History and General Description of New France
By the Rev. P. F. X. DE CHARLEVOIX, S. J. Translated, with Notes, by JOHN GILMARY SHEA. New York: J. G. Shea. Vol. I.
CHARLEVOIX’S “ History of New France ” is very well known to all who study American history in its sources. It is a well-written, scholarlike, and readable book, treating of a subject which the author perfectly understood, and of which he may be said to have been a part. Tried by the measure of his times, his research was thorough and tolerably exact. The work, in short, has always been justly regarded as a “ standard,” and very few later writers have thought it necessary to go beyond or behind it. Appended to it is a journal of the author’s travels in America, in the form of a series of letters to the Duchesse de Lesdiguières, full of interest, and a storehouse of trustworthy information.
Charlevoix had been largely quoted and extensively read. Not to know him, indeed, was to be ignorant of some of the most memorable passages in the history of this continent; but, what is certainly remarkable, he had never found an English translator. At the time of the Old French War, when the public curiosity was strongly interested in everything relating to America, the journal appended to the history was “ done into English ” and eagerly read ; but the history itself had remained to this time in the language in which it was originally written. This is not to be regretted, if it has been the occasion of giving us the truly admirable work which is the subject of this notice.
The spirit and the manner in which Mr. Shea has entered upon his task are above all praise. It is with him a “ labor of love.” In these days of literary “jobs,” when bad translating and careless editing are palmed off upon the amateurs of choice books in all the finery of broad margins and faultless typography, it is refreshing to meet with a book of which the mechanical excellence is fully equalled by the substantial value of its contents, and by the thorough, conscientious, and scholarlike character of the literary execution. The labor and the knowledge bestowed on tliis translation would have sufficed to produce an original history of high merit. Charlevoix rarely gives his authorities. Mr. Shea has more than supplied this deficiency. Not only has he traced out the sources of his author’s statements and exhibited them in notes, but he has had recourse to sources of which Charlevoix knew nothing. He is thus enabled to substantiate, correct, or amplify the original narrative. He translates it, indeed, with literal precision, but in his copious notes he sheds such a flood of new light upon it that this translation is of far more value to the student than the original work. Since Charlevoix’s time, many documents, unknown to him, though bearing on his subject, have been discovered, and Mr. Shea has diligently availed himself of them. The tastes and studies of many years have made him familiar with this field of research, and prepared him to accomplish an undertaking which would otherwise have been impracticable.
The first volume is illustrated by facsimiles of Charlevoix’s maps, together with his portrait and those of Cartier and Menendez. It forms a large octavo of about three hundred pages, and as a specimen of the typographical art is scarcely to be surpassed. We learn that the second volume is about to appear.