Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman

Excerpt

Francis Parkman deserves to be more thoroughly known than he is. He writes so much better than the average professional, academic historian that critics from the ranks of history teachers tend to dismiss him as outmoded. Not one history teacher in a hundred would trouble to read his journals and letters, attempt to integrate his personal character and his writings, take the belletristic elements in his production as a challenge to improve their own style, or praise him for what he is--the finest historian America has yet produced. By comparison, William Hickling Prescott, who was personally as heroic as Parkman but who insisted upon a repellent Johnsonian style, and John Lothrop Motley, who had a lesser vision than Parkman and dealt with subjects remote from our experience, are decidedly lower in any scale of values. And Jared Sparks, George Bancroft, Richard Hildreth, John Bach McMaster, and John Fiske are still more dated. Only Henry Adams, who was a personal friend of Parkman, can match him as a historian of long ago whose works are alive today. This fact is true because both men were more than historians: they were vital personalities with fascinating lives, and they wrote works that were more than simply historical ones.

Parkman, born into a rich Boston Brahmin family, went to Harvard; he took a grand European tour; he went to Harvard Law School, for no particularly impressive reason; and then he traveled west briefly and returned to write The Oregon Trail, a book which ironically made him famous but which was tangential to the main purpose of his life--to write the history of the clash of England and France for dominance in North America. He fought bad health and family tragedies, but he lived to complete his massive history. His life, as well as his work, should be an inspiration to anyone who feels cursed by his fate.

Curiously, Parkman combined a reactionary personal philoso-

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