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The shapeless knight-errantry of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, rich as it was in romance and adventure, is not to be compared, in any valuable characteristic, to the noiseless self-devotion of the men who first explored the Western country. The courage of the knight was a part of his savage nature; his confidence was in the strength of his own right arm; and if his ruggedness was ever softened down by gentler thoughts, it was only when he asked forgiveness for his crimes, or melted in sensual idolatry of female beauty,
It would be a curious and instructive inquiry, could we institute it with success, how much of the contempt of danger manifested by the wandering knight was referable to genuine valor, and what proportion to the strength of a Milan coat and the temper of a Toledo or Ferrara blade. And it would be still more curious, although perhaps not so instructive, to estimate the purity and fidelity of the heroines of chivalry; to ascertain the amount of true devotion given them by their admirers, 'without hope of reward.
But without abating its interest by invidious and ungrateful inquiries, we can see quite enough — in its turbulence, its cruelty, arrogance and oppression - to make us thank Heaven that the days of chivalry are gone.' And from that chaotic scene of rapine, raid and murder, we can turn with pleasure to contemplate the truer, nobler chivalry, the chivalry of love and peace, whose weapons were the kindness of their hearts, the purity of their motives, and the self-denial of their lives.
The term " voyageur'* literally signifies traveller;' but by this modest
In common use, this word was restricted so as to indicate only the boatmen; the carriers of that time; but I am writing of a period anterior, by many years, to the existence of the trade which made their occupation. VOL. XXXIX.
name are indicated some of the bravest adventurers the world has ever
But it is not in its usual, common-place signification that I employ the word, nor yet in that which is given it by most writers on the subject of early French settlements and explorations. Men are often affected by the names given them, either of opprobrium or commendation; but words are quite as frequently changed, restricted or enlarged in meaning, by their application to men. For example: you apply the word soldier to a class of men; and if robbery be one of the characteristics of that class, ‘soldier' will soon come to mean “robber' too. And thus, though the parallel is only logical, has it been with the term voyageur. The class of men to whom it is applied were travellers — voyageurs; but they were more ; and as the habits and qualities of men came in time to be better understood than the meaning of French words, the term, used in reference to Western history, took much of its significance from the history and character of the men it assumed to describe. Thus, un voyageur means not only a traveller, but a traveller with a purpose; an adventurer among the Western wilds; a chivalrous missionary, either in the cause of science or religion. It includes high courage, burning zeal for Church and country, and the most generous self-devo. tion. It describes such men as Marquette La Salle, Joliet, Gravier, and hundreds of others equally illustrious, who lived and died among the dangers and privations of the wilderness; who opened the way for civilization and Christianity among the savages; and won, many of them, crowns of martyrdom.
They were almost all Frenchmen. The Spaniards who came to this continent were mere gold-seekers, thirsting only for wealth ; and if they sought to propagate Christianity, or rather the Christian name, it was only a sanguinary bigotry that prompted them. On the other hand, the English emigrants came to take possession of the country for themselves. The conversion of the natives, or territorial acquisition for the mother country, were to them objects of barely secondary importance. They believed themselves persecuted — some of them were persecuted — and they fled: it was only safety for themselves, and the rich lands of the Indian, that they sought. Providence reserved for the French chevaliers and missionaries the glory of leaving their homes without compulsion, real or imaginary, to penetrate an inhospitable wilderness; to undergo fatigues; to encounter dangers, and endure privations of a thousand kinds, enticed by no golden glitter, and covetous of no riches, save such as are laid up in heaven!' They came not as conquerors, but as ministers of peace, demanding only hospitality. They never attacked the savages with sword or fagot; but extending hands not stained by blood, they justified their profession by relief and love and kindly offices. Sometimes, indeed, they received little tracts of land; not seized by the hand of power, nor grasped by superior cunning, but possessed as the free gift of simple gratitude; and upon these they lived in peace, surrounded by savages, but protected by the respect inspired by blameless and beneficent lives. Many of those whose vows permitted it, intermarried among the converted natives, and left the seeds of many meliorations in a stony soil; and many of them, when they died, were as sincerely mourned by the simple children of the forest as if they had been chiefs and braves.
