IF the chief city of New England owes its existence to a principle of religion, so too does the chief city of Canada. The founders of the one were the advance guard of Protestant dissent ; those of the other represented the extreme of reactive Catholicity.
At La Flèche, in Anjou, dwelt one Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, receiver of taxes. His portrait shows us a round, bourgeois face, somewhat heavy perhaps, decorated with a slight mustache, and redeemed by bright and earnest eyes. On his head he wears a black skull-cap, and over his ample shoulders spreads a stiff white collar, of wide expanse and studious plainness. Though he belonged to the noblesse, his look is that of a grave burgher, of good renown and sage deportment. Dauversière was, however, an enthusiastic devotee, of mystical tendencies, who whipped himself with a scourge of small chains till his shoulders were one wound, wore a belt with more than twelve hundred sharp points, and invented for himself other torments, which filled his confessor with admiration. One day, while at his devotions, he heard an inward voice commanding him to become the founder of a new order of hospital nuns ; and he was further ordered to establish, on the island called Montreal, in Canada, a hospital, or Hôtel-Dieu, to be conducted by these nuns. But Montreal was a wilderness, and the hospital would have no patients. Therefore, in order to supply them, the island must first be colonized. Dauversière was greatly perplexed. On the one hand, the voice of Heaven must be obeyed ; on the other, he had a wife, six children, and a very moderate fortune.
Again, there was at Paris a young priest, about twenty-eight years of age, — Jean Jacques Olier, afterwards widely known as founder of the Seminary of St. Sulpice. Judged by his engraved portrait, his countenance, though marked both with energy and intellect, was anything but prepossessing. Every lineament proclaims the priest. Yet the Abbé Olier has high titles to esteem. He signalized his piety, it is true, by the most disgusting exploits of self-mortification ; but, at the same time, he was strenuous in his efforts to reform the people and the clergy. So zealous was he for good morals, that he drew upon himself the imputation of a leaning to the heresy of the Jansenists, — a suspicion strengthened by his opposition to certain priests, who, to secure the faithful in their allegiance, justified them in lives of licentiousness. Yet Olier’s catholicity was past attaintment, and in his horror of Jansenists he yielded to the Jesuits alone.
He was praying in the ancient church of St. Germain des Près, when, like Dauversière, he thought he heard a voice from Heaven, saying that he was destined to be a light to the Gentiles. It is recorded as a mystic coincidence attending this miracle, that the choir was at that very time chanting the words, Lumen ad revelationem Gentium; and it seems to have occurred neither to Olier nor to his biographer, that, falling on the ear of the rapt worshipper, they might have unconsciously suggested the supposed revelation. But there was a further miracle. An inward voice told Olier that he was to form a society of priests, and establish them on the island called Montreal, in Canada, for the propagation of the True Faith ; and writers old and recent assert, that, while both he and Dauversière were totally ignorant of Canadian geography, they suddenly found themselves in possession, they knew not how, of the most exact details concerning Montreal, its size, shape, situation, soil, climate, and productions.
The annual volumes of the Jesuit Relations, issuing from the renowned press of Cramoisy, were at this time spread broadcast throughout France, and in the circles of haute devotion Canada and its missions were everywhere the themes of enthusiastic discussion ; while Champlain, in his published works, had long before pointed out Montreal as the proper site for a settlement. But we are entering a region of miracle, and it is superfluous to look far for explanations. The illusion, in these cases, is a part of the history.
Dauversière pondered the revelation he had received ; and the more he pondered, the more was he convinced that it came from God. He therefore set out for Paris, to find some means of accomplishing the task assigned him. Here, as he prayed before an image of the Virgin in the church of Notre Dame, he fell into an ecstasy, and beheld a vision. “ I should be false to the integrity of history,” writes his biographer, “if I did not relate it here.” And he adds, that the reality of this celestial favor is past doubting, inasmuch as Dauversière himself told it to his daughters. Christ, the Virgin, and St. Joseph appeared before him. He saw them distinctly. Then he heard Christ ask three times of his Virgin Mother, “Where can I find a faithful servant?” On which, the Virgin, taking him (Dauversière) by the hand, replied, “ See, Lord, here is that faithful servant! ” and Christ, with a benignant smile, received him into his service, promising to bestow on him wisdom and strength to do his work. From Paris he went to the neighboring chateau of Meudon, which overlooks the valley of the Seine, not far from St Cloud. Entering the gallery of the old castle, he saw a priest approaching him. It was Olier. Now we are told that neither of these men had ever seen or heard of the other ; and yet, says the pious historian, “ impelled by a kind of inspiration, they knew each other at once, even to the depths of their hearts ; saluted each other by name, as we read of St, Paul the Hermit and St. Anthony, and of St. Dominic and St. Francis ; and ran to embrace each other, like two friends who had met after a long separation.”
