Page images
PDF
EPUB

time adventurers, are the letters and “relations” of the Jesuit missionaries. Often when a band of hunters or company

of early colonists penetrated to a region of the wilderness. as they imagined, unvisited before by any human being except the savage natives, the sight of some relic or token of these religious pioneers brought into immediate contrast the most hallowed associations of the Old World and the virgin wilderness of the New. Sometimes an old aboriginal guide repeated to the astonished strangers what had been whispered in his ear when, as a child, he played around the council fire or the wigwam, of kind and wise men, robed in black, who talked to the children of the forest, of heaven, prayed over their dead, and baptized their maidens. On other occasions, amid the mossy coverings of ancient trees, the curious explorer would find rudely carved the effigies or escutcheon of the French king : bere a broken cross, there a respected grave, now a ruined chapel, and again a censer or sacramental cup, even in the heart of the woods revived to the exiles the images, sacrifices, and triumphs of these indomitable members of the Society of Jesus : some of their names are perpetuated in those of towns now flourishing on the site of their apostleship or martyrdom; others are only preserved on a page of history seldom consulted. Poets and novelists, historians and artists have, from time to time, renewed the pious traditions and isolated lives of these remarkable men; but few of the summer tourists who gaze with delight upon the umbrageous islands of the St. Lawrence, or stand entranced amid the foaming rapids of St. Anthony, or watch with rapture the undulating sea of herbage and flowers on a blooming prairie of Illinois or Missouri, associate these characteristic aspects of nature with their first European explorers. Their, written memorials, however, aptly consecrate their experience: thereby we learn how cheerfully scholars, soldiers, and courtiers braved the privations and the cruelties incident to such heroic enterprises; we read the artless story of their ministry-how at times they feel rewarded for months of suffering by the saintly development of an Indian virgin, by the acquiescence of a tribe in the rites of Christianity, or by the amelioration in the habits and temper of these fierce children of nature, under the influence of consistent, humane, and holy examples and care. All the correspondence and reports of the Jesuit missionaries are interspersed with local descriptions, sometimes vivid and often so specific as to serve as data for naturalist and historian. The anecdotes of Indian character and of personal adventure also give a quaint zest to the story; and not unfrequently a deep pathos is imparted thereto by the fate of the writer-dying of hunger, at the stake, or by treachery-going forth on their perilous journeys from fort or settlement, conscious they may not hope to return-and yielding up their lives with the same intrepid zeal with which they bore the discouragements, exposure, ingratitude, and lonely struggles of missionary life in the wilderness. Jogues, Du Poisson, Souel, Brebeuf, Lallemand, Senat, La Chaise, Joliet, and Marquette, are names thus endeared and hallowed.

Among other episodes recorded in the letters of the Jesuit missionaries, which combine romantic with historical significance, are the accounts of the Iroquois martyrs, of Catherine, the saint of that tribe, of voyages up the Mississippi, of the massacre by the Natchez, of the mission to the Illinois, and of Montcalm's expedition to Fort George. Some of the letters written by the missionaries to their superiors and brethren in France contain the earliest descriptions of portions of States now constituting the most flourishing region in the West. In his account of a “Journey through Illinois and Michigan, in 1712," Father Marest writes: “Our Illinois dwell in a delightful country. There are great rivers, which water it, and vast and dense forests, with delightful prairies.” He descants on the charming variety" of the scene, speaks of the abundance of game, such as buffaloes, roebucks, hinds, stags, swan, geese, bustards, ducks, and turkeys; he notes the wild oats and the cedar and copal trees, the apple, peach, and pear orchards, and says the flesh of young bears is very delicate, and the native grapes “only moderately good.” Of the Indians he remarks that “their physical development is fine-the men being tall, active, and very swift of foot;" he describes their mode of life, their wigwams, corn staple, manitous and medicine men: it is among the women, however, that his mission best succeeds; they, he writes, are “ depressed by their daily toil, and are more docile to the truths of the gospel," and are invariably “modestly clothed when they come into the church.”

