Page images

“Medical Substances discovered in America ;" and a narrative of the deeds and habits of the once formidable buccaneers, who infested the coast (and the traditions regarding whom gave the elder Dana a subject which he treated with effective interest in an elaborate poem), was published in 1685 : ten years later we find a catalogue of American plants; and the query of a native poet in enumerating the subjects of permanent curiosity as yet unsatisfied—“Did Israel's missing tribes find refuge here?”—was partially answered in 1651, by a treatise on “ The Jews in America." Numerous publications relating to the fisheries indicate at how early a date that branch of native economy assumed important relations in the eyes of Europeans, while such titles of current tracts as “ On the Scheme of Sending Bishops to America," and "The Present Disposition of English, Scots, and Irish to Emigrate" thither, suggest how early the national tendencies of the colonies were regarded as significant of future political results. In 1789, when their character and destiny had grown formidable and definite, more general speculations occupied British writers, and an essay of that year discusses the “Influence of the Discovery of America on the Happiness of Mankind.” Indeed, we have but to glance over any catalogue of publications relating to this country to perceive that the theme has afforded a convenient pretext, if not a special motive, to treat of almost every subject connected with political, religious, and social interests : printing, witchcraft, revivals, trade, currency, inoculation, meteors, unitarianism, and agriculture, alternate in the list with tracts on natural history, the fur trade, expeditions, and accounts of Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, French, and English settlements; until these brief and special gave place to more complex and generalized views, wherein America is “dissected by a divine," "compared with England," and made the subject of “summary views” and “surveys, “ sketches," "random shots,” “recollections," and criticism of all kinds and degrees of perspicacity and prejudice. It is seldom, even when such works had multiplied incalculably, that the authors write under a nom de plume ; but there are exceptions, as the Lettres Anonymous of “Rubio,” “J. M. B,” “A Citizen of Edinburgh,” “ A Rugbean," "New Englander,” “Southron,” “Yankee,” “Fur Trader,” etc.

To no single individual will the seeker for original memorials of American civilization, nationality, and development recognize higher obligations than to the venerable, assiduous, and disinterested Peter Force, of Washington, whose "National Calendar and Annals of the United States" (1820–'36), and whose “ Tracts and Papers, Relating to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, from the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1776” (1836-'46), are a mine of precious and peerless historical materials, as a glance at the contents of the collections and of those not yet published will satisfy the reader. It is true that most of these tracts and documents refer to matters of government, polity, and public events, and can be rarely classed under the literature of travel, yet many of them incidentally include its most desirable features, and some of them are descriptions,” “ relations," “ narratives,” and “accounts,” which, in their homely details and quaint sincerity, bring out the life, the manners, and the physical aspect of Georgia and Massachusetts, Maryland and Carolina, Virginia and New England, in the earliest colonial times, quite in the spirit of the old travellers. The enthusiasm and perseverance whereby was realized the great enterprise of collecting and preserving for future generations these inestimable memorials of the Past of America, are unprecedented in this country as an example of intelligent and self-devoted patriotism.*

* Quite an elaborate sketch of the “History of Discovery in America, from Columbus to Franklin,” has recently appeared in Germany, from the pen of that intelligent and indefatigable author of valuable books of travel, J. G. Kohl. The work is confessedly incomplete and somewhat desultory, but full of interesting facts and speculations. A translation, by Major R. R. Noel, was published in London early in the present year.

" American Archives : consisting of a collection of authentic records, state papers, debates, and letters and other notices of public affairs, the whole forming a Documentary History of the Origin and Progress of the North American Colonies ; of the causes and accomplishment of the American Revolution; and of the constitution of government for the United States to the final ratification thereof."