“ Monsieur,” exclaimed Olier, “ I know your design, and I go to commend it to God at the holy altar.”
And he went at once to say mass in the chapel. Dauversière received the communion at his hands ; and then they walked for three hours in the park, discussing their plans. They were of one mind, in respect both to objects and means ; and when they parted, Olier gave Dauversiere a hundred louis, saying, “ This is to begin the work of God.”
They proposed to found at Montreal three religious communities, — three being the mystic number, — one of secular priests to direct the colonists and convert the Indians, one of nuns to nurse the sick, and one of nuns to teach the Faith to the children, white and red. To borrow their own phrases, they would plant the banner of Christ in an abode of desolation and a haunt of demons ; and to this end a band of priests and women were to invade the wilderness, and take post between the fangs of the Iroquois. But first they must make a colony, and to do so must raise money. Olier had pious and wealthy penitents ; Dauversière had a friend, the Baron de Fancamp, devout as himself and far richer. Anxious for his soul, and satisfied that the enterprise was an inspiration of God, he was eager to bear part in it. Olier soon found three others ; and the six together formed the germ of the Society of Notre Dame de Montreal. Among them they raised the sum of seventy-five thousand livres, equivalent to about as many dollars at the present day.
Now to look for a moment at their plan. Their eulogists say, and with perfect truth, that, from a worldly point of view, it was mere folly. The partners mutually bound themselves to seek no return for the money expended. Their profit was to be reaped in the skies : and, indeed, there was none to be reaped on earth. The feeble settlement at Quebec was at this time in danger of utter ruin; for the Iroquois, enraged at the attacks made on them by Champlain, had begun a fearful course of retaliation, and the very existence of the colony trembled in the balance. But if Quebec was exposed to their ferocious inroads, Montreal was incomparably more so. A settlement here would be a perilous outpost, —a hand thrust into the jaws of the tiger. It would provoke attack, and lie almost in the path of the warparties. The associates could gain nothing by the fur-trade ; for they would not be allowed to share in it. On the other hand, danger apart, the place was an excellent one for a mission ; for here met two great rivers: the St. Lawrence, with its countless tributaries, flowed in from the west, while the Ottawa descended from the north; and Montreal, embraced by their uniting waters, was the key to a vast inland navigation. Thither the Indians would naturally resort ; and thence the missionaries could make their way into the heart of a boundless heathendom. None of the ordinary motives of colonization had part in this design. It owed its conception and its birth to religious zeal alone.
The island of Montreal belonged to Lauson, former President of the great Company of the Hundred Associates ; and his son had a monopoly of fishing in the St. Lawrence. Dauversière and Fancamp, after much diplomacy, succeeded in persuading the elder Lauson to transfer his title to them ; and as there was a defect in it, they also obtained a grant of the island from the Hundred Associates, its original owners, who, however, reserved to themselves its western extremity as a site for a fort and storehouses. At the same time, the younger Lauson granted them a right of fishery within two leagues of the shores of the island, for which they were to make a yearly acknowledgment of ten pounds of fish. A confirmation of these grants was obtained from the king. Dauver sière and his companions were now seigneurs of Montreal. They were empowered to appoint a governor, and to establish courts, from which there was to be an appeal to the Supreme Court of Quebec, supposing such to exist. They were excluded from the fur-trade, and forbidden to build castles or forts other than such as were necessary for defence against the Indians.