The cheerful temperament and quick observation, as well as the pious zeal of the French Jesuits, made them admirable pioneers and explorers; with enough imagination to enjoy and describe nature, and sympathy adequate to put them in relation with the races they aimed to convert, more or less preliminary study enabled them to note the phenomena and products of the new country, if not with scientific completeness, yet with intelligence and precision. Charlevoix singularly combined the priest and the savan; he tells us, speaking of Christian baptism among the savages, how an enfant moribund füt guerit par la vertu de ce sacrament; and, at the same time, his was the first correct estimate of the height of the Falls of Niagara. His “ Histoire de la Nouvelle Franceis a pleasing memorial of his loyalty and pious self-devotion, whereto he so aptly joined the assiduous observation and careful narrative of an expedition which revealed so many then fresh and valuable facts in regard to the magnificent domain partially colonized, and, as was then hoped, permanently appropriated by France.

3*

CHAPTER III.

FRENCH TRAVELLERS AND WRITERS.'

CHASTELLUX ; L'ABBÉ ROBIN; DUCHÉ; BRISSOT DE WARVILLE; CREVECEUR; LA ROCHEFOUCAULD-LIANCOURT;

VOLNEY ; RAYNAL.

AFTER the colonial adventurers and the religious pioneerg had made the natural features of America familiar to Europe -after settlements had been made (disputed, declined, and flourished) by representatives of every civilized land, and the English character was the established social influence in the New World-came that memorable struggle for political independence which attracted so many brave and intelligent allies from abroad: some of these have left accounts of their experience and a record of their impressions; they differ from the earlier series of travels in a more detailed report of the manners and customs of the people, in a sympathetic emphasis derived from mutual privations and triumphs, in a speculative interest suggested by the new and vast prospects which then opened before a free people, and in the attractive personal associations which connect these literary memorials with the names of our champions in the War of Independence. Perhaps no one of this class of travels in America is more satisfactory, from the interest of the narrative and the agreeable style, than those of the Marquis de Chastellux.* He vividly caught the life of America at the time of its most characteristic self-assertion. His amiable manners and intelligent zeal had won him the special regard of Washington. He was one of the forty members of the French Academy, and a majorgeneral of the French army, serving under Count Rochambeau.

*“Voyages dans l'Amérique Septentrionale dans les années 1780-'81-'82," 2 vols. 8vo., Paris, 1786.

François Jean, Marquis de Chastellux, was born in Paris in 1734, and died there in 1788. He was one of those characters-almost peculiar to the old regime, in France, wherein the militaire and the man of letters were gracefully combined with the gentleman. At quite an early age he entered the army, and won distinction in Germany during the Seven Years' war.

His agreeable conversation and urbane manners made him a great favorite when, under Rochambeau, he served in America; in camp and drawing room, at wayside inns and among educated and philosophical men, he was alike pleasant and courteous; and from the commander-inchief of our army to the shrewd farmer of whose hospitality he partook while travelling, from the stately dowager at Philadelphia to the rustic beauty of an isolated plantation in Virginia, he gained that consideration which high breeding, quick sympathy, and a cultivated mind so naturally win. He acquired no inconsiderable literary reputation by a work that appeared in 1772, De la Félicité Publique : the significance of this somewhat ambitious treatise has long since passed away, with the tone of feeling and the state of opinion it once not inadequately represented; still, it is an interesting memorial of an amiable and accomplished champion of the American cause, and a curious illustration of the theories and style once so prevalent in France. The Marquis sympathized with Condorcet's views of the possible and probable progress of humanity, and his work is chiefly inspired with these speculations; but it has no claim to logical order or harmony of plan; it has vigorous thoughts, but they are expressed in too rhetorical a manner to impress deeply a reflective mind; the absence of Christian faith is characteristic of the author's times and country among philosophical writers : yet, notwith

« PreviousContinue »