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26 June, 2013
Outlines of English and American Literature|
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.