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13 January, 2012
Outlines of English and American Literature|
by Long, William J.
|To the native, at least, Francis Parkman (1823-1893) is probably the most
interesting of our historians, partly because of his lucid style and partly
because of his American theme. Early in life he selected his subject (the
Old French Wars) and spent the best part of forty years in making himself
familiar not only with what occurred during the struggle between France and
England for possession of the New World, but also with the primeval scene
and all the motley characters of the fateful drama. It is doubtful if any
other historian ever had a more minute knowledge of his subject; and the
astonishing, the heroic part of the matter is that he attained this vast
knowledge in spite of the handicap of almost constant suffering and
blindness. In a dozen volumes he tells his story, volumes crowded with
action or adventure, and written in such a vividly convincing style that
one has the impression that Parkman must have been an eye-witness of the
events which he describes.
Among these volumes the second part of Pioneers of France in the New
World and La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West are
recommended to the beginner. The former deals with the career of Champlain,
who opened the way for future settlements in the North; the latter with one
of the most adventurous, lion-hearted men that ever cheerfully faced toil
and endless danger. Standing apart from Parkman's main theme is a single
volume, The California and Oregon Trail (1849), which recounts the
picturesque incidents of the author's trip through the Northwest, then an
unknown country, with a tribe of unspoiled Indians. Those who like a tale
of adventure need not go to fiction to find it, for it is here in Parkman's
narrative,--a tale of care-free wandering amid plains or mountains and,
what is historically more important, a picture of a vanished life that will
never be seen here again.