Montcalm and Wolfe, published more than forty years after The Conquest of Mexico and almost thirty years after The Rise of the Dutch Republic, represents the culmination not only of Parkman's history of France and England in North America, but of his long career. It seems at first, therefore, to be the least clearly "romantic" of all the major histories. By 1884 some of the more obviously conventional language had gone out of fashion. Even the ageless Bancroft, having brought his history down to 1789, was preparing to condense his twelve-volume work into six volumes from which much of his "nauseous grandiloquence"1 would be removed--and Parkman had learned to minimize the tritest of his own rhetoric. The impression is strengthened, too, by Parkman's emphasis on geographical precision and by his increased reliance on letters and journals to carry parts of his narrative. But the impression is misleading. In theme, in construction, in characterization, and even in style, Parkman's masterpiece stands squarely in the New England romantic tradition, and both its merits and its defects need to be examined in that context.
The subject itself offers a perfect conclusion to Parkman's work. In one decisive conflict it brings
together all the racial, moral, and natural forces depicted in his earlier volumes.2 The issue is decided in action by a mortal battle between the two most
admirably representative soldiers of France and England; in principle, by the torpid corruption of the
worst representatives of "Absolutism" and the "vigorous" patriotism of the best representative of
Liberty. Unstable Indians, sought as allies by both sides and "hounded on" at times by intriguing
Catholic priests, vacillate, murder indiscriminately, and at last choose to help the country most clearly
opposed to their own true interests. Furthermore, this first major European war to originate in
America begins with a frontier skirmish that introduces the hero of the American Revolution, and it
also makes the Revolution inevitable. It opens the West to colonization; it ruins France as a world
power; it establishes Britain as the "mother of nations" and Prussia as the foundation of modern
Germany. (II, 409-14.)* By thus giving immense
Parkman recognized these advantages, and he used them to achieve a remarkable literary feat. Without the help of great prose, without achieving a single great characterization, he wrote the most completely successful of all the romantic histories. He controlled masterfully a much more complex narrative than The Conquest of Mexico, and avoided the worst of Motley's interpretative errors. And although he failed to control his inadequate rhetoric when faced with certain kinds of character and scenery, he exploited his documents, his precise sense of place, and the point of view to give events and some characters an immediacy that is rare in any general history.
Although Parkman did not divide Montcalm and Wolfe into books with separate titles, he did give it a clearly dramatic structure, which invites subdivision into a prologue and five acts. The prologue (chaps. 1-6) introduces "the combatants," states the theme, and moves to the departure of French and British armies for America. The first act (chaps. 7-10) follows Braddock's and Shirley's unsuccessful campaign against four French objectives. Act II (chaps. 11-17) moves from Montcalm's successes to the fall of Newcastle's government in England; Act III (chaps. 18-23), from the accession of Pitt to the "brink" of Canadian "ruin" after the loss of Fort Duquesne; Act IV (chaps. 24- 28), from Wolfe's appointment as commanding general to the fall of Quebec; and the last act, to the Peace of Paris.
This arrangement enabled Parkman to combine the structural advantages of Prescott's and Motley's best works while avoiding their faults. Provided with an even better historical climax than Prescott's, he had also a definite conclusion that followed from it, and he needed no biographical epilogue. Although he had no single hero on whom to focus, the rise and fall of progressive forces enabled him to begin in failure, as Motley had done, and then to move through a series of setbacks and partial successes to the climax on the Heights of Abraham.
The beauty of this structure, however, lies less in Parkman's recognition of neatly placed crises
than in the usefulness of these divisions to his conventions and his theme. He regarded this battle of
"past against future," "united few" against "divided many," "moral torpor" against "moral vigor," as
a test of principles, institutions, and national character. He had little doubt that France's failure in all
three of these had caused her to waste
The prologue demonstrates through character and action that both countries are "weak in leadership" (I, 180-81) and that neither knows its own true interests. If the "effeminate libertine" king of France can give political control to "Jane Fish" Pompadour (II, 44), the "dull, languid" England of 1750 is capable of trusting Newcastle. Especially in his prologue, Parkman establishes a balance between such characters, and, after beginning with a discussion of France and England, he extends this symmetry to America. There the jealous niggardliness of English colonial legislatures almost negates good leadership, and it becomes more damaging, for the moment, than the "heartless" fanaticism of French missionaries and the corruption of Canadian officials. As he turns from Europe to America and from the site of Pittsburgh in the West to Acadia in the East, Parkman can therefore set French "celerity" (I, 143) against English slowness; he can show that England temporarily lost the West because the provincial assemblies hindered Washington and Dinwiddie while the Canadian government encouraged Fathers Piquet and Le Loutre to foment Indian war. In the last chapter of this section he returns to Europe to focus once more on Newcastle, "a fantastic political jobber" (I, 179), and on Madame de Pompadour during the mutually deceitful preparations for war.
