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sufficient. His contemporaries thought him crackbrained; suffering had turned his head. They mocked his schemes and denied the truth of the discoveries to which he laid claim. His history is one of pure disaster. But no one of Parkman's heroes awakens greater sympathy than this silent man who found in the pursuit of honor compensation enough for incredible fatigues and sacrifices.
The Old Régime in Canada treats of the contest between the feudal chiefs of Acadia, La Tour and D'Aunay, of the mission among the Iroquois, of the career of that imperious churchman Laval, and then, in a hundred and fifty brilliant pages, of Canadian civilization in the Seventeenth Century. This section is a model of instructive and stimulating writing, grateful alike to the student of manners and to the amateur of literary delights.
The last volume shows the construction of the 'political and social machine.' The next, Count Frontenac and New France, shows the machine 'in action.' The period covered is from 1672 to 1698. Frontenac's collision with the order which controlled the spiritual destinies of New France led to his recall in 1682. La Barre, who succeeded Frontenac, was a failure. Denonville, the next governor, could live amicably with the Jesuits, but religious fervor proved no substitute for tact in dealing with the savages. There was need of a man who could handle both Jesuits and Indians.
At seventy years of age Frontenac returned to prop the tottering fortunes of New France. One learns to like the irascible old governor who was vastly jealous of his dignity, but who, when the need was, could take a tomahawk and dance a war-dance to the great admiration of the Indians and to the political benefit of New France.
The story of the struggle for supremacy is continued in A Half-Century of Conflict. That phase of the record relating to the border forays is almost monotonous in its unvarying details of ambuscade, murder, the torture-stake, and captivity. The French and their Indian allies descended on the outlying settlements of New England with fire, sword, and tomahawk. Deerfield was sacked, and the country harried far and wide.
In the mean time French explorers were advancing west and south. Some, in their eagerness to anticipate the English, established posts in Louisiana. Others, with a courage peculiar to the time rather than to any one race, pushed beyond the Missouri to Colorado and New Mexico, to Dakota and Montana, led on by mixed motives such as personal ambition, love of gain, patriotism.
A spectacular event of the period was the siege and capture of Louisbourg by a force largely com
A Half-Century of Conflict was not published until after the Montcalm and Wolfe. The historian became fearful lest some accident should prevent his completing the part of his narrative towards which all his study had tended.
posed of New England farmers and fishermen. The project was conceived in audacity and carried out with astonishing dash and good humor. That was singular military enterprise which in the mind of an eye-witness bore some resemblance to a 'Cambridge Commencement.' 'While the can'non bellowed in the front,' says Parkman, 'frolic and confusion reigned at the camp, where the 'men raced, wrestled, pitched quoits, and 'ran after French cannon balls, which were carried 'to the batteries to be returned to those who sent 'them.'
The volumes entitled Montcalm and Wolfe crown the work. With stores of erudition, a finely tempered judgment, a practised pen, and taste refined by thirty years' search for the manliest and most becoming forms of expression, Parkman gave himself to the writing of this his masterpiece. The work is the longest as well as the best of the seven parts. Every page, from the account of Céloron de Bienville's journey to the Ohio to the story of the fall of Quebec, is crowded with fact, suggestion, eloquence. The texture of the narrative is close knit. The early volumes are often disjointed. They resemble groups of essays. Chapters are so completely a unit that they might be read by themselves with little regard to what preceded or what was to follow. Not so the Montcalm and Wolfe, which is a perfectly homogeneous piece of work.
This series of narratives has extraordinary merits. Let us note a few of them.
Among Parkman's virtues as a historian are clarity of view, a singularly unbiased attitude, an eye for the picturesque which never fails to seize on the essentials of form, color, and grouping, extraordinary power of condensation, a firm grasp of details, together with the ability to subordinate all details to the main purpose. But other historians have had these same virtues; we must find something more distinctive.
History as Parkman conceived it cannot be based on books and documents alone. The historian must identify himself with the men of the past, live their life, think their thoughts, place himself so far as possible at their point of view. Since he cannot talk with them, he must at least talk with their descendants. But the nature of the 'habitant' cannot be studied in the latitude of Boston, it must be studied on the St. Lawrence. A city covers the site of ancient Hochelaga, nevertheless the historian must go there, and under the same sky, with many features of the landscape unchanged, reconstruct Hochelaga as it was when Jacques Cartier's eyes rested upon it in 1535. This indicates Parkman's method. When he visited a battle-field it was not as one who aimed at mere mathematical correctness of description, but as an artist whose imagination took fire at the sight of a historic spot, and who had there a vision of
the past such as would not come to him in his library.
Would we see Parkman in a characteristic rôle we should not go to his literary workshop, but for example to the little town of Utica, Illinois. There one summer night, sitting on the porch of the hotel, Parkman described to a group of farmers gathered about, the location of La Salle's fort and of the great Indian town. The description was based on what he had learned from books' nearly 'two hundred years old.' His improvised audience gave hearty assent to its accuracy. Parkman was there to obtain accuracy of another sort. The next day he visited all the localities which formed the background of the historic drama and reconstructed the life of the time. This is but one instance among hundreds which might be brought forward to show the pains he took. Herein lay the distinctive feature of his method. He used imagination not to embroider the facts of history, but to give to dead facts a new life. A faculty of the mind which is supposed to vitiate history becomes in Parkman's hands a means for arriving at truth.
Parkman was a fortunate man. He was happy in his choice of a subject. The theme was a great one, worthy the pen of so profound a scholar and so gifted a literary artist. To this theme he gave his life, working with singleness of purpose and under incredible difficulties. No trace of this suffering can be detected in the temper of his judg