Such were the men of peace who penetrated the wilderness through the French settlements in Canada, and preached the gospel to the heathen, where no white man had ever before been seen; and it is particularly to this class that I apply the word at the head of this article. But the same gentle spirit pervaded other orders of adventurers; men of the sword and buckler, as well as of the stole and surplice. These came to establish the dominion of La Belle France; but it was not to oppress the simple native, or drive him from his lands. Kindness marked even the conduct of the rough soldier; and such men as La Salle and Iberville, who were stern enough in war, and rigid enough in discipline, manifested always an anxious solicitude for the rights as well as for the spiritual welfare of the Indian. They gave a generous confidence where they were conscious of no wish to injure; they treated frankly and on equal terms with those whom their religion and their native kindness alike taught them to consider brethren and frieni's. Take, for example, that significant anecdote of La Salle, related by the faithful chronicler * of his unfortunate expeditions. He was building the fort of "Crevecoeur,' near the spot where now stands the city of Peoria, on the Illinois River; and even the name of his little fortress (Creveccur, Broken Heart) was a mournful record of his shattered fortunes. The means of carrying out his noble enterprise (the colonizing of the Mississippi valley) were lost; the labor of years had been rendered ineffectual by one shipwreck; his men were discontented, even mutinous, attempting,' says Hennepin, “first to poison and then desert him ;' his mind was distracted, his heart almost broken, by accumulated disasters. Surrounded thus by circumstances which might well have rendered him careless of the feelings of the savages around him, he observed that they had become cold and distant; that in effect they no longer viewed him as their friend. The Iroquois,t drifting from the shores of Lake Ontario, where they had always been the bitterest foes of the French, had instilled fear and hatred into their minds; it was even said that some of his own men had encouraged the growing discontent. In this juncture, what measures does he take? Strengthen his fortifications and prepare for war, as the men of other nations had done? Far from it. Soldier and adventurer as he was, he had no wish to shed inno cent blood; though with his force he might have defied all the nations about him. He went as a friend, frankly and generously, among them, and demanded the reasons of their discontent. He touched their hearts by his confidence, convinced them of his friendship, and attached them to himself more devotedly than ever. A whole history in one brief passage!
But it is more especially to the voyageurs of the Church — the men of faith and love — that I wish to direct my reader's attention: to such men as Le Caron, a Franciscan, with all the zeal and courage and self-abnegation of his order, who wandered and preached among the bloody Iroquois, and upon the waters of Huron, as early as 1616; to Mesnard, a devoted missionary of the same order, who in 1660 founded a mission at the Sault de Ste. Marie, and then went into the forest to induce the savages to listen to the glad tidings he had brought, and never came back; to Father Allouez, who rebuilt the mission five years afterward, (the first of these houses of God which was not destroyed or abandoned,) who subsequently crossed the lakes, and preached to the Indians on Fox River, where, in one of the villages of the Miamis and Mascoutens, Marquette found a cross still standing, after the lapse of years, where Allouez had raised it, covered with the offerings of the simple natives to an unknown God. He is the same, too, who founded Kaskaskia, probably the earliest settlement in the Great Valley, and whose history ends, (significant fact !) with the record of his usefulness. To Father Pinet, who founded Cahokia, and was so successful in the conversion of the natives, that his little chapel could not contain the numbers who resorted to his ministrations; to Father Marest, the first preacher ag ainst intemperance; and finally to Marquette, the best and bravest of them all, the most singlehearted and unpretending !
* JOUTEL, who was one of La Salle's party, and afterward wrote an account of the enterprise, entitled “Journal Historique,' published in Paris, 1713. Its fidelity is as evident upon its face as is the simplicity of the historian.
+ This was in the winter of 1679-'80; and the Five Nations, included in the general term Iroquois, had not then made the conquest upon which the English afterward founded their claim to the country. They were, however, generally regarded as enemies by all the Ilinois tribes.
Enthusiasm is a characteristic of the French nation; a trait in some individuals elevated to a sublime self-devotion, and in others degraded to mere excitability. The vivacity, gesticulation and grimace which characterize most of them, are the external signs of this nature; the calm heroism of the seventeenth century, and the insane devotion of the nineteenth, were alike its fruits. The voyageur possessed it, in common with all his countrymen. But in him it was not noisy, turbulent, or egotistical; military glory had neither part nor lot' in his schemes ; the conquests he desired to make were the conquests of faith; the dominion he wished to establish was the dominion of Jesus.
