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bdNM
Posts: 470
Registered: ‎11-22-2006

Some notes from a contemporary review...

I happened to come upon a review of The Song of Hiawatha by a contemporary of Longfellow.  The review came out in Jan. 1856  (in The North American Review) and was written by Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian minister, who is best known for his story, "The Man Without a Country."  Of course, Hale loved the work -- Longfellow was a a fellow Massachusettan -- they both have a connection with Harvard.  The review, though, is most notable for what would now be seen as its tone deafness in matters of cultural sensitivity.  Here are some quotes:

"We do not believe that a series of Indian legends should be written in the state or dignity of Paradise Lost, nor do we believe that they should have been wrought into an epic, because other countries and times have loved epics, nor into a string of rhymed ballads, bcause other countries and times have loved such.  The essential characteristic of Indian life, and so of Indian literature, is that it is childlike (my emphasis)... There is nothing "Runic" about him.  There is nothing of "Romance" about him.  There is nothing "Classical" about him.  He cannot graduate at a classical college.  He cannot fight in an English regiment.  He cannot make his bow at a French court.  And for all these reasons, he cannot be sung about in an epic poem."

 

He notes that the work, made up of legends, not myths have been selected by Mr. Longfellow, "with the happiest taste," and that those chosen will become well known to all and sundry and so will live on. 

 

Rev. Hale concludes "In short, Hiawatha is the first permanent contribution to the world's belles-lettres made from Indian authorities." 

 

Earlier in the review, he notes that there is "enough of the native element to induce a thorough 'ugh' of satisfaction."

 

Yipes!  I'm not surprised that he liked the poem quite so much, but find his sense of the superiority of European letters a bit disconcerting (though not, I imagine, unusual in that day).

 

Dignity, always dignity.
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Peppermill
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Re: Some notes from a contemporary review...

[ Edited ]

Bernard -- thanks for your post with Hale's review of Hiawatha.   Sometimes only time shows so vividly and so sadly the (sin of) pride in our human stances!

 

I am having trouble just catching up with the reading I need to do and haven't gone looking for any reviews.  I would be curious what more recent commentators have to say about the authenticity of the legends Longfellow records.  I have long been of the opinion that Longfellow's scholarship on the subject was subsequently viewed as not up to modern standards, but I couldn't substantiate view that without research.

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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bdNM
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Registered: ‎11-22-2006
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Re: Some notes from a contemporary review...

I will have a posting on a more scholarly review by Stith Thompson done in the 1920s.  Stith Thompson is most famous for cataloging the various motifs of folk tales (e.g. using breadcrumbs as a trail marker;  traveling to the Underworld to get something).  There are two things that I remember from the review:

1) Longfellow gets the name wrong -- the figure whose stories he's telling are those of Manabozho, a trickster figure.  Somewhere, Longfellow got the idea that another name for Manabozho was Hiawatha, and he went with it (probably because it was easier to say, sounded more musical, or something like that).  And he confuses the figure of his stories a bit with an historical figure, Hiawatha, who was a major figure in the Iroquois Confederacy, which brought tribes together and away from civil war and strife.

2) Longfellow removes the trickster characteristics of the story, though they are a big part of the legends.  It seems he felt that they were unseemly and left them out for those reasons.  In this connection I have a story to tell.  I used to live in Syracuse, NY and was part of a storytelling group there.  Every month, we'd have a featured teller who would tell for about an hour.  As Syracuse is close to the Onondaga Reservation, we had an Onondaga teller come to present.  One of our tellers was a big, blustery sort of guy who often said the wrong thing.  He chose to tell a Native American trickster story, and he played it for all the laughs.  The rest of  us were horrified because we felt that our guest might take offense at a non-native teller telling the story, and because of the buffoonish way he told the story.  Later, when we debriefed with the teller -- the part of the evening she liked the most was this guy's buffoonish tale.  Shows you where political correctness can get you sometimes.

3) Longfellow builds the romantic aspect of the hero, and this is something apparently alien to the native stories.   

Thompson said that all of Longfellow's errors were not his, but came from his source material, that of a guy named Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.  My reading of Thompson's review was that he felt that Longfellow had made some inadvertent errors in following Schoolcraft, but his political correctness and his desire for romance were very significant authorial alterations of the source material, creating a work that was inauthentic.

Dignity, always dignity.
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Peppermill
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Re: A Key Source for the Legends in Hiawatha

Those of you following Hiawatha's tales may find this article on Henry Schoolcraft and his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft of interest:

 

New book pays homage to long-neglected American Indian author

 

As so much revisionist history makes clear, sources and original work have often been claimed by those with the resources and skills to make societal and economic use of them.

 

 

 

Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, by Robert Dale Parker (Editor)

 

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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bdNM
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Re: A Key Source for the Legends in Hiawatha

Peppermill wrote:

Those of you following Hiawatha's tales may find this article on Henry Schoolcraft and his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft of interest:

 

New book pays homage to long-neglected American Indian author

 

As so much revisionist history makes clear, sources and original work have often been claimed by those with the resources and skills to make societal and economic use of them.

 

 

 

Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, by Robert Dale Parker (Editor)

 

Makes me wanna punch out Henry -- sounds a lot like what I've heard about Wordsworth -- that his sister may be more than 50% responsible for his poetic output, but got no credit (other than being a loving sister) during their lives, or for a long time afterwards. 

Dignity, always dignity.