Aboriginal American Authors

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Excerpt Introductory. When even a quite intelligent person hears about "Aboriginal American Literature," he is very excusable for asking: What is meant by the term? Where is this literature? In fine, Is there any such thing? To answer such inquiries, I propose to treat, with as much brevity as practicable, of the literary efforts of the aborigines of this continent, a chapter in the general History of Literature hitherto wholly neglected. Indeed, it will be a surprise to many to learn that any members of these rude tribes have manifested either taste or talent for scholarly productions. All alike have been regarded as savages, capable, at best, of but the most limited culture. Such an opinion has been fostered by prejudices of race, by the jealousy of castes, and in our own day by preconceived theories of evolution. That it is erroneous, can, I think, be easily shown. Let us first inquire into the existence of             § 2. The Literary Faculty in the Native Mind. This faculty is indicated by a vivid imagination, a love of narration, and an ample, appropriate, and logically developed vocabulary. That, as a race, the aborigines of America possessed these qualifications to a remarkable degree, is attested by many witnesses who have lived intimately among them; and is only denied by those whose acquaintance with them has been superficial, or derived from second-hand and doubtful sources. The red man peoples air, earth, and the waters with countless creatures of his fancy; his expressions are figurative and metaphorical; he is quick to seize analogies; and when he cannot explain he is ever ready to invent. This is shown in his inappeasable love of story telling. As a raconteur he is untiring. He has, in the highest degree, Goethe's Lust zu fabuliren. In no Oriental city does the teller of strange tales find a more willing audience than in the Indian wigwam. The folk lore of every tribe which has been properly investigated has turned out to be most ample. Tales of talking animals, of mythical warriors, of giants, dwarfs, subtle women, potent magicians, impossible adventures, abound to an extent that defies collection.[] Nor are these narratives repeated in a slip-shod, negligent style. The hearers permit no such carelessness. They are sticklers for nicety of expression; for clear and well turned periods; for vivid and accurate description; for flowing and sonorous sentences. As a rule, their languages lend themselves readily to these demands. It is a singular error, due wholly to ignorance of the subject, to maintain that the American tongues are cramped in their vocabularies, or that their syntax does not permit them to define the more delicate relationships of ideas. Nor is it less a mistake to assert, as has been done repeatedly, and even by authorities of eminence in our own day, that they are not capable of supplying the expressions of abstract reasonings. Although pure abstractions were rarely objects of interest to these children of nature, many, if not most, of their tongues favor the formation of expressions which are as thoroughly transcendental as any to be found in the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft.[] Their literary faculty is further demonstrated in the copiousness of their vocabularies, their rare facility of expression, and their natural aptitude for the acquisition of other languages....
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