Montcalm and Wolfe: The Riveting Story of the Heroes of the French and Indian Warby Francis Parkman
The result of over forty years of passionate research, Montcalm and Wolfe is the epic story of Europe's struggle for dominance of the New World. Centuries of rivalry and greed between the great imperial powers culminated in five brutal years of war; resulted in the death of both generals, Louis de Montcalm and James Wolfe; and ultimately sowed the seeds of the American Revolution, fought a scant seventeen years later. A brilliant work of scholarship as well as a riveting read, Montcalm and Wolfe was thought by many, including the author, to be Parkman's greatest work. It is an essential part of any military history collection. The books in the Modern Library War series have been chosen by series
editor Caleb Carr according to the significance of their subject matter, their contribution to the field of military history, and their literary merit.
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The latter half of the reign of George II. was one of the most prosaic periods in English history. The civil wars and the Restoration had had their enthusiasms, religion and liberty on one side, and loyalty on the other; but the old fires declined when William III. came to the throne, and died to ashes under the House of Hanover. Loyalty lost half its inspiration when it lost the tenet of the divine right of kings; and nobody could now hold that tenet with any consistency except the defeated and despairing Jacobites. Nor had anybody as yet proclaimed the rival dogma of the divine right of the people. The reigning monarch held his crown neither of God nor of the nation, but of a parliament controlled by a ruling class. The Whig aristocracy had done a priceless service to English liberty. It was full of political capacity, and by no means void of patriotism; but it was only a part of the national life. Nor was it at present moved by political emotions in any high sense. It had done its great work when it expelled the Stuarts and placed William of Orange on the throne; its ascendency was now complete. The Stuarts had received their death-blow at Culloden; and nothing was left to the dominant party but to dispute on subordinate questions, and contend for office among themselves. The Tory squires sulked in their country-houses, hunted foxes, and grumbled against the reigning dynasty; yet hardly wished to see the nation convulsed by a counter-revolution and another return of the Stuarts.
If politics had run to commonplace, so had morals; and so too had religion. Despondent writers of the day even complained that British courage had died out. There was little sign to the common eye that under a dull and languid surface, forces were at work preparing a new life, material, moral, and intellectual. As yet, Whitefield and Wesley had not wakened the drowsy conscience of the nation, nor the voice of William Pitt roused it like a trumpet-peal.
It was the unwashed and unsavory England of Hogarth, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne; of Tom Jones, Squire Western, Lady Bellaston, and Parson Adams; of the 'Rake's Progress' and 'Marriage à la Mode'; of the lords and ladies who yet live in the undying gossip of Horace Walpole, be-powdered, be-patched, and be-rouged, flirting at masked balls, playing cards till daylight, retailing scandal, and exchanging double meanings. Beau Nash reigned king over the gaming-tables of Bath; the ostrich-plumes of great ladies mingled with the peacock-feathers of courtesans in the rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens; and young lords in velvet suits and embroidered ruffles played away their patrimony at White's Chocolate-House or Arthur's Club. Vice was bolder than to-day, and manners more courtly, perhaps, but far more coarse.
The humbler clergy were thought--sometimes with reason--to be no fit company for gentlemen, and country parsons drank their ale in the squire's kitchen. The passenger-wagon spent the better part of a fortnight in creeping from London to York. Travellers carried pistols against footpads and mounted highwaymen. Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard were popular heroes. Tyburn counted its victims by scores; and as yet no Howard had appeared to reform the inhuman abominations of the prisons.
The middle class, though fast rising in importance, was feebly and imperfectly represented in parliament. The boroughs were controlled by the nobility and gentry, or by corporations open to influence or bribery. Parliamentary corruption had been reduced to a system; and offices, sinecures, pensions, and gifts of money were freely used to keep ministers in power. The great offices of state were held by men sometimes of high ability, but of whom not a few divided their lives among politics, cards, wine, horse-racing, and women, till time and the gout sent them to the waters of Bath. The dull, pompous, and irascible old King had two ruling passions,--money, and his Continental dominions of Hanover. His elder son, the Prince of Wales, was a centre of opposition to him. His younger son, the Duke of Cumberland, a character far more pronounced and vigorous, had won the day at Culloden, and lost it at Fontenoy; but whether victor or vanquished, had shown the same vehement bull-headed courage, of late a little subdued by fast growing corpulency. The Duke of Newcastle, the head of the government, had gained power and kept it by his rank and connections, his wealth, his county influence, his control of boroughs, and the extraordinary assiduity and devotion with which he practised the arts of corruption. Henry Fox, grasping, unscrupulous, with powerful talents, a warm friend after his fashion, and a most indulgent father; Carteret, with his strong, versatile intellect and jovial intrepidity; the two Townshends, Mansfield, Halifax, and Chesterfield,--were conspicuous figures in the politics of the time. One man towered above them all. Pitt had many enemies and many critics. They called him ambitious, audacious, arrogant, theatrical, pompous, domineering; but what he has left for posterity is a loftiness of soul, undaunted courage, fiery and passionate eloquence, proud incorruptibility, domestic virtues rare in his day, unbounded faith in the cause for which he stood, and abilities which without wealth or strong connections were destined to place him on the height of power. The middle class, as yet almost voiceless, looked to him as its champion; but he was not the champion of a class. His patriotism was as comprehensive as it was haughty and unbending. He lived for England, loved her with intense devotion, knew her, believed in her, and made her greatness his own; or rather, he was himself England incarnate.
