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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Bach McMaster (1852–1932)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE CHANGE in aim and method of the modern historian has kept pace with the development of the democratic idea. Where before, in the study and writing of history, the doings of rulers and courts and the working of governmental machinery have been the chief points of interest, to the exclusion of the everyday deeds and needs of the nation, the tendency to-day is to lay emphasis on the life of the people broadly viewed,—the development of the social organism in all its parts. The feeling behind this tendency is based on a conviction that the true vitality of a country depends upon the healthy growth and general welfare of the great mass of plain folk,—the working, struggling, wealth-producing people who make it up. The modern historian, in a word, makes man in the State, irrespective of class or position, his subject for sympathetic portrayal.  1
  This type of historian is represented by John Bach McMaster, whose ‘History of the People of the United States’ strives to give a picture of social rather than constitutional and political growth: those phases of American history have been treated ably by Adams, Schouler, and others. Professor McMaster, with admirable lucidity and simplicity of style, and always with an appeal to fact precluding the danger of the subjective writing of history to fit a theory, tells this vital story of the national evolution, and tells it as it has not been told before. The very title of his work defines its purpose. It is a history not of the United States, but of the people of the United States,—like Green’s great ‘History of the English People,’ another work having the same ideal, the modern attitude. The period covered in Professor McMaster’s plan is that reaching from the adoption of the Constitution in 1789 to the outbreak of the Civil War,—less than one hundred years, but a crucial time for the shaping of the country. The depiction of the formative time, the day of the pioneer and the settler,—of the crude beginnings of civilization,—engages his particular attention and receives his most careful treatment. An example is given in the selection chosen from his work, which gains warmth and picturesqueness in this way. The first volume of his work appeared in 1883; the fourth (bringing the account down to 1821) in 1895; the sixth in 1908. It provides an invaluable storehouse of information on the life and manners of our growing nation. Professor McMaster has allowed himself space and leisure in order to make an exhaustive survey of the field, and a synthetic presentation of the material. His history when finished will be of very great value. His preparation for it began in 1870, when he was a young student, and it will be his life work and monument.  2
  John Bach McMaster was born in Brooklyn, June 29th, 1852; and received his education at the College of the City of New York, his graduation year being 1872. He taught a little, studied civil engineering, and in 1877 became instructor in that branch at Princeton. Thence he was called in 1883 to the University of Pennsylvania, to take the chair of American history, which he still holds. Professor McMaster is also an attractive essayist. His ‘Benjamin Franklin as a Man of Letters’ (1887) is an excellent piece of biography; and the volume of papers called ‘With the Fathers’ (1896) contains a series of historical portraits sound in scholarship and very readable in manner. In his insistence on the presenting of the unadorned truth, his dislike of pseudo-hero worship, Professor McMaster seems at times iconoclastic. But while he is not entirely free from prejudice, his intention is to give no false lights to the picture, and few historians have been broader minded and fairer.  3
 
 
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