Their title assured, they matured their plan. First they would send out forty men to take possession of Montreal, intrench themselves, and raise crops. Then they would build a house for the priests, and two convents for the nuns. Meanwhile, Olier was toiling at Vaugirard, on the outskirts of Paris, to inaugurate the seminary of priests, and Dauversière at La Flèche, to form the community of hospital nuns. How the school nuns were provided for, we shall see hereafter. The colony, it will be observed, was for the convents, not the convents for the colony.
The Associates needed a soldiergovernor to take charge of their forty men ; and, directed as they supposed by Providence, they found one wholly to their mind. This was Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, a devout and valiant gentleman, who in long service among the heretics of Holland had kept his faith intact, and had held himself resolutely aloof from the license that surrounded him. He loved his profession of arms, and wished to consecrate his sword to the Church. Past all comparison, he is the manliest figure that appears in this group of zealots. The piety of the design, the miracles that inspired it, the adventure and the peril, all combined to charm him ; and he eagerly embraced the enterprise. His father opposed his purpose : but he met him with a text of St. Mark, “There is no man that hath left house or brethren or sisters or father for my sake, but he shall receive an hundred-fold.” On this the elder Maisonneuve, deceived by his own worldliness, imagined that the plan covered some hidden speculation, from which enormous profits were expected, and therefore withdrew his opposition.
Their scheme was ripening fast, when both Olier and Dauversière were assailed by one of those revulsions of spirit, to which saints of the ecstatic school are naturally liable. Dauversière, in particular, was a prey to the extremity of dejection, uncertainty, and misgiving. What had he, a family man, to do with ventures beyond sea ? Was it not his first duty to support his wife and children ? Could he not fulfil all his obligations as a Christian by reclaiming the wicked and relieving the poor at La Flèche ? Plainly, he had doubts that his vocation was genuine. If we could raise the curtain of his domestic life, perhaps we should find him beset by wife and daughters, tearful and wrathful, inveighing against his folly, and imploring him to provide a support for them before squandering his money to plant a convent of nuns in a wilderness. How long his fit of dejection lasted does not appear ; but at length he set himself again to his appointed work. Olier, too, emerging from the clouds and darkness, found faith once more, and again placed himself at the head of the great enterprise.
There was imperative need of more money ; and Dauversière, under judicious guidance, was active in obtaining it. This miserable victim of illusions had a squat, uncourtly figure, and was no proficient in the graces either of manners or of speech ; hence his success in commending his objects to persons of rank and wealth is set down as one of the many miracles which attended the birth of Montreal. But zeal and earnestness are in themselves a power; and the ground had been well marked out and ploughed for him in advance. That attractive, though intricate, subject of study, the female mind, has always engaged the attention of priests, more especially in countries where, as in France, women exert a strong social and political influence. The art of kindling the flames of zeal, and the more difficult art of directing and controlling them, have been themes of reflection the most diligent and profound. Accordingly we find that a large proportion of the money raised for this enterprise was contributed by devout ladies. Many of them became members of the Association of Montreal, which was eventually increased to about forty-five persons, chosen for their devotion and their wealth.
Olier and his associates had resolved, though not from any collapse of zeal, to postpone the establishment of the seminary and the college until after a settlement should be formed. The hospital, however, might, they thought, be begun at once ; for blood and blows would be the assured portion of the first settlers. At least, a discreet woman ought to embark with the first colonists as their nurse and housekeeper. Scarcely was the need recognized when it was supplied.
