Sunday, July 03, 2022

Fortnightly Book, July 3

 The next fortnightly book is Farewell to Valley Forge, by David Taylor. It is a book from my grandfather's library, published in 1955, and I know practically nothing about it. Finding anything about the author is very difficult; there are almost no biographies and I haven't even able to find dates of birth and death (most sites just have "fl. 1954", which one could already guess from the publication date of the book). However, I did find some brief comments in the Huguenot Society of Pennsylvania Proceedings, to give you an idea of the obscurity in which they were veiled. Apparently David Taylor and his wife were guests at a meeting at which Taylor gave the annual address for the society, so there was a short biography. According to it, he was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, but left after having received a B.S. in Engineering at Robert Gordons College in 1921. He seems to have moved around the United States, starting in Hawaii, following engineering jobs, then became a radio scriptwriter in California, where he married his wife, Theodora Engstrom in 1940. Her family apparently had a background from Northern Ireland. They eventually ended up in Valley Forge, and finally in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. He had an interest in George Washington because, according to family tradition, one of his ancestors was an officer who served under Cornwallis, but resigned his commission because of his sympathies with the American cause. His first novel, Lights Across the Delaware, was published in 1954; it and the second novel, which was Farewell to Valley Forge, were both on Washington -- the first, of course, about his famous Delaware crossing, and the second about espionage in the War of Independence. According to the same brief biography in the Huguenot Society of Pennsylvania Proceedings, Disney bought the rights to the second book and was planning on making a movie of it, but there seems to be no trace of the movie anywhere, so apparently it got stuck in production. It also says he was writing a third book, The Swamp Fox, but I haven't been able to find any trace of that, either. However, perhaps this was a matter of title change, or he decided to change topics, because Taylor did go on to write at least two more books: Sycamore Men and Storm the Last Rampart.

I put all of this here in part for anyone else who might ever be looking for who the David Taylor who wrote Lights Across the Delaware or Farewell to Valley Forge might be.

Nonetheless, Farewell to Valley Forge seems to have fans; reviews for it online are almost uniformly good, and it's not difficult to find people remarking that they picked it up by accident but enjoyed it, or that they read it when they were in school and have always remembered part of it, or that they are desperately seeking another copy because it became their favorite book and has become worn down. (This is actually true of all of Taylor's books, although the others seem even harder to find than Farewell to Valley Forge.) The story takes place in 1778 and a young man and woman are working as spies for General Washington. The Battle of Monmouth plays a role.

The book has a dedication:

To those Officers who, because they were unfaltering in their devotion to Washington, were damned by Conway's Cabal

The Conway Cabal was a loose group of officers in the Continental Army who were very critical of Washington's generalship; it never really had any organization, so 'cabal' is used figuratively. General Conway was just the best known critic because he tried to go ever the head of Washington and communicate directly with Congress. I don't know yet how it plays a role in the story, but the Postscript of the book comments, "The conspiracy known as the Conway Cabal was one of the meanest pieces of underhanded character assassinations ever attempted" (p. 317).

So we shall see how this one goes.