Books: A Very Correct Sailor

"OLD BRUIN": COMMODORE MAT THEW C. PERRY 1794-1858 by Samuel Eliot Morison. 482 pages. Little, Brown. $12.50.

Beneath his double disguise as biographer and historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, 80, is really a frustrated epic poet who writes a kind of factual legend celebrating the archetypal figure of the Great Sailor. With Pulitzers flying from his yardarms for biographies of Columbus and John Paul Jones, Morison has now given chase to a third incarnation of the Great Sailor—and by his own standards, has come up luffing.

The fault, in all fairness, is not his. His settings...

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