Long after the Crusades, a spirit of adventure and a love of travel animated men whom religious faith or ecclesiastical influence dedicated to the priesthood. That vocation presented the two extremes of contemplative and active life; and where the temperament and the enthusiasm or intelligent curiosity of the monk made him impatient of routine or a limited sphere, it was easy to become a missionary, and thus combine religious ministrations with the experience of travel. Accordingly, some of the earliest reports of the physical resources of the New World were made to the Old, by Catholic missionaries ostensibly braving its unexplored domain to win the aboriginal inhabitants to Christianity, but now often remembered chiefly as the pioneer writers of American travels. The avidity with which information in regard to this continent was sought in Europe, immediately antecedent and subsequent to its colonization the interest felt in the natural wonders and possible future of an immense, productive and uncivilized country--the arena it afforded to baffled enterprise, the asylum it promised to the persecuted, the resources it offered the poor—the conquest it invited from regal power and individual prowess—the vague charm with which it inspired the imaginative, and the fresh material it yielded so abundantly to the votaries of knowledge--all tended to make America and descriptions thereof alike attractive to prince and peasant, scholar, soldier, and citizen. Few, indeed, of the early missionaries possessed the requisite qualifications, either scientific or literary, to make what we should now consider desirable writers of books of travel. They either, through a large endowment of what phrenologists call the organ of wonder, exaggerated the natural features of the country, and gave fanciful instead of genuine pictures of what they saw; or, from lack of knowledge and imagination, confined themselves to a literal and limited recital of personal adventure, whence little practical information was to be derived. There is a singular union of extravagance and simplicity, of the fabulous and the true, of the boastful and the heroic, in these narratives. It must have required unusual discrimination on the part of readers in Europe, seeking facts, to disentangle the web of reality and fiction so often confusedly woven in such memoirs of travel. Yet some of them have proved invaluable to the historian of our own day, as the only known repertory of authentic statements as to the early productions, aspects, natives, explorations, and phenomena of parts of this continent: the integrity and patience of some of these missionary authors are apparent in their very style and method; and many of their assertions have been fully proved by subsequent observation and contemporary evidence. Still, there is no class of writings which must be interpreted with more careful reference to the character and motives of the writers, to. the state of scientific knowledge at the period, and to the spirit of the age. A certain credulity, the result of superstition, ignorance, and enthusiasm, was characteristic even of the enlightened class of explorers then and there; and, when motives of personal vanity, self-aggrandizement, or national rivalry were added to these normal defects, it is easy to imagine how few of the clerical raconteurs are to be considered satisfactory to a philosophic inquirer. On the other hand, the singleness of purpose, the sincere Christian zeal, the pure love of nature and of truth, and a certain heroic conscientiousness of purpose and of practice, make some of these missionary travels in America naïve, suggestive, and interesting. As representations of what certain parts of the country were two hundred years ago, of how nature looked, and what life was here and then, they afford us a contrast so vivid and surprising to the scene and the life of the present, that, on this account alone, no imaginative mind can revert to them without realizing anew the mysterious vicissitudes of time and place and the moral wonder involved in the settlement, growth, and present civilization of America.

Among the French missionaries whose travels on this continent attracted much attention in his own day, and, in ours, are regarded at once with curiosity and distrust, was Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan. He was a native of Holland, and born in the year 1640. Quite early in life the instinct of travel asserted itself; for, as one of that privileged mendicant fraternity whom every traveller has encountered in Sicily or Spain, he wandered asking alms through Italy and Germany. It was while thus following the vocation of a pious beggar at Calais and Dunkirk, that Hennepin's wandering passion became infected with that desire to cross the sea, which, sooner or later, seizes upon all instinctive vagabonds. He enlisted as a regimental chaplain, and in that capacity was present at the battle of Senef, between William of Orange and the Prince of Condé, in 1674. He had passed one year as preacher in Belgium ; and had been thence sent by his superior to Artois, and subsequently had the charge of a hospital for several months in Holland. Such was the early career of Father Hennepin, previous to entering upon his American mission. He was ordered to Canada in 1675, and embarked at Rochelle, with La Salle. Having preached a while at Quebec, he went, the following year, to the Indian mission at Frontenac; he afterward visited the Five Nations and the Dutch settlement at Albany, and returned to Quebec in 1678. When La Salle prepared to explore the Lakes, and despatched the Chevalier de Tonty and La Motte from Fort Frontenac to Niagara, to construct vessels, Hennepin was attached to the expedition; and, in 1677, passed through Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan, to the mouth of the St.

« PreviousContinue »