Mademoiselle Jeanne Mance was born of an honorable family of Nogentle-Roi, and in 1640 was thirty-four years of age. The heroines of Canada began their religious experiences early. Of Marie de I’Incarnation we read, that at the age of seven Christ appeared to her in a vision ; and the biographer of Mademoiselle Mance assures us, with admiring gravity, that, at the same tender age, she bound herself to God by a vow of perpetual chastity. This singular infant in due time became a woman, of a delicate constitution, and manners graceful, yet dignified. Though an earnest devotee, she felt no vocation for the cloister ; yet, while still “in the world," she led the life of a nun. The Jesuit Relations, and the example of Madame de la Peltrie, a young Norman widow who had given all her fortune to found the Ursuline Convent at Quebec, inoculated her with the Canadian enthusiasm, then so prevalent; and, under the pretence of visiting relatives, she made a journey to Paris, to take counsel of certain priests. Of one thing she was assured : the Divine will called her to Canada, but to what end she neither knew nor asked to know; for she abandoned herself as an atom to be borne to unknown destinies on the breath of God. At Paris, Father St Jure, Jesuit, assured her that her vocation to Canada was, past doubt, a call from Heaven ; while Father Rapin, a Récollet, spread abroad the fame: of her virtues, and introduced her to many ladies of rank, wealth, and zeal. Then, well supplied with money for any pious work to which she might be summoned, she journeyed to Rochelle, whence ships were to sail for New France. Thus far she had been kept in ignorance of the plan with regard to Montreal ; but now Father La Place, a Jesuit, revealed it to her. On the day after her arrival at Rochelle, as she entered the Church of the Jesuits, she met Dauversière coming out. ‘‘Then,” says her biographer, “ these two persons, who had never seen nor heard of each other, were enlightened supernaturally, whereby their most hidden thoughts were mutually made known, as had happened already with M. Olier and this same M. de la Dauversière.” A long conversation ensued between them ; and the delights of this interview were never effaced from the mind of Mademoiselle Mance. “ She used to speak of it like a seraph,’ writes one of her nuns, “and far better than many a learned doctor could have done.”
She had found her destiny. The ocean, the wilderness, the solitude, the Iroquois, — nothing daunted her. She would go to Montreal with Maisonneuve and his forty men. Yet, when the vessel was about to sail, a new and sharp misgiving seized her. How could she, a woman, not yet bereft of youth or charms, live alone in the forest among a troop of soldiers ? Her scruples were relieved by two of the men, who, at the last moment, refused to embark without their wives,-—and by a young woman, who, impelled by cnthusiasm, escaped from her friends, and took passage, in spite of them, in one of the vessels.
All was ready; the ships set sail; but Olier, Dauversière, and Fancamp remained at home, as did also the other Associates, with the exception of Maisonneuve and Mademoiselle Mance In the following February, an impressive scene took place in the Church of Notre Dame, at Paris. The Associates, at this time numbering about forty-five, with Olier at their head, assembled before the altar of the Virgin, and, by a solemn ceremonial, consecrated Montreal to the Holy Family, Henceforth it was to be called Villemarie de Montreal, — a sacred town, reared to the honor and under the patronage of Christ, St. Joseph, and the Virgin, to be typified by three persons on earth, founders respectively of the three destined communities, — Olier, Dauversière, and a maiden of Troyes, Marguerite Bourgeoys: the seminary to be consecrated to Christ, the Hôtel-Dieu to St. Joseph, and the college to the Virgin.
But we are anticipating a little ; for it was several years as yet before Marguerite Bourgeoys took an active part in the work of Montreal. She was the daughter of a respectable tradesman, and was now twenty-two years of age. Her portrait has come down to us ; and her face is a mirror of frankness, loyalty, and womanly tenderness. Her qualities were those of good sense, conscientiousness, and a warm heart. She had known no miracles, ecstasies, or trances ; and though afterwards, when her religious susceptibilities had reached a fuller development, a few such are recorded of her, yet even the Abbé Faillon, with the best Intentions, can credit her with but a meagre allowance of these celestial favors. Though in the midst of visionaries, she distrusted the supernatural, and avowed her belief, that, in his government of the world, God does not often set aside its ordinary laws. Her religion was of the affections, and was manifested in an absorbing devotion to duty. She had felt no vocation to the cloister, but had taken the vow of chastity, and was attached, as an externe, to the Sisters of the Congregation of Troyes, who were fevered with eagerness to go to Canada. Marguerite, however, was content to wait until there was a prospect that she could do good by going ; and it was not till the year 1653, that, renouncing an inheritance, and giving all she had to the poor, she embarked for the savage scene of her labors. To this day, in crowded school-rooms of Montreal and Quebec, fit monuments of her unobtrusive virtue, her successors instruct the children ot the poor, and embalm the pleasant memory of Marguerite Bourgeoys. In the martial figure of Maisonneuve, and the fair form of this gentle nun, we find the true heroes of Montreal.
