this, and the admir- able assistance of Captain James Chads, RN, commanding his landing-craft flotilla, he was able to weave natural elements into a practically foolproof plan of operations. Practically fool- proof: the folly of his brigadiers, right up to the last moment, might have ruined it, while the folly of one of them, after victory was won, went far to mar its consequences.

It seems a shame to end on a note of com- plaint, when so much is to be commended. Yet the construction of this book cannot pass with- out notice; Mr. Grinnell-Milne tells us: have so arranged the text of the present work that it is quite possible to jump from the end of Part One to the beginning of Part Three without interrupting the narrative.' For heaven's sake, why? He means to be read by serious people, and there are some left whose minds are not so besotted with newspaper treatments that they cannot take a story in chronological order.