This entire section has a comic quality, for Parkman dramatizes the inefficiency, corruption, or villainy of all the "combatants": France, England, Canada and the British colonies. In his last chapter, moreover, he quotes satirical anecdotes from Horace Walpole's George II and Smollett's Humphry Clinker to illustrate Newcastle's incompetence, and he declares that at this time neither army had a great general. It is against this background that the naval phase of the European fighting begins--with a treacherous British attack on a French ship--and the stage is prepared for the "gallant bulldog" (I, 220), General Braddock.
The first act curtain rises on Braddock, whose march to Fort Duquesne opens a four-point
campaign against French positions, and in peacetime. This action begins in foolish inefficiency and
ends in disgraceful retreat. Braddock's stubbornness,3 the
provincial assemblies' stinginess, and Dunbar's cowardice leave the frontier completely unguarded.
(I, 233.) True to his principles of balanced contrast, Parkman turns then to Acadia, where
Here Parkman has deliberately passed by the declaration of war and Montcalm's victory at
Oswego in order to give the French hero a more emphatic position and to avoid interrupting his
account of the four-point British campaign. Montcalm, representing the best of French nobility
dominates Parkman's second act, but Parkman takes care to magnify his virtues by setting them
against the French weaknesses that destroy New France. Opening this act in Europe with the formal
declaration of war Parkman sets the manly Frederick against Maria Theresa and Madame de
Pompadour, whose "infatuated" policy neglects Canada; only then does he introduce Montcalm, who
owes his appointment to the unwillingness of any court favorites to accept "a command in the
backwoods." (I, 356 ) Before dramatizing Montcalm's victories, Parkman also uses his arrival in
New France as the occasion for describing Governor Vaudreuil, the boastful, jealous, indecisive
provincial whose faults will prove so important at the climax. The action occurs in this context.
Montcalm destroys Oswego while the British ministry delays assigning a new commander; and when
Loudon (the choice of Newcastle) does come, he proves incompetent. In spite of the difficulties
presented by Vaudreuil, Montcalm and his "man-eating savages" also destroy Fort William Henry,
because Loudon has foolishly drawn British troops off the mainland for an abortive attack on
Louisbourg. After these French successes, however, Parkman uses Montcalm's letters during the
ensuing "winter of discontent" to give his first full report of Canadian official corruption. As he
entitled his opening chapter
The critical third act restores England and France to a temporary balance and then swings toward the inevitable result. In the opening chapter on Pitt, Parkman returns again to Europe for his most energetic picture of Frederick-the incarnation, here, of indomitable Will. (II, 38-39.) Then, as "silken" King Louis dismisses the best two French ministers, the English middle class, sick of Newcastle, find in Pitt "a leader after their own heart." Parkman considers this change so important that he compares Pitt's influence to that of Nature: "as Nature, languishing in chill vapors and dull smothering fogs, revives at the touch of the sun, so did England spring into fresh life under the kindling influence of one great man." (II, 46.) Under Pitt's "robust impulsion" tough British sailors, who resemble Motley's Beggars of the Sea, win a series of naval victories, and in the first action of Pitt's three-point attack on New France the "ardent" General Wolfe (II, 58) helps to take Louisbourg.
But even in this grand British victory one can see the balance of the two powers. This is the kind of battle Parkman loves, for besides occurring in a sublime natural setting, it reveals the best qualities of both countries. The officers and men on both sides of the walls prove to be good fellows, and the British win only by overcoming a "gallant defence." (II, 75 ) Save for an accident, moreover, the same kind of battle might have occurred at Ticonderoga, when Vaudreuil's inexplicable delay left Montcalm "to defend himself as he could" (II, 87) against an army led by Lord Howe--a "Lycurgus" more responsible than any other man for breaking down the rivalry between English and American officers. But in an action between two groups who are both lost in the dense forest, Howe is killed. Abercromby, a compromise relic of Newcastle's government, leads his fine army of 15,000 men to ruin. (II, 97.)
