A few months ago I listened to a talk by David Hackett Fischer about his book Champlain’s Dream. In the question period I asked him for advice about how to become a better amateur historian. I blogged about his answer here. Fischer quoted Francis Parkman who said that in studying history one should “First, go there! Do it! Then write it!”
I just finished reading Fischer’s book Champlain’s Dream about the French explorer and the founder of new France Samuel Champlain. Fischer spends his summers in part of the area that Champlain explored. This sparked his interest in Champlain and the writing of this Champlain biography.
To quote Professor Fischer “Champlain’s greatest achievement was not his career as an explorer, or his success as a founder of colonies. His largest contribution was the success of his principled leadership in the cause of humanity. That is what made him a world figure in modern history. It is his legacy to us all.”
I found Champlain’s interactions and relationships with the Indians fascinating. Today one tends to assume that all Europeans conquered the Indians and were constantly taking advantage or them or fighting them. Just the opposite is the case with Champlain.
“Many stories have been told about first encounters between American Indians and Europeans. Few of them are about harmony and peace. The more one reads of these accounts, the more one learns that something extraordinary happened in New France during the early seventeenth century ”
“Samuel de Champlain was able to maintain close relations with many Indian nations while he founded permanent European colonies in the new world. He lived among the Indians and spent much of his time with them, while he also helped to establish three francophone populations and cultures—Québécois, Acadien, and Métis.”
“More young lads were exchanged by the French and the Algonquin, so as to learn each other’s customs.”
One downside of reading a book like Champlain’s Dream on the Kindle is that the pictures are very small. I just discovered that by downloading Kindle for PC I can see the pictures in a larger size.
Champlain’s Dream is the third Biography of a French person that I have read in the past year or so. Coincidentally they have given me a overview of French history from the early 1500’s to the mid 1800’s.
Catherine de Medici – Renaissance Queen of France lived from 1519 to 1589.
When she died Henry IV was King of France. Fischer makes a strong case for the hypothesis that Champlain was an illegitimate son of Henry. Champlain lived from about 1580 to 1635
The third French biography I read this year was Dancing to the Precipice by Caroline Moorehead. It is the biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin who lived from 1770 to 1853.
Reading biography is a fascinating way to learn about history.
Champlain’s Dream struck me as a primer for future Champlain scholars. 55% of Fischer’s book is his detailed biography of Champlain. Champlain’s Dream also includes an essay titled Memories of Champlain Images and Interpretations 1608-2008. I found it thought provoking to see how historians’ interpretation of Champlain has changed in the last 400 years.
In addition Champlain’s Dream includes several essays that discuss everything from Champlain’s money to Champlain’s Favored Firearm: The Arquebuse a Rouet. The notes and bibliography are of course extensive. They complete the book.
Professor Fischer practiced what he preaches in writing Champlain’s Dream. He makes me want to explore the places Champlain explored.To Parkman’s original words “First, go there! Do it! Then write it!” David Hackett Fischer has with this book added – and Inspire others to do the same!.