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Champlain's Dream (2008)

por David Hackett Fischer

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Traces the story of Quebec's founder while explaining his influential perspectives about peaceful colonialism, in a profile that also evaluates his contributions as a soldier, mariner, and cultural diplomat.
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What I particularly enjoy about David Hackett Fischer’s books is that he is a practitioner of what I like to call “thick history”. On the one hand, he is a throwback to older generations of historians who wrote history as the acts of remarkable individuals – heroes. The Samuel de Champlain who emerges from the pages of this book is definitely that. At the same time, Fischer is informed by the broad range of developments in the practice and writing of history that emerged during the course of the twentieth century: the new social history, ethnography, economic history, and so on. Whatever his topic, he has an eye for the role of folkways, of speech patterns, and styles of architecture in recovering the past. On top of this, he is unabashed in his devotion to what some feel is an irreconcilable pair of opposites, “the study of the past on its own terms and at the same time [to] link it with the present” (p. 567).
The “dream” at the core of this book is Champlain’s humanistic vision of a world of tolerance and cooperation in the North American forest, as different as possible from the world of cruelty and religious intolerance into which he was born in France. An early assignment as an intelligence agent (= “spy”) in New Spain showed him one possible way of dealing with the native populations of the western hemisphere, and it appalled him. From his first voyage along the St. Lawrence River, his approach was unusual. He was vitally interested in the native population. While there were aspects of their lives that met with his disapproval, there was much more that he found to admire. In return, the natives experienced in Champlain a man unlike many of those they would encounter: a man who listened, who sought to understand, and one who kept his word. He was not the only one, but there were too few like him.
There is a sense of tragedy in the account, not only in the tale of a man whose devotion to his goal and his manifold skills in pursuing it enabled him to overcome many obstacles and reversals, both in the New World and back home in the Old. More than that, there is the sense of a missed opportunity, a sense that Champlain’s dream died with him. Yet this reader was left wondering what chance the dream had of fulfilment. Champlain avoided violence against the native inhabitants, certainly laudable, yet the diseases carried by the settlers he imported proved as deadly as any weapons he could have wielded. He had the fortune of dying of a stroke before epidemics ravaged the Huron nation. What were the real prospects for the achievement of his dream, even had his masters back home, Louis XIII and Richelieu, subscribed to it? Of course we cannot know. Nevertheless it remains incontestable that Champlain accomplished much; more important than the amount of his achievement or its permanence, however, was the way he achieved what he did. The age in which he lived would have made it easier for him to act very differently than he did – less honorably, less peaceably, less tolerantly. What I felt ennobling in reading this book was that, by doing things in the way he did, Champlain met with more success than those who employed more conventional methods.
Symptomatic of the thoroughness of Fischer’s approach is a section he wedges between the final chapter of his text and the sixteen appendices that follow, entitled Memories of Champlain. In it, he surveys the historiography of Champlain over four centuries. He shows a virtuostic mastery of the material; more than that, a magnanimous spirit that values the achievement of various schools and tendencies, even those with which he disagrees. In this way, Fischer is not unlike Champlain.
Highly recommended. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
I haven't read any other biographies of Champlain, perhaps the author is retreading well trod ground, but he does an admirable job of showing Champlain's outstanding, even heroic character: his long separation from wife and family, his devotion to king and country despite his religious differences, his compassion over the condition of the native people he encountered that could easily have turned into prejudice and intolerance. The author also puts Champlain into context with the other Frenchmen who have entered the historical record of North American exploration. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
Terrific read on an historical person.
  AxcellaZed | Jul 17, 2020 |
A vivid portrayal of this time, I felt like I was with the explorers seeing North America wilderness for the first time, meeting tribes of Indians. And meeting this extraordinary man who brought it aĺl off. ( )
  charlie68 | Mar 19, 2019 |
Fascinating ( )
1 vote ibkennedy | Jul 6, 2016 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 22 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
David Hackett Fischer has produced a dense, learned, and readable
tour de force. Through the life and activities of Samuel de Champlain
narrated in Champlain’s Dreams, Fischer has painted a detailed portrait
of an important i gure in the story of French colonization of North
America and who, Fischer believes, has important lessons to impart in
the complex times of the early twenty-i rst century.
 