Montcalm's great leadership thus capitalizes on his one chance to win, but despite Abercromby's
"poltroonery" (II, 114) a largely colonial British force takes Fort Frontenac, another army reopens the
West by taking Fort Duquesne, and the third act ends on "the brink of [Canadian] ruin." (II, 164.)
Montcalm, increasingly harried and disgusted by Vaudreuil's jealousy and the corruption of his
associates, is abandoned by the French court. It is his own letters during the winter of 1758-59 that
tell most of the story. We will save this unhappy country or perish," he says near the end of the act.
But Parkman assigns the final speech (a vain boast) to Vandreuil.
The climax, one of the best-known episodes in our literature, needs no rehearsal here, but one must notice that Parkman takes advantage of every opportunity to make it depend on the fundamental contrasts that are so important to his theme. Wolfe's only hope lies "in the composition of Montcalm's army" (II, 260), and although the "difficulties" of the assault seem "insurmountable," Wolfe's own indomitable spirit is aided by something more than chance. Captain of the slovenly guard at the point where Wolfe climbs the heights is none other than Vergor, the coward of Beauséjour, who has been acquitted of misconduct there only because Bigot and Vaudreuil have interceded for him. Vaudreuil, moreover, fails to send Montcalm the necessary reinforcements after the British have been discovered. And Montcalm himself indulges his French "impetuosity" (II, 293) in attacking the firm British line. In this crucial battle, on the other hand, it is British "discipline" that wins, as the silent Redcoats hold their fire until the shouting French have rushed into confusion. At last, with Montcalm dying and Wolfe dead, Vaudreuil shamefully abandons Quebec, only to be persuaded too late that it might be defended. "The funeral of Montcalm" (who is buried in a shell-hole under a chapel) becomes "the funeral of New France" (II, 310); and at the end of this act Vaudreuil tries to save himself by "belittling [Montcalm's] achievements and blackening his name." (II, 317.)
Even the short fifth act, though it chronicles the decline of action, depends on conventional
contrasts of character. Parkman raises the curtain on quiet scenes that depict not only the ruin of
Quebec but the virtues of English troops, whom French nuns call "the most moderate of conquerors."
(II, 330.) British "humanity" rescues a dying French soldier and the deed is rewarded by a warning
of surprise attack; then a temporary French victory allows Indian converts to "murder, scalp, and
mangle" most of the English wounded (II, 313, 351); and soon afterward a British commander
prevents his unconverted Indian allies from scalping French prisoners.
Nor can the drama end before the Canadian peculators have been tried or before Pitt and Frederick have fought their battles to the end. Telescoping the European war as he has throughout the history, Parkman focuses on the two heroes in his last chapter of action--as Frederick barely avoids destruction and as George III's tyrannical jealousy forces Pitt, the people's "representative," to resign. (II, 387-91.) It is by bringing these two titans to rest that Parkman restores Europe to the moral lassitude of 1750. Although British armies and navies still feel "the impulsion" of Pitt's "imperial hand" and "the unconquerable spirit that he had aroused," the government is returned to "weak and unwilling hands." (II, 400.) And Frederick learns to restrain his insults and to live at peace with new tyrants. (II, 399.) Thus, before Parkman issues his final challenge to American leadership, he has painted his two exhausted heroes as examples: Frederick, deserted by England, but fighting on and rewarded at last "as by a miracle"; Pitt, carried to Parliament to thunder one last protest against an excessively generous peace treaty.
It is against these images, and the more remote ones of Montcalm and Wolfe, that Parkman's last challenge must be read. His demand that democracy give the world "types of manhood as lofty and strong" as those of other systems does not pay mere "lip-service"5 to progress. It concludes a history organized from beginning to end around contrasts that demonstrate his implicit faith in conventional ideas of progress.