The nation was not then in fighting equipment. After the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the army within the three kingdoms had been reduced to about eighteen thousand men. Added to these were the garrisons of Minorca and Gibraltar, and six or seven independent companies in the American colonies. Of sailors, less than seventeen thousand were left in the Royal Navy. Such was the condition of England on the eve of one of the most formidable wars in which she was ever engaged.
Meet the Author
Francis Parkman, whose epic seven-volume study, France and England in North America, established him as one of this country's greatest historians, was born in Boston on September 16, 1823. His father was a prominent minister and the son of a wealthy merchant; his mother was descended from Reverend John Cotton, the famous New England Congregationalist. Frail health compelled Parkman to spend his early childhood on a farm in neighboring Medford, where he came to love outdoor life. After attending the Chauncy Hall School in Boston he entered Harvard in 1840. Under the influence of Jared Sparks, the college's first professor of modern history, the eighteen-year-old sophomore initially envisioned his monumental account of the conquest of North America. 'My theme fascinated me, and I was haunted with wilderness images day and night,' recalled Parkman, who visited many of the battlefields of the French and Indian Wars during summer holidays. Though illness forced him to temporarily abandon his studies, he earned an undergraduate degree in 1844, with highest honors in history as well as election to Phi Beta Kappa, and completed Harvard Law School two years later.
In the spring of 1846 Parkman set out with his cousin Quincy Adams Shaw on a strenuous five-month expedition to the Far West. Shortly after returning to Boston he suffered a complete nervous and physical collapse and remained a partial invalid for the remainder of his life. While recuperating he dictated The California and Oregon Trail (1849), a gripping account of his wilderness adventures. Subsequently reissued as The Oregon Trail, the perennially popular travelogue was praised by Herman Melville and later hailed by Bernard DeVoto as 'one of the exuberant masterpieces of American literature.' Still battling severe headaches and partial blindness, Parkman finished History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851), a prelude to his epic lifework. Over the next decade recurring neurological problems impeded progress on France and England in North America, but he managed to write Vassall Morton (1856), a semiautobiographical novel, and The Book of Roses (1866), a study of horticulture.
Pioneers of France in the New World, the first volume of Parkman's monumental account of the struggle between England and France for dominance of North America, was published in 1865. 'Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts,' wrote Parkman in his Preface to Pioneers. 'The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time.' He expanded his dramatic 'history of the American forest' with The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (1867), The Discovery of the Great West (1869), The Old Régime in Canada (1874), and Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV (1877). 'Like fellow historians of the Romantic school, Parkman believed that the re-creation of the past demanded imaginative and literary art,' observed historian C. Vann Woodward. 'He looked to such writers as Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper and Lord Byron more than to historians for inspiration in his narrative style.'
Fearing he might not live to complete his vast work, Parkman next wrote Montcalm and Wolfe (1884), the climactic final volume of France and England in North America. 'I suppose that every American who cares at all for the history of his own country feels a certain personal pride in your work,' Theodore Roosevelt wrote Parkman. Henry Adams said Montcalm and Wolfe put Parkman 'in the front rank of living English historians,' and Henry James called it 'truly a noble book [that] has fascinated me from the first page to the last.' Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., stated: 'Montcalm and Wolfe--the tale of how half the continent changed hands on the Plains of Abraham before Quebec--is romantic history at its most vivid and compelling.' A Half-Century of Conflict, the sixth volume in the series, appeared in 1892, a year before Francis Parkman's death in Boston on November 8, 1893. Two works culled from his papers were published posthumously: The Journals of Francis Parkman (1947) and Letters of Francis Parkman (1960).
'In the tradition of Gibbon and Prescott, Parkman's achievement was seeing the human and the personal in the great movements of history,' wrote Daniel J. Boorstin. 'Just as Gibbon had been engaged by the spectacle of Roman grandeur in decline, and Prescott by a new Spanish empire in creation, Parkman was entranced by the wilderness struggles of France and England in North America in the making of a new freer world.' And Edmund Wilson observed: 'The genius of Parkman is shown not only in his disciplined, dynamic prose but in his avoidance of generalizations, his economizing of abstract analysis, his sticking to concrete events. Each incident, each episode is different, each is particularized, each is presented, when possible, in sharply realistic detail, no matter how absurd or how homely, in terms of its human participants, its local background, and its seasonal conditions. . . . He had a special sensitivity to landscape and terrain, a kind of genius unequalled, so far as I know, on the part of any other important historian, without which such a story could hardly have been told. . . . The clarity, the momentum, and the color of the first volumes of Parkman's narrative are among the most brilliant achievements of the writing of history as an art.'
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