Maisonneuve, with his forty men and four women, reached Quebec too late to ascend to Montreal that season. They encountered distrust, jealousy, and opposition. The agents of the Company of the Hundred Associates looked on them askance ; and the Governor of Quebec, Montmagny, saw a rival governor in Maisonneuve. Every means was used to persuade the adventurers to abandon their project and settle at Quebec. Montmagny called a council of the principal persons of his colony, who gave it as their opinion that the new-comers had better exchange Montreal for the Island of Orleans, where they would be in a position to give and receive succor ; while, by persisting in their first design, they would expose themselves to destruction, and be of use to nobody. Maisonneuve, who was present, expressed his surprise that they should assume to direct his affairs. “ I have not come here,” he said, “ to deliberate, but to act. It is my duty and my honor to found a colony at Montreal; and I would go, if every tree were an Iroquois ! ”
At Quebec there was little ability and no inclination to shelter the new colonists for the winter ; and they would have fared ill, but for the generosity of M. Puiseaux, who lived not far distant, at a place called St. Michel. This devout and most hospitable person made room for them all in his rough, but capacious dwelling. Their neighbors were the hospital nuns, then living at the mission of Sillery, in a substantial, but comfortless house of stone ; where, amidst destitution, sickness, and irrepressible disgust at the filth of the savages whom they had in charge, they were laboring day and night with devoted assiduity. Among the minor ills which beset them were the eccentricities of one of their lay sisters, crazed with religious enthusiasm, who had the care of their poultry and domestic animals, of which she was accustumed to inquire, one by one, if they loved God ; when, not receiving an immediate answer in the affirmative, she would instantly put them to death, telling them that their impiety deserved no better fate.
At St. Michel, Maisonneuve employed his men in building boats to ascend to Montreal, and in various other labors for the behoof of the future colony. Thus the winter wore away; but, as celestial minds are not exempt from ire, Montmagny and Maisonneuve fell into a quarrel. The 25th of January was Maisonneuve’s fête day; and, as he was greatly beloved by his followers, they resolved to celebrate the occasion. Accordingly, an hour and a half before daylight, they made a general discharge of their muskets and cannon. The sound reached Quebec, two or three miles distant, startling the Governor from his morning slumbers, and his indignation was redoubled when he heard it again at night; for Maisonneuve, pleased at the attachment of his men, had feasted them and warmed their hearts with a distribution of wine. Montmagny, jealous of his authority, resented these demonstrations as an infraction of it, affirming that they had no right to fire their pieces without his consent; and, arresting the principal offender, one Jean Gory, he put him in irons. On being released, a few days after, his companions welcomed him with great rejoicing, and Maisonneuve gave them all a feast. He himself came in during the festivity, drank the health of the company, shook hands with the late prisoner, placed him at the head of the table, and addressed him as follows : “Jean Gory, you have been put in irons for me: you had the pain, and I the affront. For that, I add ten crowns to your wages ” Then, turning to the others : “ My boys,” he said, “though Jean Gory has been misused, you must not lose heart for that, but drink, all of you, to the health of the man in irons. When we are once at Montreal, we shall be our own masters, and can fire our cannon when we please.”
Montmagny was wroth when this was reported to him ; and, on the ground that what had passed was “contrary to the service of the king and the authority of the Governor,” he summoned Gory and six others before him, and put them separately under oath. Their evidence failed to establish a case against their commander; but thenceforth there was great coldness between the powers of Quebec and Montreal.
Early in May, Maisonneuve and his followers embarked. They had gained an unexpected recruit during the winter, in the person of Madame de la Peltrie, the young heiress who had devoted herself and her wealth to the work of founding an Ursuline convent. The piety, the novelty, and the romance of their enterprise, all had their charms for the fair enthusiast; and an irresistible impulse —imputed by a slandering historian to the levity of her sex — urged her to share their fortunes. Her zeal was more admired by the Montrealists whom she joined, than by the Ursulines whom she abandoned. She carried off all the furniture she had lent them, and left them in the utmost destitution. Nor did she remain quiet after reaching Montreal, but was presently seized with a longing to visit the Hurons, and preach the Faith in person to those benighted heathen. It needed all the eloquence of a Jesuit, lately returned from that most arduous mission, to convince her that the attempt would be as useless as rash.