Parkman's organization, then, is remarkably economical. While he exploits the genuinely
dramatic arrangement that the course of the war invited him to fashion, he uses his characters with
equal skill. Far from being embarrassed by the lack of a dominant hero for the entire history, he
repeatedly brings forward the right man at the right time, dramatizing the merits and defects of both
countries at appropriate moments of victory and defeat. Nor does his final evaluation of French and
British institutions prevent him from sympathizing with both sides, for he does not
Parkman's acute awareness of geography also affects his organization. Besides arranging his acts so that he can summarize European events at the beginning or end of every one of them, he keeps always before the reader some sense of the vast continent for which the two nations fought. His first paragraph on America emphasizes the "boundless interior" controlled by the French posts from Canada to Louisiana (I, 20), and his final paragraph on France points out the "two island rocks . . . that the victors had given her for drying her codfish." (II, 410.) In the drama that he enacts between these opposite pictures he moves periodically from western to eastern campaigns while centering most of the action in the recurrent battles along the short line from Albany to Montreal. Regularly, moreover, he takes the reader inside a raiding party or an army--often as it marches over wild country that has already been "won" by one side or the other--and he thus communicates a sense not only of immediacy but of the terror and futility of military conquest in the forest. (II, 14-15.) The first British success at Crown Point and Montcalm's victories at Oswego, Fort William Henry, and Ticonderoga are all equally barren. Soon after each one of them the scene becomes a "wild solitude" again. (See, for example, I, 416, 513.)
The characterization in Montcalm and Wolfe needs little detailed analysis beyond what I
have already said here and in earlier chapters, for its chief literary value lies in the skill with which
Parkman built the conventional contrasts into his dramatic structure. Although he chose to tell the
story in only half the space that Motley had used in The Rise of the
The line of characters projected in Montcalm and Wolfe includes nearly every type to be found in the romantic histories. Vigorous English, French, and American aristocrats represent the natural, the normal; Wolfe, Pitt, Howe, Montcalm, and Washington stand at the center. To their right extends a row of increasingly less natural characters: the sturdy governors Dinwiddie and Shirley; the typical generals, from Braddock the "bulldog" and Amherst the slow mover to the competent French officers and the incompetent Loudon and Abercromby; the fanatical priests and the dishonest Canadian officials; and, at the extreme, Newcastle, George III, Louis XV and his Pompadour. On the left the file includes fewer distinct individuals, but the progression from Rogers "the woodsman" to the few good Indians and the crowds of "man-eating savages" is perfectly clear.
In arranging this line, Parkman concentrates on economy. Like Prescott, he often fixes the attitude of a character in a single incident or a few words and then lets the contrast indicate his significance, but most of these sketches are much more precise than Prescott's, because Parkman offers more detailed evidence. In one paragraph, for example, he uses the action and the documents themselves to characterize a British sailor who resembles Fenimore Cooper's Long Tom Coffin, and to dramatize the cleavage between ordinary Englishmen and Frenchmen. Parkman's only descriptive words about this man who is to bring Wolfe's fleet up the Saint Lawrence are those that introduce him as "an old sailor named Killick, who despised the whole Gallic race, and had no mind to see his ship in charge of a Frenchman."
Everything else depends on the order of the paragraph and the words of a contemporary journal. When the captured French pilot, who has "'gasconaded"' at the beginning of the paragraph, insists that no French ship has ever attempted the passage without a native pilot, Killick promises " 'to convince you that an Englishman shall go where a Frenchman dare not show his nose."' He navigates the strange channel casually, joking along the way, and as the French pilot lifts " 'his eyes to heaven with astonishment and fervency,'" Killick declares that the Thames is often much more dangerous than this part of the Saint Lawrence. The quotations come from Captain John Knox's journal, but Parkman uses them efficiently to introduce a type and to foreshadow the distinction between French and British soldiers that will be so important on the Heights of Abraham. (II, 204-6.)
When he does rely more exclusively on his own words for such a contrast, Parkman usually avoids the more elaborate rhetoric of conventional characterization and relies instead on simpler, though equally common terminology. At the moment when several Indian tribes are to be persuaded to desert the French, he introduces the brave Moravian Frederick Post as the antithesis of both good and bad Jesuit missionaries. Characterized by "simplicity of character, directness, and honesty"--all the reverse of traits in Parkman's Jesuits--"Christian" Post represents Protestant self-reliance. He is "a plain German, upheld by a sense of duty and a single-hearted trust in God"; he has married a "converted squaw"; and he has tried to teach the Indians "peace." He goes to the suspicious Delawares "alone, with no great disciplined organization to impel and support him, and no visions and illusions such as kindled and sustained the splendid heroism of the early Jesuit martyrs." (II, 144.) After this introduction, Parkman allows the action and Post's journal to complete the characterization. He himself intrudes only to add a few lurid words on the Indians' ferocity and to reinforce the French-British contrast with a simple narrative fact. While Post is urging peace on the Indians, a French officer arrives in their village and asks them to attack a British army. (II, 147- 50.)
