Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets



Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


Review of The Algonquin Legends of New England*


The Algonquin Legends of New England,* by Charles G. Leland, is a volume of Myths and Folk Lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Indians. The author began, in 1882, to collect their traditions from the Indians at Campobello, expecting to find very little indeed. "What was my amazement however, he says, at discovering, day by day, that there existed among them, entirely by oral tradition, a far grander mythology than that which has been made known to us by either the Chippewa or Iroquois Hiawatha Legends, and that this was illustrated by an incredible number of tales. The old people declared that they had heard from their progenitors that all of these stories were once sung; that they themselves remembered when many of them were poems. I came in time to the opinion that the original stock of all the Algonquin myths, and perhaps many more, still existed not far away in the west, but at our very doors; that is to say, in Maine and New Brunswick. It is at least certain, as the reader may convince himself, that the Wabanaki, or Northeastern Algonquin, legends give with few exceptions, in full and coherently, many tales which have only reached us in a broken, imperfect form from other sources." All of these tales are gathered directly from Indians by Mr. Leland himself, or some few friends, among whom he mentions Mr. E. Jack, of Fredericton, and Rev. S.T. Rand, of Hantsport, N.S. The book is illustrated from designs scraped upon birch-bark by an Indian. Mr. Leland's work on the Gypsies is the best and fullest account of them ever written and would have been a sufficient guarantee for the care and accuracy of the present work. The very difficult task of reducing a confused mass of tradition, taken down from the lips of old Indians, into something like intelligible form, has been admirably performed. And, without attempting to construct any theory of comparative philology or ethonology, a useful and very important work has been accomplished. How careful and jealous we should be of all this Indian mythology and legend, the greatest Past our land can have and how prodigal and Goth-like have we been! Of a race that once was the proud and wild possessor of all these beautiful rivers and hills, rapids and meadowlands, only a few poor creatures remain, the butt of our ridicule and scorn. Their inheritance has passed to others, and their legends, stories and myths of history and religion are fading from the minds of those whose dream children they once were. Our interest in the Indians, and our own land, should be deepened and our sympathy strengthened, by reading Mr. Leland's book. He has worked with diligent care, and arranged his confusing material with a clearness worthy of all praise; more than all, he has come very near the Indian life, as near as we can come, not by imaginative invention, or falsely colored pictures, but simply by working thoroughly, and in a scholarly way, to recover and preserve what still remains of the lost and forgotten lore and song of the greatest of the Indian tribes: the Wabanaki, dwellers near to the rising sun.

* Sent, postage free, by the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Park Street, Boston, on receipt of the price, $2. [back]

Rev. of The Algonquin Legends of New England, University Monthly, Nov. 1884 [back]