It was the 8th of May when Maisonneuve and his followers embarked at St. Michel; and as the boats, deepladen with men, arms, and stores, moved slowly on their way, the forest, with leaves just opening in the warmth of spring, lay on their right hand and on their left, in a flattering semblance of tranquillity and peace. But behind woody islets, in tangled thickets and damp ravines, and in the shade and stillness of the columned woods, lurked everywhere a danger and a terror.
What shall we say of these adventurers of Montreal, — of these who bestowed their wealth, and, far more, of these who sacrificed their peace and risked their lives, on an enterprise at once so romantic and so devout ? Surrounded as they were with illusions, false lights, and false shadows ; breathing an atmosphere of miracle ; compassed about with angels and devils ; urged with stimulants most powerful, though unreal; their minds drugged, as it were, to preternatural excitement,— it is very difficult to judge of them. High merit, without doubt, there was in some of their number ; but one may beg to be spared the attempt to measure or define it. To estimate a virtue involved in conditions so anomalous demands, perhaps, a judgment more than human.
The Roman Church, sunk in corruption and disease when the Reformation began, was roused by that fierce trumpet-blast to purge and brace herself anew. Unable to advance, she drew back to the fresher and comparatively purer life of the past ; and the fervors of mediæeval Christianity were renewed in the sixteenth century. In many of its aspects, this enterprise of Montreal belonged to the time of the first Crusades. The spirit of Godfrey de Bouillon lived again in Chomedey de Maisonneuve ; and in Marguerite Bourgeoys was realized that fair ideal of Christian womanhood, a flower of earth expanding in the rays of heaven, which soothed with gentle influence the wildness of a barbarous age.
On the 17th of May, 1642, Maisonneuve’s little flotilla—a pinnace, a flat-bottomed craft moved by sails, and two row-boats — approached Montreal; and all on board raised in unison a hymn of praise. Montmagny was with them to deliver the island, on behalf of the Company of the Hundred Associates, to Maisonneuve, representative of the Associates of Montreal. And here, too, was Father Vimont, Superior of the missions; for the Jesuits had been prudently invited to accept the spiritual charge of the young colony. On the following day, they glided along the green and solitary shores now thronged with the life of a busy city, and landed on the spot which Champlain, thirtyone years before, had chosen as the fit site of a settlement. It was a tongue or triangle of land, formed by the junction of a rivulet with the St. Lawrence, and known afterwards as Point Callière. The rivulet was bordered by a meadow, and beyond rose the forest with its vanguard of scattered trees. Early spring flowers were blooming in the young grass, and birds of varied plumage flitted among the boughs.
Maisonneuve sprang ashore, and fell on his knees. His followers imitated his example ; and all joined their voices in enthusiastic songs of thanksgiving. Tents, baggage, arms, and stores were landed. An altar was raised on a pleasant spot near at hand ; and Mademoiselle Mance, with Madame de la Peltrie, aided by her servant, Charlotte Barré, decorated it with a taste which, was the admiration of the beholders. Now all the company gathered before the shrine. Here stood Vimont, in the rich vestments of his office. Here were the two ladies with their servant; Montmagny, no very willing spectator ; and Maisonneuve, a warlike figure, erect and tall, his men clustering around him, — soldiers, sailors, artisans, and laborers,— all alike soldiers at need. They kneeled in reverent silence as the Host was raised aloft; and when the rite was over, the priest turned and addressed them : —
“You are a grain of mustard-seed that shall rise and grow till its branches overshadow the earth. You are few, but your work is the work of God. His smile is on you, and your children shall fill the land.”
The afternoon waned ; the sun sank behind the western forest, and twilight came on. Fire-flies were twinkling over the darkened meadow. They caught them, tied them with threads into shining festoons, and hung them before the altar, where the Host remained exposed. Then they pitched their tents, lighted their bivouac fires, stationed their guards, and lay down to rest. Such was the birth-night of Montreal.
Is this true history, or a romance of Christian chivalry? It is both.