All Viereck, All The Time

Has anyone commented on what a crazy prose stylist Peter Viereck was? He wrote as if he had bennies in his pez dispenser. One painful example that sticks in my mind. He told the story of some old crowned European head who doddered about his palace in the nineteenth century muttering Ottundott (don’t know language this was supposed to be), meaning ‘88, or 1788–the last year before the French Revolution. Viereck made this a symbol of European reaction, and of reaction generally (for with Viereck nothing was ever what it was, but twenty other things besides). Then he turned it into a noun, Ottundottist.

Not funny? Well being there didn’t make it any funnier. Reading pages and pages of such drivel was like having your teeth pulled out with pliers. And Viereck was thought to be a respectable poet. It will be a long time before I test that proposition.

He makes a painful contrast with Clinton Rossiter, another early conservative who never joined the conservative movement. Rossiter’s The Grand Convention on Philadelphia in 1787 is mellow, wise, patriotic, ardent, wry–truly a masterpiece.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular