THIS is a veritable encyclopaedia and has become the standard work of reference. The depth of the research is undeniable. The author went to considerable trouble track down 'witnesses', or their relations still living at the time the book was being researched. As many will now have died, this is of no small consequence.
The academic presentation of sources is extremely thorough and the book is a mine of information. There are black and white photos, which, in 1989, was the norm, as was their grouping into clusters of pages printed on photographic paper, though this often takes the images many pages away from where the relevant text might be.
Baden-Powell's biographers fall, in the main, into two camps. There are those who tell it 'warts and all' and there those who are touching in their sycophancy. Jeal falls into neither of these two camps and is all the more dangerous for it! He seems careful to balance the evidence and happy to condemn the extremes of other biographers. However, my chief criticism would be that, on many key issues, he sits on the fence in a 'let the readers make their own mind up' stance - and then casts sufficient doubt as to allow most to come to a negative conclusion. This is most destructive, as the book is seemingly so authoritative.
Two examples from many:
Jeal categorically states that there is no evidence whatsoever to confirm the oft-quoted slur that Baden-Powell was a homosexual. The author went to a great deal of trouble to discover private letters from B-P to 'The Boy' McLaren, but found no evidence of any impropriety. Jeal then devotes a surely disproportionate number of chapters to B-P's "relationships", and concludes that he was a 'repressed homosexual'. As one who has read B-P's own diaries, most of his written works, the correspondences that he maintained with various women friends, the descriptions by others who were close to him for long periods of time and spoken to some of his relations, I have to say that Jeal does not prove his case to me. Jealís chief witness would seem to be a Harley Street Doctor, with an interest in Freudian psychology, whom B-P visited in an attempt to cure his headaches post-1917 when he was over 60 years-old - a point Jeal conveniently omits to mention. The doctor's 'evidence' (as with many of Freudís theories) would be considered to be very flawed today, but, Jeal-like, I will leave you draw your own conclusions.
Secondly, a clear example of fence-sitting is to be found in what Jeal has to say on the subject of Dinizuluís beads. In the first edition, Jeal infers that the beads B-P gave to Gilwell were not those of Dinizulu, but some he took from (or was given by) an African girl. The way Jeal leads the reader to suspect B-P of wrong-doing is masterly! In later editions of the book, revised after the then-Archivist of the UK Scout Archive took Jeal to task on this very issue, there is an alteration to the text of this episode, but if this was meant to appease the Archivist, it would not appease me, as there is just more innuendo. The facts of the matter is that there are both sets of beads in the UK Scout Archives and Jeal's inference is baseless. Of course, the problem in defending this insidious fence-sitting, is that you lay yourself open to the charge of hero-worship and toeing the party line as all the pre-1960 biographies did. I am not blind to B-P's faults, but I need evidence, not innuendo.
Nevertheless, Jeal's work is another 'must have' - it is so complete that, though written in 1989, no other work has come close to it since, and I doubt that one ever will.