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Francis Parkman

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Another historian, who, like Prescott, labored under the affliction of partial blindness, and yet achieved memorable results, was Francis Parkman. Descended from the earliest settlers of Massachusetts, he was born in Bos-ton in 1823 and was educated at Harvard College. He studied law, but he had already determined to devote his life to an adequate presentation of the great conflict between the French and English for the possession of North America. In order to understand the background of the subject fully, he resolved to examine the manners and customs of Indians as yet unaffected by contact with the whites. For this purpose in 1846 he explored the wilderness toward the Rocky Mountains and lived for several weeks among the Dakota Indians in that region then just becoming known. Although previously strong and fond of exercise, the privations which he endured rendered him an invalid for life. The immediate results of his observations and experiences were given in his picturesque book called "The Oregon Trail" (1849). The next was "The Conspiracy of Pontiac" (1851) ; chronologically it treated of a later episode of his historical series, called as a whole, "France and England in the New World." This series comprised "The Pioneers of France in the New World" (1865) ; "The Jesuits in North America" (1867) ; "La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West" (1869) ; "The Old Régime in Canada" (1874) ; "Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV" (1877) ; "Montcalm and Wolfe" (1884), which was issued in advance of the one chronologically preceding it; "A Half-Century of Conflict" (1892). Parkman paid several visits to France to examine the archives. He gave considerable attention to horticulture, and for a time taught that branch in the Agricultural School of Harvard. He published also "The Book of Roses" (1866). Ten years earlier he had published his only novel, "Vassall Morton." He died in 1893, having completed his main work, though his ill health had seemed likely to prevent its consummation.

It is an evidence of Parkman's genius that he observed and selected a grand historical subject, practically unexplored, though the material was rich and accessible. The real grandeur of his subject can only be estimated by considering that it was not merely a story of exploration and colonization of a vast wilderness, but an important part of a conflict which extended over the world in the Eighteenth Century. This was the great question at issue, Was France or England to become the foremost factor in ruling and civilizing the outlying world? The outcome of the struggle for Canada decided that England was to be supreme in the empire of the world. Parkman not only possessed rare insight into the causes and effects of large events; he was also an excellent judge of character, and treated all the actors in the great drama with which he was concerned, whether French, English or Indians, with even and exact justice. His personal reputation is enhanced by the fact that his arduous and delicate work was done fairly and impartially in spite of the physical ills which steadily beset him. His history is a permanent monument reflecting credit on himself and on New Eng-land.

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