This kind of technique and emphasis also succeeds in Parkman's portrayal of more important
characters, from Braddock to Montcalm. But as the scale increases the quality of Parkman's interest
and the limitations of his technique are more clearly defined. Even for Montcalm, to whom he gives
more space than to any other character, Parkman sketches the typical pose very quickly, and he uses a
minimum of conventional language--almost all of it abstract--to do so. Having announced
"First, to be an honorable man, of good morals, brave, and a Christian. Secondly, to read in moderation; to know as much Greek and Latin as most men of the world; also the four rules of arithmetic, and something of history, geography, and French and Latin belles-lettres, as well as to have a taste for the arts and sciences. Thirdly, and above all, to be obedient, docile [to my parents] . . . . Fourthly, to fence and ride as well as my small abilities will permit."
Then, between two paragraphs that outline Montcalm's "more wholesome growth" and reprint some statements expressing his love for his family and his chateau, Parkman offers one more descriptive statement about him: "He was pious in his soldierly way, and ardently loyal to Church and King." (I, 356-59.) To complete the "scholar-soldier's" portrait, Parkman troubles only to summarize his military injuries and to paint him as Governor Vaudreuil must have seen him when Montcalm arrived in New France: Vaudreuil "saw before him a man of small stature, with a lively countenance, a keen eye, and, in moments of animation, rapid, vehement utterance, and nervous gesticulation." (I, 366.)
From this point until his death the portrait does not change. Montcalm is the "impetuous" scholar-soldier. His piety, his loyalty to Church and King, his nervous energy, and his affection for his family become clearer as one reads frequent quotations from his letters; by the same means Parkman communicates Montcalm's disgust with corruption and with having to employ savages, and his intense loneliness in Canada. His letters and the action, then, reveal some of his deepest feelings, and the characterization succeeds. But both the visual picture and Parkman's own analysis are frankly abstract. The success of the characterization depends not, as in Motley, on precise analysis or precise pictures, but on skillful arrangement of detailed action and documents to reveal a few typical traits.
Thus Parkman's interest centers less on the complexity of individual character than on a few
qualities relevant to his own situation and to his conventional interpretation of the war. He seems,
moreover, to concentrate primarily on communicating a sense of the character's experience, and on
When he turns to Pitt, Frederick, and Washington, however, the inadequacy of his rhetoric becomes more damaging, for in these characterizations he must stand farther away from the documents, and the kind of pose in which he wants to display these men persuades him to use an energetic language that often escapes his control. Parkman's forceful rhythm, his occasionally consistent imagery (II, 42), and the energy of the historical characters save him from complete failure in these passages, but trite, inconsistent imagery, and shoddy diction repeatedly betray him. If Pitt consistently hurls down lightningbolts in one paragraph, he becomes in the next a tower of strength that turns contemptuously from the tricks of politics and throws itself on the people's patriotism and public spirit. This crisis, moreover, has occurred just after England has been dragged into the Continental war because of an apple of discord, while her great ally (Frederick) was reaping a full harvest of laurels. Then an event takes place pregnant with glorious consequence: the reins of power fall into the hands of William Pitt. Pitt's heart that beats in unison with all that is British finds responsive throbs in every corner of the vast empire. (II, 40-43.) Later, Frederick holds the invading hosts at bay, but then the end seems near. He cannot be everywhere at once, and while he stops one leak the torrent pours in at another. He continues to fight with smiles on his lip and anguish at his heart, with cool and stubborn desperation. But his cup is not yet full. (II, 387-88.) Pitt, meanwhile, cannot stay in power, for besides incurring the dislike of George III he has ridden roughshod over men far above him in rank. But he holds to his purpose regardless of the gathering storm. (II, 391- 92.) His fall, when it does occur, is like the knell of doom to Frederick, around whom the darkness grows darker yet and to whom not a hope seems left; when as by a miracle the clouds break and light streams out of the blackness. (II, 398.)
