Recognition and praise come so seldom to the one illustrious member of my family that I hasten to salute and thank Bernard A. Weisberger and American Heritage for the delightful piece on the hostage rescue of 1796 (“In the News,” February). At the risk of sounding like an ingrate, I must point to a few mistakes and misconceptions in Mr. Weisberger’s otherwise very fair and scholarly chronicle of Joel Barlow’s exceedingly hazardous and successful mission.
Barlow was not a “failed lawyer.” After practicing successfully for two years, he concluded (as many lawyers have) that he could use the law to best advantage in the business world. As a lawyer who was tempted many times to do the same in my forty-four years of practice in Washington, D.C., I have to admire his courage and perspicacity. Barlow was also more than a “would-be poet.” Not all of his ‘Verses are pretty awful to a modern ear.” His “Hasty Pudding” poem, for one, has been praised by generations of American literary critics and in this century by Van Wyck Brooks. Finally, the Barlow-Jefferson correspondence in the Huntington Library reveals that it was none other than Joel Barlow himself who implored Jefferson to put an end to the shameful policy of appeasement, and to the necessity for embarrassing and dangerous missions such as the one Mr. Weisberger chronicles so well.