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Nick of the Woods   By: (1806-1854)

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NICK OF THE WOODS

Or, Adventures of Prairie Life

by

ROBERT M. BIRD, M.D.

Unenlightened man A savage, roaming through the woods and wilds In quest of prey, and with th' unfashiomed fur Bough clad.

THOMPSON.

PREFACE.

At the period when "Nick of the Woods" was written, the genius of Chateaubriand and of Cooper had thrown a poetical illusion over the Indian character; and the red men were presented almost stereotyped in the popular mind as the embodiments of grand and tender sentiment a new style of the beau ideal brave, gentle, loving, refined, honourable, romantic personages nature's nobles, the chivalry of the forest. It may be submitted that such are not the lineaments of the race that they never were the lineaments of any race existing in an uncivilised state indeed, could not be and that such conceptions as Atala and Uncas are beautiful unrealities and fictions merely, as imaginary and contrary to nature as the shepherd swains of the old pastoral school of rhyme and romance; at all events, that one does not find beings of this class, or any thing in the slightest degree resembling them, among the tribes now known to travellers and legislators. The Indian is doubtless a gentleman; but he is a gentleman who wears a very dirty shirt, and lives a very miserable life, having nothing to employ him or keep him alive except the pleasures of the chase and of the scalp hunt which we dignify with the name of war. The writer differed from his critical friends, and from many philanthropists, in believing the Indian to be capable perfectly capable, where restraint assists the work of friendly instruction of civilisation: the Choctaws and Cherokees, and the ancient Mexicans and Peruvians, prove it; but, in his natural barbaric state, he is a barbarian and it is not possible he could be anything else. The purposes of the author, in his book, confined him to real Indians. He drew them as, in his judgment, they existed and as, according to all observation, they still exist wherever not softened by cultivation, ignorant, violent, debased, brutal; he drew them, too, as they appeared, and still appear, in war or the scalp hunt when all the worst deformities of the savage temperament receive their strongest and fiercest development.

Having, therefore, no other, and certainly no worse, desire than to make his delineations in this regard as correct and true to nature as he could, it was with no little surprise he found himself taken to account by some of the critical gentry, on the charge of entertaining the humane design of influencing the passions of his countrymen against the remnant of an unfortunate race, with a view of excusing the wrongs done to it by the whites, if not of actually hastening the period of that "final destruction" which it pleases so many men, against all probability, if not against all possibility, to predict as a certain future event. Had the accusation been confined to the reviewers, he might not, perhaps, have thought it safe to complain; but currency was given to it in a quarter which renders a disclaimer the more reasonable or the less presumptuous. One may contend with a brother author who dares not resist the verdict of the critics. In the English edition of the novel, published at the same time as the American, in a preface furnished by Mr. Ainsworth, the distinguished author of "Rookwood," "Crichton," &c. &c., to whom he is indebted for many polite and obliging expressions respecting it, it is hinted, hypothetically, that the writer's views were "coloured by national antipathy, and by a desire to justify the encroachments of his countrymen upon the persecuted natives, rather than by a reasonable estimate of the subject." The accused notices this fancy, however injurious he first felt it to be, less to refute than to smile at it. He prefers to make a more philosophic and practical application. The real inference to be drawn is, that he has succeeded very ill in this, somewhat essential, portion of his plan, on the principle that the composition must be amiss, the design of which is so readily misapprehended... Continue reading book >>




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