The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XV. Later Historians
§ 21. France and England in North America
For several years after its publication Parkman suffered great physical pain, and he seemed about to lose the use of his eyes and limbs. But he never gave up his ambition or ceased to collect information about the Indians. In this interval he wrote Vassall Morton (1856), a novel which did not succeed. Turning back to history he revised his entire plan and outlined his France and England in North America. The series was limited to the period before the Pontiac war. It embraced the whole story of French colonization in North America from the Huguenot colonies of the sixteenth century to the fall of Quebec. The various parts appeared as follows: 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 (2 vols., 1884); and A Half Century of Conflict (2 vols., 1892). He described the series as including “the whole course of the American conflict between France and England, or in other words, the history of the American forest; for this was the light in which I regarded it. My theme fascinated me, and I was haunted with wilderness images day and night.” Parkman’s purposes were wholly American. He loved the vast recesses of murmuring pines, with their tragedies, adventures, and earnest striving. Prescott and Motley might paint the gorgeous scenes of royal courts and Bancroft might interrupt his labours in writing the panegyric of democracy to play a complacent rôle as minister at Berlin, but Parkman never ceased to find his chief interest in the American forest and its denizens.
His avowed method of writing was “while scrupulously and rigorously adhering to the truth of facts, to animate them with the life of the past, and, so far as might be, clothe the skeleton with flesh. Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time.” Few writers have achieved their ideal of expression as well as he. What Cooper did in the realm of fiction Parkman did with even better fidelity to nature in the realm of history. He never studied in the seminar school, but he understood its lessons instinctively and made them his own without loss of the best things in the old school—vigour, harmony, and colour.