These lines cast some doubt on the judgment that Parkman's prose style is rarely equalled in
American literature for "precision and energy and hard grace"; that of all the romantic historians he
was "incomparably the best writer."7 Although the faults cannot be
blamed entirely on the kind
One must conclude, then, that Parkman's best method of characterization was to reveal conventional contrasts by combining factual and unpretentious, abstract language with documents and with a careful arrangement of the action. He simply did not have Motley's talent for conveying visual images of character. Even his famous portrait of Wolfe, against which he placed a reproduction of the painting (II, 184), displays his tritest language at just the moment when descriptive art demands more original phrasing. I have italicized the imperfect words:
His face, when seen in profile, was singular as that of the Great Condé. The forehead and chin receded; the nose, slightly upturned, formed with the other features the point of an obtuse triangle; the mouth was by no means shaped to express resolution; and nothing but the clear, bright, and piercing eye bespoke the spirit within. On his head he wore a black three-cornered hat; his red hair was tied in a queue behind; his narrow shoulders, slender body, and long, thin limbs [arms] were cased in a scarlet frock, with broad cuffs and ample skirts that reached the knee; while on his left arm he wore a band of crape in mourning for his father, of whose death he had heard a few days before.
If one places this picture beside Motley's portrait of Elizabeth, Henry of Valois, the Prior of Saint Vaast--or even beside the portrait of Macaulay that Motley sent in a letter to his wife--one sees a sharp contrast. From Macaulay's profile Motley turns to a frontal view:
The face, to resume my description, seen in front, is blank, and as it were badly lighted. There is nothing luminous in the eye, nothing impressive in the brow. The forehead is spacious, but it is scooped entirely away in the region where
benevolence ought to be, while beyond rise reverence, firmness, and self-esteem, like Alps on Alps. The under eyelids are so swollen as almost to close the eyes, and it would be almost impossible to tell the color of those orbs, and equally so, from the neutral tint of his hair and face, to say of what complexion he had originally been.10
Parkman's abstract picture of Montcalm excels his picture of Wolfe, for it does not pretend to do more than it actually accomplishes. His characterization is most impressive when he describes a Braddock, a Bigot (II, 24), a Post, a Vaudreuil, in action.
If the weakness of Parkman's prose lies in his most self-consciously heroic diction and his trite imagery, its great strength comes from his acute sense of specific place and specific fact, and from his brilliant control of the pace of his narrative. In spite of his embarrassing faults, Parkman was indeed a good writer. Much of his prose does have a "hard grace," but his most "energetic" prose is often his least precise. His best prose is his ordinary exposition, his least pretentious narrative--those relatively unadorned passages which, dominating most of the two volumes, communicate social information, analyze the opposing nations' arguments (I, 124-25), prepare the reader carefully for a particular action, bring the reader inside one camp or another; those passages which, by joining specific fact to general action, give the narrative its admirable order.
One can see the value of this kind of prose by examining Parkman's account of a single battle, Sir William Johnson's defeat of Baron Dieskau on the site of Fort William Henry. Parkman approaches the action by describing not only the terrain but each of the two armies. Since this is the first battle involving New England militia, he wants to describe Johnson's "crude" army with some care, while remaining true to his principle of narrative economy. He chooses, therefore, to depict the army as it waits nervously for supplies. He begins with a paragraph on some of the colonial officers, including future heroes of the Revolution, and then he describes the men:
The soldiers were no soldiers, but farmers and farmers' sons who had volunteered for the summer campaign. One of the corps had a blue uniform faced with red. The rest wore their daily clothing. Blankets had been served out to them by the several provinces, but the greater part brought their own guns; some under the penalty of a fine if they came without them, and some under the inducement of a reward. They had no bayonets, but carried hatchets in their
belts as a sort of substitute. At their sides were slung powder-horns, on which, in the leisure of the camp, they carved quaint devices with the points of their jack-knives. They came chiefly from plain New England homesteads,-rustic abodes, unpainted and dingy, with long well-sweeps, capacious barns, rough fields of pumpkins and corn, and vast kitchen chimneys, above which in winter hung squashes to keep them from frost, and guns to keep them from rust. (I, 291)
This paragraph illustrates Parkman's most effective description. He does not paint a detailed picture, but instead names significant objects. The short sentences that set the one uniform against daily clothing; the moderate alliteration, the repetition, the simple diction, and the forceful rhythm gained from balanced constructions and periodic emphasis--these function as well as farmers, plain homesteads, rustic abodes, and the final picture to emphasize the naturalness of the men. Some of the objects and statements, moreover, clearly suggest a double significance. The contrast between "fine" and "reward" suggests the niggardliness and lack of concert that Parkman has just been deploring in English colonial legislatures; the quaint devices carved on the powder horns with jacknives imply both rude individuality and the boredom of waiting in camp; the guns above the chimneys suggest self-reliance and constant preparedness for danger.
