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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XV. Later Historians

§ 20. Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman had the best of Boston’s inheritance except health, and against the effects of that handicap he interposed a resolute spirit which enabled him to devote to his books the few hours he could snatch from a constant state of pain. From early life he had the desire to write the history of the New England border wars. During his college vacations he visited the scenes of these conflicts, and he read always widely in the books on that subject. When he graduated at Harvard in 1844 he knew the New England Indians thoroughly. Much of the next two years was spent in visiting the historic spots on the Pennsylvania border and in the region beyond. In 1846 he made a journey to the land of the Sioux, where he spent some weeks in the camps of a native tribe, studying the Indian in the savage state. His experiences were described in a series of letters in The Knickerbocker Magazine and republished in his first book, The California and Oregon Trail (1849), still considered one of our best descriptions of Indian life.

Now prepared for his main task, Parkman took a striking incident of Indian history and wrote on it his Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851). In this book he placed much introductory matter on the Indians, together with a comprehensive review of the history of the French settlements before 1761, when the conspiracy of Pontiac began. From this large use of preliminary materials it would seem that he had not yet determined to undertake the series of volumes in which he later treated the same period. The Pontiac was well received and it was a good book from a young author. But it lacked conciseness and was overdrawn.