- I.The family of John Bull the clothier (England)
- Bull’s mother (The Church of England)
- Madam Bull #1 and #2 (The British Parliament)
- Peg, Bull’s sister (Scotland)
- Patrick, Bull’s brother (Ireland)
- II.Bull’s neighbors
- Lord Peter (The Catholic Church)
- Lord Strut (Spain)
- Old Lewis the cudgel player (France)
- Nicolas Frog the draper (Holland)
- Gustavus the ironmonger (Sweden)
- Madam Kate (Russia)
- III.The Forest: Allegedly Bull’s property, but claimed by other, neighboring families, too (North American continent)
- IV.The Foresters: Family members or apprentices of John Bull and others, going to settle in the Forest for one reason or another (North American colonists)
- 1.Walter Pipeweed (Sir Walter Raleigh), VirginiaWalter’s grandson, George (George Washington), represents the Foresters as their attorney in the lawsuits against John Bull, and later becomes the Steward of their confederation.
- 2.Cecilius Peterson, later renamed Cecilius Marygold (Calvert, Lord Baltimore), Maryland
- 3.Peregrine Pickle (The Plymouth Adventurers), Plymouth Plantation
- 4.John Codline (Massachusetts fishermen), Massachusetts Bay Colony
- 5.Humphry Ploughshare, with Tobias Wheatear (Connecticut farmers), Colony of New Haven, Connecticut
- 6.Roger Carrier (Roger Williams), Providence, Rhode Island
- 7.Robert Lumber (Robert Mason), New Hampshire
- 8.Casimir (a Swede), Delaware
- 9.Peter Stiver, a one-legged fellow, later renamed Bullfrog (a Dutch), Albany, New York
- 10.Bob (Robert Carr), New York
- 11.Cartrut and Bareclay (Bull’s servants), and, later on, Julius Caesar, New Jersey
- 12.William Broadbrim (William Penn), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 13.Charles Indigo (The Carolina Company), South Carolina
- 14.Peter Pitch, North Carolina
- 15.George Trusty (The trustees of Georgia, 1732), Georgia
- 16.Doctor Squintum, a founder of a charity school for Orphans in Georgia
- 17.Alexander Scouts, a purblind fellow, Nova Scotia
- 18.Ethan Greenwood, Vermont
- 19.Hunter Longknife, Kentucky
- V.Beasts: Creatures originally inhabiting in the Forest, especially “bears and wolves” (the Native Americans)
- VI.“Black cattle”: Black slaves
Francis Parkman (1823–93) was a climactic figure in the early developments of American historiography, so its many different features recurred in his history writing. For one thing, he was another Boston-native historian, closely tied to Jared Sparks, Justin Winsor, and other documentary historians there. He himself inherited the method of descriptive detailedness and solid factuality based on the collection of historical documents. His interest in the American wilderness, for another, made his history quite susceptible to natural-historical concerns. He took an active part in the contemporary school of geographic history, and his idea of history even went a step further, or, to be exact, a step deeper underground, where the renewed sense of temporality was found working as geological deep time.
Among other nineteenth-century American historians, or those whom David Levin calls “Romantic historians,” Parkman has been the most commented on by modern critics, and a fair amount of scholarly literature on his life and writings is available.1 The Library of America editions of France and England in North America also help us get familiar with his narrative of the North American colonial explorations and warfare. Still, his books have long been relegated to relative, if not total, obscurity, measured by the standard of contemporary masterpieces of the American Renaissance and late nineteenth-century literary realism. A brief survey of his histories might be helpful as a supplement to the main discussions. A summary of critical commentaries, too, could be of use to clarify how and in what terms Parkman’s histories have been assessed at all.
Parkman’s historical series consists of eight titles or fifteen separate volumes in total, which can be divided into three parts, depending on the historical phase each group covers.
- I.The French Explorations into the North American Wilderness
- Pioneers of France in the New World (1865; revised in 1885)
- The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (1867)
- La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West (1869; revised in 1878)
- II.The Decline of New France and the Ascendancy of New England
- The Old Régime in Canada (1874; revised in 1893)
- Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV (1877)
- A Half-Century of Conflict (1892)
- Montcalm and Wolfe (1884)
- III.The Ruin of the American Indian
- The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851; revised in 1870)
The first three books deal with the New World expeditions by French explorers and missionaries. Pioneers of France in the New World begins with a quick review of the Spanish discovery of Florida in the early sixteenth century, and the first half of the book recounts the Huguenots’ thwarted attempts at the colonization of Florida through the mid to late sixteenth century, while the second half features the early French adventures in Quebec and the surrounding areas. The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century in turn highlights the hardships and martyrdom of the Jesuit missionaries, who were indefatigable ethnologist explorers describing the North American wilderness and its inhabitants, as well as earnest evangelists setting out for the conversion of the indigenous people. The exploration narratives culminate in the third volume, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, which follows the tracks of a heroic explorer, Robert Cavelier de la Salle in the late seventeenth century, from the upper Great Lakes down through the Illinois to the mouth of the Mississippi.
