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Outlines of English and American Literature
Francis Parkman
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.


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