Dans cet imposant ouvrage, David Hackett Fischer propose une biographie de Samuel de Champlain (vers 1570–1635), certainement la plus complète à ce jour. Le Rêve de Champlain porte évidemment sur ce grand navigateur et explorateur, le fondateur de la ville de Québec, qui a fêté son 400e anniversaire en 2008.
adicionada por Serviette | editarHistoire Canada, Peter Goddard (Jan 3, 2013)
 
Il faut mettre d'autres bémols. Le Champlain présenté comme un «humaniste» avant-gardiste en sol nord-américain, comme un fondateur «tolérant» envers les Français protestants et les cultures et croyances des Amérindiens, ne concorde pas bien avec le discours offert dans ses écrits.
(....)
En un mot, disons que le travail de recherche et de documentation accompli par David Hackett Fischer est colossal.
adicionada por Serviette | editarLe Devoir, Mathieu D'Avignon (Apr 17, 2011)
 
Champlain's Dream is history in the grand style, a blend of the old-style narrative about great men and amazing deeds, and the newer contextual narratives of race, social currents, and localities - or what Prof. Fischer in conversation in Ottawa yesterday called the "third way" in history.
 
Fischer responds to this challenge the way any careful researcher would. He scours the record, archaeological as well as historical, to find out what we can reliably conclude, and then fills in the holes with some informed speculation. Because he is a rigorous historian, not a historical novelist, he is always scrupulous about drawing a firm line between facts and inferences, and he presents a wide variety of views. He even includes appendixes to examine competing theories about Champlain’s birth date, the scene of some of his most famous victories, the accuracy of his published writings and other matters of dispute.
adicionada por Serviette | editarNew York Times, Max Boot (Oct 31, 2008)
 
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To my father, John Henry Fischer, on his 98th birthday. For the continuing gift of his wisdom and judgment.
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Champlain told them he wanted to visit another nation called the Nebicerini (or Nipissing) who lived on today’s Lake Nipissing, and asked for the use of four canoes. The island Indians said the Nebicerini were a nation of wizards who killed people with magic, and Chaplain would not be safe among them. Champlain persisted, pointing to his interpreter and saying that Nicolas de Vignau had been there.
To his amazement the Indians responded with an explosion of anger. Tesouat called Vignau a liar to his face and said, “If you visited those tribes it was in your sleep, and every night you slept beside me and my children.” They refused to allow Champlain to go farther, allegedly for his own protection, and offered to deal with Vignau themselves. “Give him to us,” Tessouat said, “and we promise he will tell no more lies.” Champlain protected Vignau, gave up his plan to go farther, and prepared to return south. Before he left, Champlain erected a cross of white cedar with the arms of France and asked the Algonquin to protect it. On June 10, he started home again with an escort of Tessouat and his sons and warriors, who were suddenly friendly again. One suspects that the Indians were protecting the sources of their fur trade, much as other nations had done. Champlain was careful not to challenge them.
On June 17, he and his party were back at the falls near Montreal. Champlain confronted Vignau and demanded an explanation. The young Frenchman confessed that he had never been to the northern sea, and had lied about it so that he would be taken back. He asked Champlain “to leave him in the country among the Indians.” Champlain asked some of the Indians to take him in, but wrote that “none of the Indians would have him, in spite of my request, and we left him in God’s keeping.” Vignau walked off into the forest, and Champlain never saw him again. Perhaps he formed a union with an Indian woman, or possibly he became a solitary trader. He may have been killed by the Indians, who hated a liar more than a murderer. His fate is unknown.
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Traces the story of Quebec's founder while explaining his influential perspectives about peaceful colonialism, in a profile that also evaluates his contributions as a soldier, mariner, and cultural diplomat.

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