The second cluster of the series dramatizes the rise and fall of New France and its final surrender to British power. The Old Régime in Canada sets the stage with a general survey of economic, social, civil, and religious life in the French colony, and appraises its achievements and problems from an institutional perspective. In Parkman’s schematization, the French colonial polity embodied the artificial and corrupt power of Catholicism and absolutism, which first held hegemony in the North American colony, but was destined to give way to the natural fortitude of British Protestantism and liberalism. Although Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV covers the heyday of colonial French rule in the seventeenth century, it is also an account of how its inner conflict between state and church subtly undermined its own grip on the New World, and the story, punctuated with a series of frontier skirmishes, winds up into the British capture of Port Royal, Acadia, in 1690, which marked the beginning of the end of New France. While the French forces won the ensuing battle of Quebec in the same year, its ultimate collapse was impending and unavoidable as the conflict continued well into the mid-eighteenth century. A Half-Century of Conflict centers on another contested spot, Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, and ends up with the British siege and capture of Fort Louisbourg in 1745 (though it was soon ceded back to France under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748). And Montcalm and Wolfe finally wraps up the story of the fall of New France, which received a fatal blow with the surrender of Quebec in 1759 and even the failure to retake the town next year. All that is left then is an epilogue to the whole series, The Conspiracy of Pontiac, which recounts the subsequent impacts of “The conquest of Canada” and “the advancing waves of Anglo-American power” on the North American continent, or, in Parkman’s own words, “aims to portray the American forest and the American Indian at the period when both received their final doom” (CP, 347).
This version of colonial North American history, critics generally agree, duly meets today’s scholarly standards, and assuredly is more tenable than those of other nineteenth-century historians, such as William Hickling Prescott (1796–1859) and John Lothrop Motley (1814–1877), who are, to use Mason Wade’s words, “stiff and wooden, and are read only as romance and rhetoric.” Wade goes on to evaluate Parkman’s prescience and the historical objectivity of his stories: “much research and investigation has shaken only details and not the broad conclusions of Parkman’s work in the field which he has cleared as a pioneer, and his pages still live, as do those of no other nineteenth-century historian, for the modern reader.”2 The seven-title series, or the eight-title saga if the epilogue is included, may look forbidding to the general reader, to be sure. But John Tebbel’s one-volume abridgment of France and England in North America, first published in 1948, has run into several editions (the latest was in 2001),3 and this sufficiently testifies to the verity and durability of Parkman’s historical accounts and their relevance to popular education, as well as academic studies, on America’s colonial past.
Since their initial publication, Parkman’s histories have enjoyed much critical acclaim, especially in two aspects. For one thing, he has always been praised for his vivid descriptive style, which creates an illusion of participation, so the readers may feel as if they were witnessing a historical event on the very spot themselves. Howard Doughty ascribes this effect of vivification to Parkman’s motor-minded “kinesthetic” prose or its “quality of seeming itself to be the action it describes.”4 In addition, Parkman’s highlygraphic descriptions are also legitimated by his thorough archival research as well as his personal experiences of visiting historic sites.
Another strain of public commendations for Parkman’s writings centers on his masterful wielding of literary motifs and themes. One of the recurring ideas all through his narratives is the Romantic perseverance and struggle of colonial explorers and troopers in the midst of the ruthless wilderness, and, as David Levin and other critics point out, those heroic figures are agents of the universal progress of liberty, which, as the pervading principle of Parkman’s histories, lies behind the fundamental dichotomies featured in them, such as naturalness versus artificialness, Protestantism versus Catholicism, liberty versus absolutism, and the like.5
These evaluations are fair enough, and I completely agree with them as far as they are concerned with Parkman’s descriptive and narrative style. Still, it is surprising that nobody has yet delved into the intellectual and methodological framework of his historical writings, except for the formative influences of Romantic literature—Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, James Fenimore Cooper, among others—on his dramatic design. His philosophy of history, as it were, has been left untouched, although it actually deserves much attention, considering his unique handling of historical changes, which are represented throughout his histories characteristically in a spatial (both horizontal and vertical) manner.
David Levin’s pathbreaking analysis of the nineteenth-century American historians is still a reference point in this field of study. Besides Parkman, Levin names William Hickling Prescott (1796–1859), George Bancroft (1800–91), and John Lothrop Motley (1814–77) under the heading of “Romantic historian.” See Levin, History as Romantic Art: Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, and Parkman (1959; New York: A Harbinger Book, 1963).
John Tebbel’s abridgment of Parkman’s histories, titled The Battle for North America, was first published by Doubleday in 1948, and the major reprints were issued from Easton Press, Norwalk, Connecticut in 1987, and Phoenix Press, London in 2001.
As for a general discussion on the grand themes of nineteenth-century Romantic history, see Levin, History as Romantic Art, 24–45, and for a more detailed examination, see Part Two of the same book, 47–159. Howard Doughty, too, discusses the fundamental conflict of civilization and savagery, the present and the past, and liberty and despotism in Parkman’s histories. See Doughty, Francis Parkman, 188–96 specifically.
In his introduction to Pioneers of France, Parkman himself referred to what he saw as the major dichotomies in the colonial era. “By name, local position, and character, one of these communities of freemen stands forth as the most conspicuous representative of this antagonism,—Liberty and Absolutism, New England and New France. The one was the offspring of a triumphant government; the other, of an oppressed and fugitive people: the one, an unflinching champion of the Roman Catholic reaction; the other, a vanguard of the Reform. Each followed its natural laws of growth, and each came to its natural result” (PF, 14).