But the full value of this paragraph becomes clear only as one sees its place in the narrative. Parkman stays with Johnson's force until it has finally moved to Lake George, and then, as the British sentries are posted, he turns to the French army. He establishes the moral contrast simply by paraphrasing Baron Dieskau's order telling the Indians "not to amuse themselves by taking scalps till the enemy is entirely defeated, since they can kill ten men in the time required to scalp one." And he drives home the point by quoting from a letter of Dieskau's:
"They drive us crazy," he says, "from morning till night. There is no end to their demands. They have already eaten five oxen and as many hogs, without counting the kegs of brandy they have drunk. In short, one needs the patience of an angel to get on with these devils; and yet one must always force himself to seem pleased with them." (I, 297.)
This idiomatic translation of Dieskau's letter exemplifies the great merit of Parkman's narrative
technique. His short sentences name things and concentrate attention on the participant's point of
view, stressing the problems of a competent officer faced with difficulties beyond his control. Since
the Indians' irresponsibility is the main cause of Dieskau's eventual defeat (I, 305),
The same kind of technique leads one to the action itself. Since the first engagement is a French-Indian ambush that drives the English back to their camp, Parkman follows the French and Indian army to the "snare," leaving them only after he has stationed "a Canadian or a savage, with gun cocked and ears intent," behind "every bush." (I, 300.) Then, having created the desired suspense, he uses English documents to place the reader inside the vanguard who march into the trap. He dramatizes both Johnson's "complete misconception" of the size of the French force, and the eloquent warning of the Mohawk chief Hendrick, the noblest Indian of the entire history, against marching out to meet the French. And he quotes from the hasty letter of a New England officer who will be killed in the ambush. (I, 301-2.)
After this remarkable preparation neither the skirmish nor the decisive battle requires "elevated" prose. One sees "some sign of an enemy" through "the sharp eye of old Hendrick," and the firing begins "at that instant." With a fine sense of drama Parkman recognizes that the best way he can suggest the suddenness of injury or death is to rely on flat statements of fact: "Hendrick's horse was shot down, and the chief was killed with a bayonet as he tried to rise. [Colonel] Williams, seeing a rising ground on his right, made for it, calling on his men to follow; but as he climbed the slope, guns flashed from the bushes, and a shot through the brain laid him dead." (I, 302-3.)
When he comes to the climax of the ensuing battle, Parkman achieves an artistic triumph by combining all these methods, for he concentrates once again on Dieskau. At the moment when an attack would surely have succeeded, the "French Indians" and Canadians had refused to obey, and some of the Indians had then been "driven off by a few shells dropped among them." With plain statement and Dieskau's own words, then, Parkman impels one to look more closely at the particular action and its meaning than any of the other historians can manage to do:
At length Dieskau, exposing himself within short range of the English line, was hit in the leg. His adjutant, Montreuil, himself wounded, came to his aid,
and was washing the injured limb with brandy, when the unfortunate commander was again hit in the knee and thigh. He seated himself behind a tree while the Adjutant called two Canadians to carry him to the rear. One of them was instantly shot down. Montreuil took his place; but Dieskau refused to be moved, bitterly denounced the Canadians and Indians, and ordered the Adjutant to leave him and lead the regulars in a last effort against the camp.
