Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 8. Minor Historians of the Old School

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

XV. Later Historians

§ 8. Minor Historians of the Old School

Minor Historians of the Old School. When the writing of history began to undergo the change that has been described, a number of men were doing creditable work in the old way. Although they worked in limited fields, they produced books which are still respected by persons interested in those fields, and their names are essentially connected with the history of our historians. A “minor” historian is not necessarily an unimportant historian.

One of the striking things in this connection is the rise of New York as a centre for such historians. While Boston gloried in the possession of Sparks, Palfrey, Hildreth, Prescott, Motley, and Parkman, New York produced a group of smaller men who made the vocation of historian both pleasant and respectable in the metropolis of wealth. Among them was Dr. John Wakefield Francis (1789–1861), genial friend of letters and literary men and last of a series of literary doctors which included Cadwallader Colden, David Hosack, Hugh Williamson, and Samuel L. Mitchill, not to mention Benjamin Rush and David Ramsay, who lived elsewhere. Francis’s Old New York(1858) is a charming description of the city under a generation then vanishing. Others of the group were: Henry Onderdonck, Jr. (1804–86), who wrote Annals of Hempstead (1878), Queens County in Olden Times (1865), and other books on Long Island history; Gabriel Furman (1800–53), who left a most accurate book in his Notes … Relating to the Town of Brooklyn (1824); Rev. Francis Lister Hawks (1789–1866), best remembered for his History of North Carolina (1857–58) and his documents relating to the Anglican Church in the colonies; and Henry Barton Dawson (1821–1889), a turbulent spirit who served history best as editor of The Historical Magazine. John Romeyn Brodhead (1814–73), whose transcripts have been mentioned, wrote an excellent History of New York, 1609–1691 (1853–71). He was one of the best esteemed members of the New York group.

Two Catholic historians added much to its efficiency: Edward Bailey O’Callaghan (1797–1873) and John Dawson Gilmary Shea (1824–92). The first was an educated Irishman, an agitator in the Canadian rebellion of 1837 who fled for safety to Albany when the uprising collapsed, and a historian of good ability. His History of New Netherland (1846–48) and the Documentary History of New York (1849–51) introduced him to the reading public. He became connected with the office of Secretary of State in Albany, edited the ten volumes of Brodhead’s transcripts, and brought out many other documents and reprints, always working hard and conscientiously. Shea, who was educated to be a Jesuit priest but with drew from his novitiate before taking final vows, was most interested in church history. His largest work was a History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886–92), in four volumes; but he is best known in secular history for his studies in the French history of North America. His Cramoisy edition of the Jesuit Relations (1857–66) and his editions of Charlevoix’s History of New France (1866–72), Hennepin’s Description of Louisiana (1880), and other similar original works were valuable additions to the assets of historians in this particular field. By calling attention to the French origins of our trans-Alleghany region O’Callaghan and Shea gave balance to a period of our history which had previously been too much accented on the English side, and opened the way for the fuller and more appreciated volumes of Francis Parkman.

Two college professors belong in this group of historians, one a teacher of chemistry the other a teacher of Greek but both best remembered as historians. Henry Martyn Baird (1832–1906) took for his theme the history of the Huguenots, which he presented in the following instalments: History of the Rise of the Huguenots (2vols., 1879), The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre (2 vols., 1886), and The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nates (2 vols., 1895). Besides these books he wrote a short life of Theodore Beza (1899). His work was done carefully and in great detail. It was well written, but it always took the side of the Huguenots, and it is to be classed with the history of the old school, of which it was a notable and successful specimen.