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Outlines of English and American Literature
The Indians
by Long, William J.


The Indians especially, "the wild men" as they were called, slipping out of the shadows or vanishing into mysterious distances, were a source of anxiety and endless speculation to the early settlers. European writers like Rousseau, who had never seen an Indian or heard a war-whoop, had been industrious in idealizing the savages, attributing to them all manner of noble virtues; and the sentimental attitude of these foreign writers was reflected here, after the eastern Indians had well-nigh vanished, in such stories as Mrs. Morton's Quabi, or The Virtues of Nature, a romance in verse which was published in 1790. In the same romantic strain are Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, Helen Hunt's Ramona and some of the early poems of Freneau and Whittier.

The Colonists, on the other hand, had no poetic illusions about the savages. Their enjoyment of this phase of human nature was hardly possible so long as they had to proceed warily on a forest trail, their eyes keen for the first glimpse of a hideously painted face, their ears alert for the twang of a bowstring or the hiss of a feathered arrow. Their deep but practical interest in the Indians found expression in scores of books, which fall roughly into three groups. In the first are the scholarly works of the heroic John Eliot, "the apostle to the Indians"; of Daniel Gookin also, and of a few others who made careful studies of the language and customs of the various Indian tribes. In the second group are the startling experiences of men and women who were carried away by the savages, leaving slaughtered children and burning homes behind them. Such are Mary Rowlandson's The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and John Williams's The Redeemed Captive, both famous in their day, and still of lively interest. In the third group are the fighting stories, such as John Mason's History of the Pequot War. The adventures and hairbreadth escapes recorded as sober facts in these narratives were an excellent substitute for fiction during the Colonial period. Moreover, they furnished a motive and method for the Indian tales and Wild West stories which have since appeared as the sands of the sea for multitude.

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