Sunday, November 11, 2012


The Nursling of Civilization

Francis Parkman (1823-1893), History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac, and the War of the North American Tribes against the English Colonies after the Conquest of Canada (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), pp. 142-143 (from Chapter V, footnote omitted:)
The nursling of civilization, placed in the midst of the forest, and abandoned to his own resources, is helpless as an infant. There is no clew to the labyrinth. Bewildered and amazed, he circles round and round in hopeless wanderings. Despair and famine make him their prey, and unless the birds of heaven minister to his wants, he dies in misery. Not so the practised woodsman. To him, the forest is a home. It yields him food, shelter, and raiment, and he threads its trackless depths with undeviating foot. To lure the game, to circumvent the lurking foe, to guide his course by the stars, the wind, the streams, or the trees,—such are the arts which the white man has learned from the red. Often, indeed, the pupil has outstripped his master. He can hunt as well; he can fight better; and yet there are niceties of the woodsman's craft in which the white man must yield the palm to his savage rival. Seldom can he boast, in equal measure, that subtlety of sense, more akin to the instinct of brutes than to human reason, which reads the signs of the forest as the scholar reads the printed page, to which the whistle of a bird can speak clearly as the tongue of man, and the rustle of a leaf give knowledge of life or death. With us the name of the savage is a byword of reproach. The Indian would look with equal scorn on those, who, buried in useless lore, are blind and deaf to the great world of nature.

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