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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sir Gilbert Parker (1862–1932)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
GILBERT PARKER belongs to the rising generation of novelists who seem inclined to depart from the morbid realism of certain jaundiced schools of modern writers, and to revive the tenets of Scott and Thackeray, of Cooper and Dickens. Through them the historical romance is being brought again into prominence. This form of fiction is well adapted for the exercise of Mr. Parker’s literary talent, which is objective and impersonal; and for the manifestation of his belief that men are primarily lovers and fighters, and that life itself revolves about the pivots of love and war. In all of his tales, whether historical or not, there is the element of strife, and the element of the strong human affections. He perceives that the dramatic possibilities of these two elements are endless. His historical novels, ‘The Trail of the Sword’ and ‘The Seats of the Mighty,’ are of the time of the French and Indian wars, and involve many incidents of that period. In them, as in all but the greatest novels of the same class, the delineation of character is somewhat subordinated to the development of the plot and the setting forth of the historical background; yet Mr. Parker is too much of an artist to be merely a good story-teller. For this reason he is most successful in writing of people with whom he has come into sympathetic contact, and of localities with which he is familiar. It is this intimacy which gives charm to his tales of modern Canadian life.  1
  He himself was born in Canada; his father being an English officer in the Artillery, who had come to the country with Sir John Colburn. From his childhood Mr. Parker was devoted to reading and study; and it may have been his early enthusiasm for Shakespeare which developed the strong dramatic quality discernible in his novels. His parents wishing him to enter the church, he began theological studies at the University of Toronto; he became a lecturer in Trinity College, and continued to hold this position until, his health failing, he was ordered to the South Sea. In Australia he resumed his lectures: the reputation gained by them influenced the editor of a Sydney newspaper to invite him to write a series of articles on his impressions of the country. From that time he gave himself up to literary work: his talents as a novelist could not long remain hidden. The editor of the London Illustrated News engaged him to write a serial story; he became known in England, and then in America,—the reading public recognizing him not only as a writer of strength and imagination, but as one whose genius had manifested itself most clearly in a new field. Mr. Parker is at his best in the stories published originally in various magazines, and now collected under the title ‘Pierre and His People.’ The scene of these tales is a country little known to the outside world,—that vast region extending from Quebec in the east to British Columbia in the west, and from the Cypress Hills in the south to the Coppermine River in the north; the great wilderness of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Living on the edges of this dimly known land from boyhood, its mystery and its romantic possibilities must have early impressed the creator of Pierre. In a prefatory note to the book he says:—

          “Until 1870 the Hudson’s Bay Company—first granted its charter by King Charles II.—practically ruled that vast region stretching from the fiftieth parallel of latitude to the Arctic Ocean: a handful of adventurous men intrenched in forts and posts, yet trading with, and most peacefully conquering, many savage tribes. Once the sole master of the North, the H. B. C. (as it is familiarly called) is reverenced by the Indians and half-breeds as much as, if not more than, the government established at Ottawa. It has had its forts within the Arctic Circle; it has successfully exploited a country larger than the United States. The Red River Valley, the Saskatchewan Valley, and British Columbia, are now belted by a great railway and given to the plow; but in the far north, life is much the same as it was a hundred years ago. There the trapper, clerk, trader, and factor are cast in the mold of another century, though possessing the acuter energies of this. The voyageur and coureur de bois still exist, though generally under less picturesque names.
  “The bare story of the hardy and wonderful career of the adventurers trading in Hudson’s Bay,—of whom Prince Rupert was once chiefest,—and the life of the prairies, may be found in histories and books of travel; but their romances, the near narratives of individual lives, have waited the telling. In this book I have tried to feel my way towards the heart of that life.”
  2
 
  Mr. Parker has been entirely successful in his endeavor. What Bret Harte did for the California of ’49 he has done for this region of the north, with its picturesque, heterogeneous population, and its untrammeled life. Pierre is a half-breed, a strange mixture of saint and savage, a wanderer over the purple stretches of the prairies, an incarnation indeed of the spirit of the region,—primitive, restless, bearing with ill grace the superimposed yoke of civilization. Pierre’s people are for the most part like him,—brothers and sisters to the sun and moon, to the wild mountains and the boundless plains. He moves in and out among them, participating more in the tragedies than in the comedies of their lives. Over all the stories of himself and his brethren there is the half-earthly light of romance, softening the records of bloodshed, giving a tenderer grace to wild loves, and a deeper pathos to obscure deaths; through them all sweeps the wind of the prairie itself, fresh, invigorating, laden with outdoor scents and with outdoor sounds. The refreshment of nature itself is part of the charm of these tales.  3
  In ‘When Valmond Came to Pontiac,’ a fascinating bit of comedy, Gilbert Parker has told the story of a lost Napoleon; a youth around whom clings the magic, elusive atmosphere of a great name and a great lost cause. The scent of the Imperial violets is always about him. He comes into the little Canadian village of Pontiac, and into the hearts of a simple people turning ever back to France, and to overwhelming traditions of the past. He dies at last for his ideal; not knowing that he is indeed what he personates, the son of the Napoleon of St. Helena.  4
  The other stories of Mr. Parker’s—‘Mrs. Facchion,’ ‘An Unpardonable Liar,’ ‘The Translation of a Savage,’ ‘An Unpardonable Sin,’ and ‘The Trespasser’—while not showing the power and originality of ‘Pierre’ and ‘Valmond,’ are yet well written, and wholesome in spirit. Their author deserves no little commendation for adhering to an ideal of beautiful and vigorous romance, in an age of literature which has confounded the work of the scavenger with realistic treatment.  5
  Of late years Sir Gilbert has devoted himself largely to politics, and has been distinguished as an ardent imperialist. He has been a member of Parliament since 1900, and was knighted in 1902. Although he has kept up his literary work, his recent novels can scarcely be ranked with his early Canadian stories. Among his later books are: ‘The Battle of the Strong’ (1898), ‘The Right of Way’ (1901), ‘The Weavers’ (1907), and ‘Northern Lights’ (1909).  6
 
 
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