In the pursuit of these objects, or rather of this single object, I have said he manifested the enthusiasm of his race; but it was the noblest form of that characteristic. The fire that burned in his bosom was fed by no selfish purpose. To have thought of himself, or of his own comforts, or advancement, or glory, to the detriment of any Christian enterprise, however dangerous or unpromising, would, in his eyes, have been a deadly sin.
At Sault de Ste. Marie, Father Marquette heard of many savages, (whom he calls 'God's children,') living in barbarism, far to the west. With five boatmen and one companion, he at once set out for an unexplored, even unvisited wilderness. He had what they had not — the gospel; and his heart yearned toward them, as the heart of a mother toward an afflicted child. He went to them, and bound them to him
in the bond of peace. If they received him kindly -- as they usually did, for even a savage recognizes and respects genuine devotion - he preached to them, mediated among them, softened their hearts, and gathered them into the fold of God. If they met him with arms in their hands — as they sometimes did; for savages, like civilized men, do not always know their friends; he resolutely offered peace; and, in his own simple and pious language, God touched their hearts,' and they cast aside their weapons and received him in peace.
But the voyageur had higher qualities than enthusiasm. He was capable of being so absorbed in a cause as to lose sight of his own
identity; to forget that he was more than an instrument in the hands of God, to do God's work; and the distinction between these traits is broad indeed! Enthusiasm is noisy, obtrusive; self-abnegation is silent, retiring. Enthusiasm is officious, troublesome, careless of time and place; self-abnegation is prudent, gentle, considerate. The one is active and fragmentary ; the other passive, but constant.
Thus, when the untaught and simple native was to be converted, the missionary took note of the spiritual capacity as well as of the spiritual wants; he did not force him to receive, at once, the whole creed of the Church, as a mere enthusiast would have done; for that wisdom would feed an infant with strong meats even before it had drawn its mother's milk. Neither did he preach the gospel with the sword, like the Spaniard, nor with fire and fagot, like the Puritan. He was wise as the serpent, but gentle as the dove. He took the wondering Indian by the hand; received him as a brother; won him over to listen patiently; and then taught him first that which he could easiest comprehend: he led him to address the throne of grace, or, in the language of the time, 'to embrace the prayer;' because even the savage believed in Deity. As his understanding was expanded, and his heart purified — as every heart must be which truly lifts itself to God - he gradually taught him the more abstruse and wonderful doctrines of the Church of Christ. Gently and imperceptibly he led him on, until the whole tremendous work was done. The untutored savage, if he knew nothing else, yet knew the name of his REDEEMER. The bloody warfare, the feuds and jealousies of his tribe, if not completely overcome, at least were softened and ameliorated. When he could not convert, he endeavored to humanize; and among the tribes of the Illinois, * though they were never thoroughly Christianized, the influence of the good fathers had prevailed to abolish the barbarous practice of torturing captives. For though they might not embrace the religion, the savages venerated its teachers, and loved them for their gentleness.
And this gentleness was not want of courage; for never in the history of the world has truer valor been exhibited than that shown by the early missionary and his compeers, the first military adventurers ! Read Joutel's account of the melancholy life and death of La Salle; read the simple, unpretending Journal of Marquette ; I and compare their constancy and heroism with that displayed at any time in any cause! But the voyageur possessed higher qualities than courage, also; and here again we recur to his perfect abnegation of himself; his renunciation of all personal considerations.
Courage takes note of danger, but defies it: the voyageur was careless of danger, because he counted it as nothing; he gave it no thought, because it only affected himself; and he valued not his own safety and comfort, so long as he could serve the cause by forgetting them. Mere courage is combative, even pugnacious; but the voyageur fought only "the good fight;' he had no pride of conquest, save in the victories of
* A COLLECTIVE name, including a number, variously stated, of different tribes confederated. + ' ANNALS of the West,' by J. H. PERKINS AND J. M. Peck, p. 679. St. Louis. 1850.
The substance of the Journal may be found, republished by Dr. Sparks, in the second edition of Butler's Kentucky,' p. 493, et sequitur, and in vol. x. of his American Biography,