It was too late. Johnson's men, singly or in small squads, were already crossing their row of logs; and in a few moments the whole dashed forward with a shout, falling upon the enemy with hatchets and the butts of their guns. The French and their allies fled. The wounded General still sat helpless by the tree, when he saw a soldier aiming at him. He signed to the man not to fire; but he pulled the trigger, shot him across the hips, leaped upon him, and ordered him in French to surrender. "I said," writes Dieskau, " 'You rascal, why did you fire? You see a man lying in his blood on the ground, and you shoot him!' He answered: "How did I know that you had not got a pistol? I had rather kill the devil than have the devil kill me.' 'You are a Frenchman?' I asked. 'Yes,' he replied; 'it is more than ten years since I left Canada'; whereupon several others fell on me and stripped me. I told them to carry me to their general, which they did. On learning who I was, he sent for surgeons, and, though wounded himself, refused all assistance till my wounds were dressed."
Here Parkman comes almost as near as Mark Twain and Stephen Crane to the kind of plain statement in which Ernest Hemingway describes violent action. Dieskau does not, like Frederic Henry, put his hand into the hole where his knee has been, but one sees his helplessness just as clearly; not only the picture of the man sitting down, but the numerous blunt sentences and the naked, monosyllabic statement of fact suggest the incoherence and awful tension of the action. As Dieskau's position suffices to reveal his helplessness, so his point of view, his first-hand report, and Parkman's blunt assertion of other facts ("The French and their allies fled.") communicate the meaning of the episode.
Although Parkman concentrates his simplest language in these climactic paragraphs, scarcely a line in the twenty-six-page chapter departs from the relatively simple diction and plain statement that make them so admirably effective. Throughout the chapter Parkman subordinates rhetoric to fact, and his selection and placement of facts--from the description of Johnson's soldiers to Johnson's restraint of the Mohawks who want to torture Dieskau--express his judgment much more effectively than his few figurative efforts can express it. Indeed, the only two inadequate lines in the entire chapter are a trite metaphor personifying a brook (I, 300) and another describing Johnson's reward. (I, 315.)
It is through these methods that Parkman gives so much of his narrative an immediacy rare in any of the other romantic histories. His thorough research allows him to use the journal of James Smith, a prisoner at Fort Duquesne who watched nine hundred French and Indians prepare and depart for the attack on Braddock's army (I, 210-11); his personal knowledge of the battle sites enables him to describe both the natural setting and the fortifications before he moves in close to the action;11 his economical, factual language and his skillful use of quotations enable him to offset the disadvantages of conventional rhetoric and of his frequent inability to choose precise graphic language. If the conventional imagery fails him when he says that "Braddock showed a furious intrepidity. Mounted on horseback, he dashed to and fro like a madman," he achieves an unforgettable impression when he describes Braddock lying "among the bushes, bleeding, gasping, unable even to curse." (I, 219, 220.)
One should not conclude that Parkman's more elaborately rhythmic and figurative rhetoric never succeeds. Although he rarely approaches the heights of either Motley's or Melville's best prose, his more ambitiously pictorial rhetoric does often succeed when he concentrates on the forest as a symbol of ghastly death. Even here he is not infallible, for he may make a "gloomy brook" "gurgle" (I, 300); but his intense fascination for the grim horror of the Nature he professes to love usually impels him to describe it much more honestly. Sometimes, as in the description of Wood Creek,12 he combines the imagery of upright skeletons, prehistoric bones, and invisible, dangerous ghosts in a series of rhythmic lines that almost fall into blank verse; he repeatedly emphasizes the "chaotic" disorder of the forest in scenes of danger (I, 334; II, 12-13, 95- 96, 141); and when Montcalm uses felled, pointed trees and tangled branches for a breastwork at Ticonderoga, Parkman uses them to create a hideous picture at the most horrible moment of the disastrous British attack.
The scene was frightful: masses of infuriated men who could not go forward and would not go back; straining for an enemy they could not reach, and firing on an enemy they could not see; caught in the entanglement of fallen trees; tripped by briers, stumbling over logs, tearing through boughs; shouting, yelling, cursing, and pelted all the while with bullets that killed them by scores, stretched them on the ground, or hung them on jagged branches in strange attitudes of death. (II, 106.)
But if Parkman's sense of the violent terror and beauty (II, 220) of Nature does allow him to
write some excellent poetic prose, he relies during most of the history on the more ordinary virtues of
order, economy, and
Parkman's style, then, has the solid merit of his characterization and his dramatic organization. It is rarely brilliant, but it enables him to show his nearly perfect mastery of his subject--to join precise fact and large narrative movement, conventional character and political analysis, individual experience and national traits, in a splendid construction that stands as the most admirable synthesis of all the romantic histories.